Webster’s Dictionary defines brake-by-wire technology in automotive industry as the ability to control brakes through electrical means. It can be designed to supplement ordinary service brakes or it can be a standalone brake system.
This system was first popularized in F1 racing, due to its seamless manipulation and ability to be controlled from outside the vehicle. These systems are now incorporated with big names in the automotive industry like Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Sauber.
One of the main consequences of this new electronic system has been a transfer of a significant proportion of the braking force to the front axle (80%) and 20% on the rear. This has caused many teams to use discs with a smaller diameter at the rear, in some cases with four pistons caliper instead of six, resulting in a clear advantage in terms of weight and speed of response.
The calipers are developed by Brembo specifically for each team, with the goal being to have systems as light as possible, but without losing rigidity.
A word that has been heard this year when cars have encountered brake issues is vitrification, which in simple words means that the disc’s surface becomes literally like glass (“glazed”) which means the calipers cannot get a grip. This phenomenon cannot happen with the Brembo system due to a wider range of utilization compared to other systems where the problem may appear with low temperatures – when the braking process begins the optimal minimum temperature should be around 300-400 degrees.
Each team has its own requirements, so the design engineers works closely with the car designers in order to develop a tailor made solution. Only the pads are the same for everybody. Throughout the season Brembo’s track engineers start working with the teams already on the Thursday of a Grand Prix with one-to-one meetings aimed at reviewing the braking needs specific to each track.
Braking systems are expensive and therefore we can see significant differences in the way teams manage them. Normally a top team uses one set (composed of 4 discs and 8 pads) for the free practice sessions and one set for qualifying and the race; a smaller team will use a new set for qualifying and the race, then again for the practice sessions of the subsequent race.
Each system is being routinely revised every two thousand kilometres, unless used in high temperature conditions.