If you're going to design a car to drive as fast as a Formula 1 car does, you are going to end up stumbling across other applications for all of that technology.
That statement should be obvious, but the consumer byproducts of racing can take a backseat to the more exciting aspects of the sport.
Formula 1, Austin's new Circuit of the Americas racetrack and spin-off technologies were the topics of "Formula 1: Driving Global Technology & Innovation" at SXSW Interactive on March 9.
"Formula 1 is the richest, most intense, most difficult, most political and most popular racing championship in the world," said Geoff Moore, Circuit of the Americas' chief marketing and revenue officer.
F1 is not like the more nationally popular NASCAR, where drivers make the difference among more-or-less equally capable cars on an oval-shaped course.
"It is more like soapbox derby meets space race," he said.
Cars are developed in secret at state-of-the-art facilities. Moore said he "half expected James Bond to appear" during a recent visit to McLaren's facility.
At times, the car's downward thrust on the track is so powerful that it could, theoretically, drive on a ceiling if going fast enough.
It should be telling that the sport pays its aerodynamics engineers more than its top racers.
F1 cars can rev up to 18,000 revolutions per minute, while the average car in the parking lot tops out at 3,000 rpm, he said.
"It is so finely tuned and so efficient and powerful—it is artistic," Moore said while looking at a slide of an engine.
Every aspect of the vehicle is specially designed and engineered to race. The cars use a carbon fiber model and monocoque design—the body and chassis are one solid piece.
The result is that driving an F1 vehicle bares little resemblance to your daily commute. It is physically demanding.
"It is like being strapped into a fighter plane or a rocket," he said. "You're accelerating at 180 miles per hour, almost like a roller coaster. [On the first elevated turn at Circuit of the Americas], you are going up this hill, and see blue sky and take this diving left turn at 70 miles per hour, exerting G-forces on you.
"You have to be the best in the world. It's a very compelling thing," he said.
During the race, reams of information are sent from the car back to the racing team's headquarters, sometimes thousands of miles away.
So what can the average consumer use from that? Most people do not travel to work so quickly that the noses of their cars must be specially shaped to reduce drag. Few people need tires as specialized as the ones used by professionals.
However, the same technologies that allow cars to send information to racing teams can be used elsewhere.
McLaren considers itself a technology and information conglomerate that works in the fields of racing and car manufacturing. That's how it can partner with bitter rival Ferrari, Moore said.
"It's amazing for McLaren to work with Ferrari, their blood enemy for 50 years on the racetrack. But McLaren is not just a race team anymore—they're a technology company," he said. "If they can handle their data and Ferraris, and both parties are comfortable with sharing their data and expertise, McLaren believes they will be better suited to meet the needs of other tech companies."
The way that the vehicles' brakes can recapture kinetic energy can be used by city buses. Moore said city buses and Formula 1 cars have more in common than you'd think.
Other technologies include stronger wheelchairs and knee braces, better bicycles and a single-piece monocoque design for guerneys to transport newborn babies in hospitals.
Another design Moore had seen was a concept personalized entertainment pod derived from F1 technology.
Circuit of the Americas
Moore also previewed the Circuit of the Americas track being built near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
He said the 3.4-mile track recalls some of the most exciting turns from other tracks around the world, including Britain's Silverstone Circuit and The Red Bull Ring in Styria, Austria.
The $400 million facility will feature a roughly 17,500-person capacity amphitheater, conference and convention center and viewing tower.
"We're going to be programming that facility 250 to 300 days out of the year with motor sports, festivals, all sorts of things," he said.
The track is scheduled to open later this year.