Formula 1 relates to motorsport and high-performance racing cars manufactured with use of most advanced technology.
Therefore carbon fiber namely a material that was initially reserved for military purposes and NASA is used by suppliers of F1 car body components including body, floor, diffuser, spoiler, chassis, mirrors, steering wheel, and suspensions system components.
But why carbon fiber is used instead of titanium or aluminum? Let’s find out some reasons
The most important reason relates to low weight of carbon fiber composite and high rigidity at the same time. Actually the low weight is crucial in motorsport and carbon fiber is a material that offers the best stiffness to weight ratio.
Aluminum features with stiffness to weight ratio (specific modulus) of 26 – 10 6 m2 s -2 and from 56 up to 120 10 6 m2 s -2 (depending on fabric type) in case of carbon fiber composite.
F1 racing cars are designed and constructed using the most advanced and latest technology related to autoclave and carbon fiber Prepreg Composites to prevent any structural defect including micro-bubbles and provide local reinforcement (thickening) of carbon fiber components, where necessary keeping other surfaces as thin as possible. Carbon fiber composites provide many benefits in this regard and reduce weight significantly.
It widely known that increase of thickness results in significant stiffness improvement of the given element. Consequently low weight fillers are used during manufacture of carbon fiber composite cured by autoclave-processing.
For example F1 racing cars are provided with “honey comb” structure core covered with carbon fiber from two sides. Honey combs are provided with thin aluminum that features with specific cell structure which offers shock-absorbing properties.
1 square meter of steel panel 10mm thick weighs
1 square meter of aluminum panel 10mm thick weighs
1 square meter of carbon fiber panel 10mm thick weighs
1 square meter of carbon fiber panel 10mm thick provided with 8mm thick honey comb core weighs.
This simple example demonstrated weight reduction thanks to use of carbon fiber composite manufactured with the advanced technology namely using pre-preg and autoclave composites.
Short implementation time
Due to heavy duty performance of F1 racing cars and demanding schedule where racing follows every week or 2 weeks, motorsports teams plough billions into developing new technologies. Actually every F1 team implements some improvements related to carbon fiber components of innovative and unique shape.
And these improvements are crucial to catch up successfully with the competition. Carbon fiber is a material that enables quick manufacture of components, as required works relate to milling and mold preparation as well as cutting carbon fiber pre-pregs according to specification. Also molds made from aluminum or workable epoxy slabs speed-up the production process.
Carbon fiber elements are produced with autoclave and pre-pregs. This is the most advanced and latest technology for manufacture of carbon fiber parts that reduces weight and ensures optimal composite strength. During manufacture autoclave ensures pressing of carbon fiber fabric against the mold with force of 8bars what provides for composite consolidation and removal of any air bubbles at the same time– to prevent risk of potential composite delamination.
Quick manufacture of spare parts
Molds ready for manufacture facilitate and speed up significantly production of carbon fiber spare parts. Comparing to traditional method with the 4 or 5-axis milling machine where production of aluminum blocks takes up a few days, manufacture of carbon fiber spare parts takes usually 1-2 days, where works related to placement of carbon-fiber pre-preg inside the mold are delivered during one day and works related to further treatment and bonding on the next day.
Therefore ready molds enable quick manufacture of parts that subject to wear or destruction during racing (e.g. a front diffuser).
Carbon fiber Composites provided with aramid core of honey comb structure offer outstanding shock-absorbing properties. Gradual crushing of composite multi-layer honey comb structure absorbs the impact and provides further safety.
This explains why Robert Kubica not only survived, but also came out of the accident virtually unharmed in 2007 during Canadian Grand Prix, when he hit a concrete wall at speed of 232km/h, what caused overloading of 75G.
To compare, a sudden catapulting our of the car results in overloading of 12-14G. The above example confirms outstanding performance of carbon fiber composites regarding impact and energy absorption.
Carbon fiber features with optimal stiffness to weight ratio what makes it a perfect solution for manufacture of F1 racing cars. Interestingly it was in 1981 when this material was used for the first time in F1 racing cars, and during next 40 years of the most dynamic technology development in human history no other material was used to replace it, what testifies to its unique performance and advantages that no other material can provide.