All machines for 20 years are from the material of one company.
In Formula 1, cars have not been made of metal for a long time: since 1981, the chassis and body have been made of carbon after McLaren’s phenomenal innovation on the MP4 / 1 car. Carbon fiber turned out to be stronger and lighter than aluminum with steel and titanium – and in just a couple of years the race has changed.
Now all the cars are 85% carbon fiber – the rest falls on the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels, electronics and cooling system. And even they are trying to introduce carbon fiber parts into them: a couple of years ago, Ferrari launched a trend for carbon casings for brakes, they are also trying to make the body and some of the inside of the gearbox from carbon fiber – the race to reduce the weight of cars is still in full swing.
What is it? Machine parts are made of carbon fiber, or carbon fiber – and they are already formed from carbon fiber and epoxy resins.
Carbon fiber is thin threads with a diameter of 3-15 micrometers of carbon atoms combined into small crystals. They come in different types depending on the shapes of the crystals and their alignment. And in the form of raw materials they take the form of that very soft, like a fabric coil:
It is stored at the bases in special warehouses with a temperature of -19 Celsius – because at any temperature above this mark, sticking reactions begin.
Epoxy resin is a special polymeric material: a synthetic viscous resin base for plastics or sealants. It is used even in the manufacture of jewelry and art objects.
Moreover, there are almost hundreds of combinations and variations of carbon fiber, fibers and resins, and over the past 20 years, all teams have been buying them from one company – Solvay, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. Moreover, it turned into a monopolist not because of a special contract with the FIA or with F-1, but thanks to the agreement to look for its own type of material and desired properties for each team.
“Current materials are not at all the types of carbon fiber that were used in the 80s,” Gerald Perrin, director of the Solvay global auto program, told Autosport in an interview . “There are optimization methods between fibers and types of [epoxy] resins, and you need to combine and combine them.
Decades ago, a car could be made up of two or three different types of carbon fiber designed for different purposes. Now it’s a completely different game – there are over 40 different types for every possible purpose.”
“In the 1980s, one or two, sometimes three different types of epoxy resins were used to create the desired characteristics of the fibers,” recalled Mark Steele, engineering manager of Solvay autocomposites. – Now in each car there is not one or two resins, there are many of them. They are very, very rare, and made according to special requests: their own – for the suspension pylon, where special hardness is needed, their own – for the sideboard of the pilot’s cell, necessary to withstand the desired shock load, and so on.
Looking at the range of fiber and resin combinations, I wouldn’t say we have hundreds of them, but teams have a huge selection to choose from. You can select a fiber for the desired properties, then move on to resin selection, because not every resin can be used with every fiber.
We got to the point that for many parts of the body we developed a material on which a layer of paint as thin as microns could be applied. True, the surface should be close to ideal. And the paint is washed off after every race, so we had to refine the formulas so that they were resistant to the removal of coating. So that when sanding off the paint, the teams do not cut off the carbon.”
How does the process take place? For each part, they create their own polyethylene form, and fill it with raw materials – using just the “fabric” features of the fiber:
Then everyone is sent to bake in a huge autoclave – in fact, the most complex oven with a huge number of settings:
Each type of fiber and resin has its own level of temperature and pressure (about 10 atmospheres and 180 degrees Celsius, for example). In total, the Mercedes plant produces up to 50 thousand parts a year.
However, progress is already moving forward: at McLaren, for example, autoclaves are gradually changing to such monstrous machines – laser stereolithography 3D printers:
This is how resin is poured into these new machines:
And this is how the fiber goes:
Moreover, in two years of racing with a budget ceiling, McLaren has moved even further along the technology branch and found a way to apply liveries to cars even cheaper.
Instead of paint, adhesive ultra-thin vinyl “wallpaper” is now used:
“Faster, lighter, cheaper,” the new product was described in a recent McLaren video.
They cover it with a special liquid, apply vinyl, heat it up to 100 degrees Celsius – you’re done.
So now the cars are slowly moving away from carbon. It seems that the next step is linen in general: it was tested by the same McLaren for steering wheels and seats, and now in the Japanese Super Formula they made half of the body and aero body kit from it.
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