How carbonfibre technology is shaping F1’s new era – Autosport

In fact, just like with every other area of current grand prix machinery, teams are constantly seeking marginal gain improvements to help make them winners.
Taken down to its most basic element, this means making things lighter, and stronger – and ensuring that every part is totally fit for purpose.
Teams are also always looking for signs of any revolutionary technology that can help shoot them clear of their rivals.
Progress in the raw materials that cars are made from is not something that comes purely from within the factory walls of F1’s competitors, though, because they are reliant on outside suppliers that have a much better understanding of the composite industry.
And none stands out more on the current F1 grid than Belgian multinational science company Solvay. It helps supply every F1 team on the grid, to a greater or lesser extent, with its carbonfibre products, which go on to be ultimately shaped and turned into the car parts we see out on track.
Ferrari F1-75 floor detail
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Solvay has seen dramatic changes in the technology and understanding of carbonfibre since it first appeared in F1 – as teams have constantly pushed things to the limit.
As Gerald Perrin, Global Program Director of Automotive at Solvay, tells Autosport: “In the past 20 years, every single car winning the F1 championship was manufactured with Solvay materials.
“We have been extremely pivotal in working with the teams in improving the safety of the cars. But the type of materials that are used today are completely different to what was designed in the ’80s.
“There is optimisation of the fibre and the resin, and how you combine and interact those two materials.
“Everything has been completely optimised, while in the ’80s it was probably one fit for all: it was lighter than metal so it was already super nice!”
McLaren MP4/1
Photo by: Motorsport Images
While decades ago, a car may have used two or three different types of carbonfibre for varying purposes, now it’s a completely different ballgame with around 40 types throughout.
Mark Steele, customer engineering manager of automotive composites for Solvay, says: “When I think back to the 1980s they used one or two, maybe even three, different types of epoxy resins to translate the performance into the fibre.
“Nowadays, the cars don’t use one or two resins, they use multiple resins. They are very, very bespoke resins for very specific applications: whether it’s a suspension arm, which is driven ultimately by stiffness, through to a side intrusion pod, which is designed to protect the driver.
“If you go look at the selection of fibres that are out there, I wouldn’t say there’s hundreds, but there’s massive choice there.
“You want to select a fibre for the type of property you want, and then try and match that up with the chemistry behind the resin, because you can’t use all chemistry with all fibres. I think that’s where the advantages have really come from.
“The consistency has improved a lot too. That allows teams to really stress their parts to the ultimate limit, knowing that they’re going to fail very consistently. That means they can drag every last bit of performance out of the part.”
Ferrari SF16-H, carbon case on the gearbox
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Solvay has witnessed many rule changes over the years and has had to respond to the increasing demands for tougher materials to withstand ever-stricter crash tests.
But F1’s new rules era for 2022 has thrown up some specific challenges, as teams have found themselves battling to get down to the weight limit.
Such was the desperation to trim off the extra kilograms, that some teams had to attack their liveries to strip back any excess paint – leaving the bare carbonfibre exposed. Steele explains that Solvay had to play its part too in producing materials that could help on this front.
“We developed a very specific product for some of the bodywork on the car, where they were having to put just micron levels of paint on,” he said. “So the surface finish had to be almost perfection before they paint it.
“Then, when they abrade into the paint, because quite often they have to remove it or clean the car, we’ve had to come up with some some formulations, which are super abrasion resistant.
“It means when they do abrade it, it doesn’t cut into the carbon. These are the really small little details which allows them to drop weight.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
F1 teams and companies like Solvay are always looking to the future and where improvements will come from next. But it’s important to state that end goals are changing for all competitors.
Where once they may only have been interested in performance, now teams are having to juggle a host of competing factors.
There is the cost cap issue, which means good value for money is essential. But sustainability is also becoming critical and that is something that counts for what materials cars use too.
Steele adds: “It’s very difficult to predict how they’re going to move but, from a material point of view, today they’re using the most exotic fibres, and they’re using exotic resins.
“But the one thing that is playing a part is the budget cap for the teams. It impacts the bigger teams more than others because they will certainly have less money to spend on some of these really highly-exotic products.
“So that’s probably the biggest thing: trying to make materials more cost effective whilst trying to maintain performance.
“There are also conversations around the use of bio sustainable raw [materials], because the regulations might drive teams to start looking at having less petroleum-based type materials in the car.
“It is those sorts of regulations which will move the F1 market in a certain direction.”
Photo by: Franco Nugnes
But this is not to say that, in the end, teams will turn their back on progress that does offer lap time improvement. Perrin sees two avenues of intense development over the next few years.
“Solvay is playing with additive manufacturing,” he explains. “Like 3D printing, additive manufacturing is something that we are already quite present and advanced in.
“It is a different way to make a part, and this is something we see that is appealing for F1 and for multiple markets.
“Then I would say outside of composites, we are a massive player for electrification. We are playing a lot on battery technology and even boosting the electric engine performance.”
Solvay sees scope for greater use of carbonfibre parts in electric motors. These can contribute to less inertia and higher rotational speeds of internal components to allow them to spin up and slow down much faster.
But there are hints too of revolutions to come in overall battery technology, which could be pivotal when F1 moves to its new engine rules era from 2026.
Perrin adds: “We also working on the chemistry of the battery itself. Today most people are using I would say conventional batteries, but there is new technology on batteries that we can foresee in 2025.
“This will completely change things in terms of energy density, so the capacity of the battery, and also the global weight that you need to carry for the same amount of energy, will drastically be reduced.
“It’s not ready yet, but that’s something that we see coming on the horizon.”
Carbonfibre helped open a new era for F1 back in the 1980s. It looks set to play a key part in shaping its long-term future too.
Ricciardo exit proof of F1’s brutal nature, says Sainz
Marko: De Vries should be AlphaTauri F1’s team leader in 2023
How an idea to help save Manor fuelled F1’s latest sponsor revolution
McLaren to debut innovative dynamic sponsor logos in F1
The unavoidable element that all F1 drivers need to rise above
From cheesy intros to Taylor Swift: COTA’s role in the American F1 boom
The old saying “everything is bigger in Texas” will ring true for Formula 1 when it returns to the Austin this weekend.
MotorsportDays LIVE: Where 2023 season planning kicks off
In just over two weeks’ time, Silverstone will again play host to the national motorsport extravaganza that offers plenty of opportunities to get behind the wheel, and network too
F1 Arcade sim racing experience centre to open in London
The newly developed London outpost will be Formula 1’s first foray into simulator centres, with the inaugural location opening in November.
How an idea to help save Manor fuelled F1’s latest sponsor revolution
When McLaren rolls its cars out of the garage for practice at Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix, eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot what’s being called a sponsorship ‘game-changer’.
The unavoidable element that all F1 drivers need to rise above
Formula 1’s biggest talents can lean heavily on their ability but, without a slice of luck, results won’t go in their favour. And Lady Luck has played her role this season in helping one driver start an F1 career – but, equally, put an early end to several drivers’ title aspirations
The 10 steps Ferrari needs to take for the Prancing Horse to be stable
Max Verstappen most likely would have won the 2022 Formula 1 world championship even without Ferrari’s blunders and miscues. The team has much to work on if it’s to mount a challenge in the years ahead
The wheeler-dealer moves that secured Tyrrell and Stewart’s F1 union
Tyrrell broke into Formula 1 with a powerful merger of Matra chassis and Ford-Cosworth engine, allied to the sublime skills of Jackie Stewart. As MAURICE HAMILTON reveals, it was a successful combination
Why Verstappen and Leclerc can bust a myth about early F1 coronations
OPINION: Having clinched the 2022 world title in Japan, Max Verstappen reckons the pressure is off heading into the final four races. But there is still plenty at stake both in terms of pride and, more significantly, potential history-in-the-making that means Red Bull’s leading man and Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc will be all guns blazing as usual this weekend in Austin
The “borderline” team compromise that staved off an F1 crisis
Formula 1’s budget cap was heralded as a radical advance, the saviour of smaller teams, and the pathway to a brighter commercial future for all. So why were so many teams so keen to either break it or negotiate a raise? As MARK GALLAGHER reveals, it’s not just about the cost of crash repairs
Mika Hakkinen: An F1 life in pictures
At the turn of the century Formula 1 became the Mika and Michael show as Mika Hakkinen claimed two world championships by going wheel-to-wheel with Michael Schumacher. Over a collection of images from his F1 career, the Flying Finn shares some cherished memories with MAURICE HAMILTON about his route to the top, annoying Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and that overtake in Spa…
The one thing that can’t be sacrificed amid Red Bull’s F1 overspend controversy
OPINION: The FIA revealed this week that Red Bull breached Formula 1’s cost cap, throwing the team into controversy. But why did its calculation put it several million dollars below the cost cap limit when the FIA deemed it to be over? And what will the governing body do as a sanction? What happens next could have vital implications for the very future of the world championship
The steps the FIA must take to restore its authority inside and outside F1
OPINION: After Spa and Abu Dhabi in 2021, Formula 1 has another saga to address after the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix. And it’s one that centres on the decisions of motorsport’s governing body, which is having what good it does do damaged in the court of public opinion. Here are some steps that would address this and hopefully satisfy all parties


Leave a Comment