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F1 in the Future – Materials and Safety
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F1 in the Future – Materials and Safety
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Dec 2009   |  12:51 pm GMT  |  63 comments

So far we have looked at one area which has got to change for society’s sake, namely engines and one which has to change for the sake of the show, which is aerodynamics.

But both are likely to be refinements of what we have today, evolutions rather than any revolution.

The materials from which F1 cars are made is probably the area where the biggest changes will occur to the sport in the future. Again it will be set by the rules, with some extremely expensive materials likely to be banned in the interests of cost control, but there is likely to be amazing development in the field of materials.

Leading F1 engineers tell me that in 20 years from now, nanomaterials will be prevalent. These will be incredibly light and incredibly stiff, exactly what is needed for a racing car. Carbon fire will look heavy and flexible in comparison. Essentially the cars will be made of fibre filled plastics and there will be very little metal anywhere in the car. All metals have more or less the same stiffness to weight ratio, far inferior to fibre filled plastics. It is not possible today but it will be possible soon.

Rapid prototyping, where a laser cooks resin in a vat, will also transform what is possible in car making. Essentially it will be possible to pour packets of powder into a machine and get an engine out 24 hours later. Laser technology will mean it will be possible to make anything in any shape from a computer model within three or four hours.

“Today you have to cast the engine blocks then spend thousands of hours machining them,” says Lotus F1 technical director Mike Gascoyne. “ You’ll be making them exact within hours from a rapid prototype machine. That technology is probably only ten years away.”

The spread of these new lightweight materials will mean that the weight of the car will probably drop from 600 kilos (including driver) to 300 kilos or less.

The area where F1 has changed the most in the last few decades is safety. It has been 15 years since a driver was killed in an F1 car and nine years since a driver even broke his leg. This year we had a graphic example of F1′s safety push; Felipe Massa would have been killed by that flying spring in Budapest without the staggering advances in helmet safety.

The engineers agree that you can never make racing cars and racing circuits 100% safe, but more has been done than remains to be done in terms of protecting the driver in the event of an accident. “When a 600 kilo car flies off the road at 200mph, there’s only so much you can do to protect the driver,” says Gascoyne. “And we’ve done most of it.”

While most safety work has been focussed on this area, a lot has also been done on making the circuits safer and there is still plenty of scope for development there with different barrier technologies and the use of abrasive materials in run-off areas. I was very interested to see in Abu Dhabi that the designers had wanted to put the grandstands as close to the track as possible, which is great for the spectators, by putting the run off areas underneath the stands and building strong, high safety fences.

The area where very little has been done is in avoiding accidents happening in the first place. Perhaps technology will evolve for keeping cars apart, slowing them rapidly in the event of a driver losing control, as Griff mentioned in his comment to yesterday’s post about cluster racing.

This will be particularly important if the vision of close, wheel to wheel racing is to be brought to life.

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63 Comments
  1. Rhys says:

    “Perhaps technology will evolve for keeping cars apart, slowing them rapidly in the event of a driver losing control”

    thats the worst idea i have ever heard…..its the driver who drives..not the car..if they cock up they need to be punished as Martin Brundle says

  2. Andrew Hill says:

    I agree that materials technology will present some opportunities for lowering overall weight. It will be interesting to see whether engineers use this benefit to increase the cars performance or realise better fuel economy. Or both.
    I guess a lot depends how the current rules are shaped in the years to come.
    I understand that the effectivness of aerodynamics to generate downforce increases with speed. However, I suspect that a lighter car will also have superior cornering ability.
    Will advanced materials move the focus of development away from aerodymamics?

  3. Steve Arnott says:

    Wow. I had no idea it was feasible (or soon to be) to make an engine out of a different material. Thinking even farther ahead, it sounds like it will one day be possible to visit your local car dealer (or a website), design every element of your car, including the colour of your engine, then some factory somewhere ‘prints’ it out for you. A couple of days later you have your very own, personalised, light-weight, strong, inexpensive (?) vehicle. And when you’re finished with it, melt it down and convert it into milk bottles. Awesome.

  4. Andrew Hill says:

    James,

    You touched on car safety as well as circuit and spectator safety. Obviously removing the spectators and relying soley on television/internet/other media to promote the sport is the right way to go. And probably where most of the advertising money is to be found.

    There certainly was a wow factor during the Abu Dhabi weekend, by all accounts a circuit can be safer for the drivers, good viewing for the visiting public and provide first class facilities for teams + VIPs. However I’m not sure how easy it would be be to develop overhanging spectator stands along Eau Rouge.

    I’d like to hear a drivers opinion what areas of safety can be further improved using advanced materials. Or whether visibility and driver awareness are greater factors in reducing racing accidents. Mechanical failures that can result in injury are thankfully rare.

    1. I’m not sure about removing the spectators and making it a media-only affair. It removes one of the mainstays of a sporting event. You could even say that if we are to do that, it may as well be fought by gamers in a virtual world, as it would cure all problems in one go! OK it’s a joke but you see my point…

      Hearing, smelling and seeing F1 machinery in the flesh (although usually from great distances for spectators), is still a worthwhile experience for anyone to do *once*, and there are many of us who keep coming back again and again. In fact it’s one of the most compelling aspects of F1 and seems to be missed entirely by the powers that be.

      Although admirable, I think the focus of safety is out. I have viewed F1 in certain places at certain corners and realised I would be in trouble if someone crashed there. Sometimes the catch fencing doesn’t seem that high, probably because we want a good view for our money. That’s why I think safety technology advances should focus on protecting spectators 100% while giving them the best view possible through design as much as reactive safety measures. Secondly, that technology should be applied to the circuits *without* neutering them (The post ’94 reaction destroyed a lot of circuits’ character rather than engineering out the points of most danger).

      Finally, the Cars and Drivers should then be looked at to ensure the risk of driver injury is at the minimum. I do not wish to see a driver hurt, but honestly, they are the only ones who ultimatley decide to take the risk, and know what they are letting themselves in for. For all other stakeholders in the sport its either a job or leisure activity.

  5. Dmitry says:

    Will drivers also be made by rapid prototyping? :-)

    1. Meeklo says:

      whats the youngest driver we got right now?

      In 20yrs I think we might see teenagers between 10-15 yrs old in F1 cars.

    2. lip_iceman says:

      Judging by how PR friendly all of them who haven’t gone to rallying are, I thought they were already plastic.

  6. F1 Outsider says:

    The more you go on about F1 in 20 years, the more I find myself thinking about the Speed Racer movie from a couple of years ago… and that’s not a good thing!!!

    1. Meeklo says:

      +1

      Major changes need to start happening to keep teams in at around the 2012 mark where the Concorde Agreement runs out.

  7. Meeklo says:

    The FIA should introduce crash test/strength specs for the front wings. While they don’t need to withstand a full crash they shouldn’t brake apart at the slightest contact while racing. This could create James idea of a front bumper, create better racing from less repair pitstops, and less debris on-track.

    1. IMasri says:

      Stronger front wings will mean that the tyres will shred upon contact instead of the wing shattering apart. I think this would be very dangerous.

  8. Stu says:

    So if the car is half the weight that should mean it will require a lot less down force. So maybe we can have F1 shift more towards the tyres providing the grip than the aero.

    Although a much lighter car (going just as fast as todays cars) launching skyward is quite scary as surely it would go higher and further.

    1. Neil says:

      But there is a minimum weight to race. Lighter cars just means more ballast.

      Neil.

  9. Nicholas says:

    Being in the ID field, I’ll be thrilled if rapid prototyping advances that much in the next decade and becomes cost-manageable at the same time! I can also see engineers turning to biomimicry for aero solutions that involve the surfaces of the materials. RP would make this possible.

    Massa’s accident and the collision between Wurz and Coulthard in Melbourne ’07 raise a few questions about open-cockpit racing. Would it be possible to have some of the benefits of a closed cabin in the future, in the form of a hybrid design?

    1. Stephen Kellett says:

      I can also see engineers turning to biomimicry for aero solutions that involve the surfaces of the materials. RP would make this possible.

      RP already makes this possible. No reason why you can’t do this with a resin or plastic.

      Shape Data in Cambridge have been providing RP solutions for years. There are also some companies that allow you to send them a 3D model and they’ll supply you a RP version in a fixed timeframe (days). All done via the web. Cost is purely a function of how big the object that you are making.

      These companies have been around for a few years. I toyed with the idea of making a bagpipe chanter from a high density plastic a few years ago (I didn’t do it in the end). HD plastic is great for music instruments – no humidity concerns and very few tuning problems related to changes in temperature.

      At present these companies deal in resins and plastics. Will carbon nanotube (and related) based materials be the future? That will be interesting to see.

  10. Graham says:

    While nobody wants to see drivers hurt or killed anymore, as Jacques Villenueve comments in the late 90′s, the danger factor has been so dramatically reduced that drivers are no longer able to make up for machinery deficiencies through shear will and bravery as they used to.

    Sterling Moss, Gilles Villenueve, Nigel Mansell, and Ayrton Senna were drivers who could do that, and did regularly. The car is now 98%, the drivers count for so much less than they used to. To suggest cars would be capable of taking over in some way, shape, or form to protect drivers is not something I for would like to see. While the days of the Targa Florio are long gone, the sport cannot afford to swing too far in the opposite direction.

    1. Dale says:

      Excellent post and I couldn’t agree more.
      F1 is safe enough and no more time should be spent in this area when what’s needed is time spent and solutions for the dreadful racing we’re all too often served.
      F1 is not a safety series it’s a racing series. Too much safety leads to cheating ie Schumacher’s blocking at Monaco (know he was in his safety cell should anyone not heed the flags) and of course the Renault fiasco.

      1. Freespeech says:

        You’re dead right, F1 is safe enough.
        Motor racing has to have a little danger in its dna as this separates the brave from the not so brave. In truth F1 has probably gone too safe with the result being we can mind boringly boring races all too often.
        I am not saying I want to see drivers getting hurt all over the place but I think it should always be in the drivers mind that he could get hurt and I don’t believe that exists in real time any-more, danger and F1 belong together.

    2. Anthony says:

      the car accounts for 98%?? tell that to Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella in the Ferrari…

      1. Ross Dixon says:

        Yea 98% is a stupid number to come up with. Im pretty certain Lewis counted for more than 2% of his victories this year in a car that was not very good

      2. Graham says:

        Obviously discussing this concept with some of you is impossible.

        Yes, the driver is 80% of the equation – have it your way. The facts however, show it to be otherwise. Running the figures posted by “krad,” it seems my 2% is pretty accurate after all….

      3. Graham says:

        Unfortunately, you are confusing familiarity with performance – they are different.

        While my “98%” figure may be pulled out of thin air, the point is that the care has always made up a very lager portion of the equation, and these days ever more so to the point of tedium.

        I fly helicopters for a living in a very difficult environment, and there are a great many factors that separate the good from the great, dealing with fear is one of them – this has become absent in F1.

      4. krad says:

        hang on

        kimi best race lap from spa

        1:47.674

        badoers

        1:49.803

        that looks about 2% to me!!

  11. Toastiejoe says:

    Materials will be the most important advance over the next ten years, imho, be it chassis construction, engine or whatever. The test for the rule makers will be to find a way to ensure it happens. For example, minimum weight rules will need to be changed. This will be an opportunity for F1 to do work in advance of road car implementation. Sadly, that will be less likely with fewer manufacturers in the game. Perhaps that will turn around within 5 years if the rules are sufficiently well done to entice them back.

  12. kristian says:

    Rapid prototyping is awesome. To see it in person shows how much promise we have in the world if we’d stop being prisoners to banksters and paying for their failure rather than sponsoring the real geniuses in society. Check this out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAt2xD1L8dw (ZCorporation 450 rapid prototyping machine)

    To make an analogy, today’s rapid prototyping machines are like the dot matrix printers of 40 years ago. To think where we’ll be in 20 years bends the mind.

    We do have to remember that it is a toxic process as well. Nothing is free.

    Slightly of topic: Rapid prototyping is the future of all manufacturing. You will build all products on a nano-scale. A CAD file will be created in one country and that company will have manufacturing centers that build products purchase by purchase. No more inventory buildup or shipping products across oceans. It’s a paradigm shift; it sounds like science fiction. It’s already happening in engineering firms across the world. It’s not long until you get your kid’s latest toy that way. Amazing!

    1. Ohm says:

      I’m thinking replicator from star trek!

      1. Ohm says:

        maybe a real world transporter will be somewhere along this line. There could be a 3D scanner that reads what the object looks like and deform the object back into the raw material and transfer this scanned data to another place in the world and re-print it. Of course wouldn’t work on living things but imagine the world without storage and cargo transportation!

  13. Guy says:

    F1 has always been about technology that is relevant and will trickle down to the what we will see on the road in future.

    Much of what we see of the spectacle of motoring racing will soon become irrelevant, like smoking in old movies.

    How do you bring in new viewers/spectators to a sport that may be past its prime?

    It has to have some resonance with the Gen Y and beyond. We may not be talking about ‘star fighters’ but the show needs to be more engaging to draw in new fans.

    1. Ted the Mechanic says:

      Yes Guy, kids of today have been brought up on PS2&3, XBOX, online gaming, sophisticated PC games, Wii, etc and if my kids are any indication, need instant gratification and get bored quickly. They haven’t shown much interest in F1 yet. For them to become fans in the future what they get from it and what expectations they have will probably be quite different to my own.

      As a racer myself of physical machinery like cars, motorbikes and go-karts I appreciate the driving challenge of F1 and the skills required and demonstrated by the drivers. But for people whose only racing experience is indestructible cars, “mulligans” and gravity-defying manoeuvres one has to wonder…

      1. James Allen says:

        You will enjoy tomorrow’s post on simulation and gaming then..

      2. Brace says:

        I really have to disagree with all that “new generations” and games things. I’ve been playing games since I was 7 and I would never want F1 to become pointless arcade game if you understand what I’m saying.
        I like playing various racing games, but when I want to play F1 I play only, ONLY Geoff Crammond’s GP series.
        F1 isn’t nascar of demolition derby or btcc and it should never be.

      3. Tom - Australia says:

        Ahhh fantastic. James, I was going to ask if you could get some information from Codemasters regarding the upcoming PS3/Xbox 360 F12010. (I’m not really interested in the current Wii game).

        Codemasters have been very tightlipped about the development process, but I did see a photo at the young drivers test of a guy wearing a Codemasters T-shirt – he was taking audio samples of the cars.

      4. James Allen says:

        No I have a copy of the Wii game and am going to do a review of it (once I can actually beat my 8 year old!)

    2. BruceA says:

      Formula 1 has not (and should not) be focused on the pursuit of ‘relevance’…

      1. BruceA says:

        I don’t think the accident avoidance systems James has alluded to have any bussiness being anywhere near a Formula 1 car…

        Why can we not accept that *Racing* and the road car industry have (increasing) divergent intereasts? While, sure there has and will always been technical crossover, I don’t believe Formula 1 should have to perform its relevance. From day one, Formula 1 has had a stong element of the superflous, the absurb – and that to me is part of beauty…

        How dreary to give to suddenly insist that it have a *main*, fucntional purpose…

        I think, in the long term, it will survive perhaps precisely because it is an semi- anachronistic pursuit… Color, Flair, Noise, Danger, etc, in an increasingly sterile, technology dominated life…

      2. Guy says:

        You may be right that it will survive – just for the pure joy of it.

        I suspect when the fans fade – so will the sponsors, and then our pure sport will become irrelevant.

        Polo anyone?

      3. Ted the Mechanic says:

        You made me stop and think about how we got so focused on this path of “relevance” and I suddenly realised this is all down to Max Mosley…

        …and HIS vision for the future of Formula 1.

        While his tenure at the top of the FIA came to a somewhat ignominious (if a little drawn out) end, his autocratic, forward-thinking ideas and ideals (of the automotive variety anyway) did find favour and acceptance with a large majority of the motoring public.

        The investment of FIA money (mostly earned from F1 fees and fines) in road safety research and awareness campaigns would be difficult to argue against. And Jean Todt has a particular interest in continuing with this it seems.

        But when it comes to future relevance and F1 being an accelerated incubator for road car research perhaps now that Mosley has been whipped out the back door we might see a change in direction or emphasis in the FIA’s rule-making.

        Certainly it seems the Team’s inputs into the F1 Technical Working Group/s will carry more weight after the FOTA threats.

        It would be interesting to know what Bernie Ecclestone thinks about the whole “relevance” track we are/were? heading down. I can’t recall much comment from him on the subject but stand to be corrected.

      4. Freespeech says:

        I agree, F1 is special because it is so ridiculous in so many ways. Surely the environmental police can allow us one thing to stay pure for what it is.
        On any normal level F1 should be banned if these people got their way.

      5. Trent says:

        I agree with the above – if F1 changes itself too much in order to satisfy the whims of the modern consumer, it will alienate the more engaged,long-term fans. That’s a shortsighted strategy, and a perilous one.

  14. Dauné says:

    Not related to the article,but I love the new pictorial heading! Ross and Michael back together again. You know how to pick ‘em!!

  15. Spencer says:

    Would I be right in saying that driver aids such as traction control and ABS were safety features.

    It is somewhat ironic to think that these items were removed from f1 regulations to make way for more exciting racing. Perhaps in 2020 we can go back to no crash helmets and HANS so we can see the drivers better and improve the show.

    Not sure how others feel, but I would sooner have a road car with ABS than an airbag.

    James, Off topic on this one but is there any more news on the joint FOTA launch in Valencia in January? Living within a three hour drive to Valencia, this is something I would love to see. Are tickets going to be made available to the public?

    1. James Allen says:

      Apparently the joint launch is off, according to a story on the Autosport site over Christmas

      1. Freespeech says:

        It was a silly FOTO idea in the first place, good in theory but useless in practice.
        Maybe two joint launches would work with the big 4 in one group and the rest in another, as let’s in honest it’s the big 4 most are interested in.

  16. Phil says:

    The process Gascoyne is referring to is “Additive Layer Manufacturing” – for example; http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/11/05/334399/eads-weight-saving-technology-to-make-f1-debut-in-2010.html

  17. David says:

    From what I’ve read; I don’t like the future of F1.

    1. Freespeech says:

      I agree, if these environmental police get their way F1 will surely be overtaken by other formulas.

  18. Trent says:

    There MUST be risk in F1. If it were possible to make the sport 100% safe, should that be the goal? I don’t think so.

    I hope we never see another fatality. But soccer players, skiers, even equestrian riders suffer injuries and it’s often these injuries that define the risk and underline the bravery and commitment of the best competitors.

    The prospect of eliminating even the chance of an accident altogether is truly ridiculous. And it’s totally contrary to the idea of appealing to the masses, as discussed earlier this week. I wonder if Earnest Hemingway would still classify motor racing as a sport, or is now ‘merely a game’?

    1. Stephen Kellett says:

      I don’t know why you say “even equestrian riders” – that is the one sport where you are more likely to get a broken back than if you play rugby or jump out of aeroplanes for a living.

      1. Trent says:

        Fair comment; my point was that in a range of sports risk still exists but you’re quite right to point out that equestrian is actually highly dangerous. F1 should strive to be safer than that, for sure.

    2. Freespeech says:

      Could you imagine what F1 would have been like in 10 years time if [mod] Mosley was sill dictating all that is F1 ?

    3. Ohm says:

      I think I disagree. I don’t think the entertainment value of F1 has anything to do with accidents/injuries so why should we not prevent them if it stops us from seeing great drivers like Massa missing action for half a season? Also I don’t think it’s got much to do with commitment also. F1 drivers are a different breed, they don’t know fear!

      1. Trent says:

        No I think you’re missing my point. It’s not necessarily the accidents themselves that make the entertainment, but the risk of one happening. Would Senna vs Mansell down the straight in Barcelona in ’91 have had any excitement value if the you knew the cars would automatically repel each other if they got too close?

        You say F1 drivers don’t know fear – but you only say that because there is something to fear at the moment. What if an accident was impossible; could you still claim they are fearless?

        If James’ description of the future F1 is accurate, the word ‘BRAVE’ will become irrelevant to describe F1 drivers. For me, that is the tragedy.

      2. Ohm says:

        Ahh I see. I think the solution is then to not prevent accidents but reduce the severtiy of injuries?

  19. Paul S says:

    If engines are to be designed from materials other than metal, what chance is there that this new material could do away with internal lubricants. An environmental and cost saving with applications for road cars in the future.

  20. Certainly the death of Senna has had a significant effect on the safety in F1. The tracks, cars, rules and the mechanical side of the F1 have been improved significantly. There is no question Massa Massa would’ve been killed if the helmet wasn’t good enough. Still 8 years of research on that helmet has been good enough to save his life but not good enough to prevent him from to crash. Therefore, there is still long way to go as far safety is concerned. FIA should also invest on junior races like Gp2/A1/F3/Formula Ford and others. After all most of the F1 drivers come from those open wheel race background. What I have seen over the past decade is it also comes down to driver’s ability and the aero of the car. Drivers like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso barely crash because of their driving mistakes. They are extremely skilful to save the car even after making a big mistake. On the other hand, Adrian Sutil, Jamie Alguersuari, Grosjean and few other drives crash more than they finish through the season. Everybody rates Vettel is one of the stars of the future. Even he takes aggression too far at times (2009 Australian Grand Prix). As much everybody enjoys the first corner overtaking and hustles of the grand prix race, it is sometimes just silly and annoying when championship contender end up crashing out because of the other drivers. We all appreciate eco friendly and innovative technologies being used in F1 whether its used in cars or tracks. But can anybody can give me an answer how the F1 can be prevented from unfortunate and unnecessary crashes in 2010 let own in 20 years?????????

    1. Ohm says:

      Hire clones of Nick Heidfelds! lol.

  21. DaveR says:

    Undoubtably the greatest advance in F1 has been in car safety to the point where deliberate crashing has been used as a race tactic.
    But we see no requirements in terms of car drivabilty after an incident.
    Races continue to be compromised even ruined by silly often minor first corner incidents.
    Especially this year with the ridiculous wide front wings with frilly ends.
    When will the FIA consider introducing simple design rules to ensure a reasonable level of car drivability after minor impacts.
    This is where materials that provide great strength yet retain lightness will be required.

    1. Freespeech says:

      As a race tactic because the driver knew he’d be totally safe !
      Would any driver in the 1970′s have done that (regardless as to the sporting cheating side)> No of course not because the risk to the driver would have been unthinkable.
      F1 safety has gone far enough.

  22. Ishaak says:

    I hope we never reach the stage that a cockpit canopy wil be neccessary as well as the cars no longer being open-wheeled. F1 would simply not be the same, too similar to le means.

    1. Ross Dixon says:

      I think they technically would still be opened wheeled as the wheels would still be open. I think they no longer are names as single seaters as these cars are defined not by the number of seats but by the lack of a roof. That’s as far as I am aware.

  23. Olivier says:

    Are these fibre filled plastics re-cyclable? F1 should push the principles from cradle to cradle design and focus on developing a technical nutrient together with the great chemical companies.

    Slashing the fuel consumption with super lightweight materials that cannot be re-cycled sounds like a cheat. However, they could restrict its use to the monocoque only.

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