How Is A Formula 1 Car Made?

Kevin Magnussen
Kevin Magnussen

How is a FORMULA 1 car made? F1 engineers use CAD, Finite Element and Stress Analysis Software to design, analyse and refine the chassis. The following steps give a simplified view of the basic steps in the production of all carbon fibre components of the car. The main components that make up the chassis are the survivor, roll structures, fuel tanks and ballasts.

How Is A Formula 1 Car Made?

Five-axis milling machines are employed to cut out patterns for the solid epoxy chassis. These milling machines read data from the CAD design file to accurately replicate the dimensions and contours specified by the patterns. Should any defects be found in the patterns, they will be reproduced in the chassis derived from them, so it is critical that the patterns be defect-free.

The finished patterns are accurate to within +/- 0.05mm. Epoxy is used in place of metals to ensure that when the moulds are subjected to the extremely high temperatures of the curing process (in excess of 130 degrees) thermal expansion is reduced.

Female moulds are made from the same patterns. The production takes place in a cleanroom which is essentially a room that has been sealed off from the rest of the factory by double-door airlocks. The environment is tightly controlled (air pressure, humidity, temperature), and the workers must wear special coveralls and shoes at all times.

The moulds are constructed using carbon fibre. The process goes through several stages, being subjected to a number of vacuum treatments and layering and thermal curing processes along the way.

Upper and lower moulds are used in the production, as the chassis is built using upper and lower halves that are bonded together later. Extreme care must be exercised when removing the patterns from their moulds to avoid damaging them.

The exterior of the finished moulds are then machined to remove any imperfections. These moulds are then used to produce all the chassis needed for the season.

The chassis themselves are made from layers of carbon fibre fabric. Several different types of fabric are used in the process and the orientation of the plies is crucial – they must be aligned in a specific direction to accommodate the stiffness requirements and directional loading a particular area of the chassis will be subjected to.

The process requires several hundred plies of carbon fabric be used for each chassis, made up of a number of different shapes, to come up with the desired properties throughout the chassis. The shapes are then cut out using computerized machines to ensure accuracy in replication from one chassis to another.

The number of plies used, and their orientation, varies from location to location around the chassis. For example, more plies are used in high-stress areas like mounting points for the suspension and the engine. The number of carbon fibre plies are counted as the layers are applied, as well as the orientation and position of each layer.

To ensure that this critical positioning of the plies is correct, workers refer to reference manuals containing annotated, visual descriptions showing exactly how each plie should be applied. Once a ply is layered, an inspector must check its position against the relevant manual and give their okay before applying the next ply.

After the plies have been laid-up in the mould in their correct position, the entire stack of plies is put into a vacuum bag and placed into an autoclave (a large oven for thermal curing under controlled temperature and pressure). The bag is then vacuumed down so that the plies are squeezed together.

The high temperatures in the autoclave interact with pre-impregnated resin in between the plies, causing it to flow evenly throughout the fabric. When the resin cures it becomes solid, fusing all of the plies together into one solid mass that represents one of the halves of the chassis. This is the time when other components can be integrated into the structure, like metal inserts and attachment studs. These will serve as mountings for various components that will be attached to the chassis later.

The two completed chassis’ halves are then taken out of their moulds and glued together to form a single solid shell. Bulkheads are then glued to the shell to provide mountings for the front-end suspension rockers and the driver’s seatback. The areas that are to be glued together must undergo rigorous cleaning, as the sturdiness of the bond will rely solely on the glue with no support from metal fasteners. Special clamps are used when glueing the chassis halves together to ensure the process can be accurately duplicated.

A final machining and trimming process is carried out on the chassis to accommodate any required detailing and suspension pick-up points and component mounts. Again, special clamps are employed to ensure the accuracy of these processes.

During all the steps of the preceding process, a gruelling inspection process must be followed at every step of the way. The team will have had a Composite Inspection Department set up where all of the related parts and bonded pieces are inspected when they emerge from the autoclave and before they move on to the next stage in the assembly process, or for final introduction into the vehicle assembly.

Parts are also brought back for inspection after every race for further inspection. Some parts are assigned an inspection/service schedule where they are automatically returned for inspection on a certain date. This may include Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) of joint bonding and laminate condition, firmness checks, visual checks, or a thorough cleaning.

Also, the chassis for any new race car must undergo a series of rigorous FIA crash tests, which they must pass before they can be approved and the car given the go-ahead for racing. These impact tests are conducted under the supervision of an FIA official. A series of tests are conducted which are divided into different groups called impact tests, roll-structure tests, and push-off tests.

It is a remarkable achievement indeed that these amazing machines are conceived, designed and built from the bottom up every year.

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