Dry Ice In F1: What Is It Used For?

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Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. It’s hazardous and needs to be handled with care at all times. While we might not see it frequently in our daily lives, dry ice is vital in Formula 1. But you might be left wondering what exactly dry ice is used for in F1. 

Dry ice is used in F1 to keep the cars cool when they are standing in the garage or on the grid. F1 cars need to be kept cool when they are not moving as they are unable to cool themselves. This is especially important when the races are hosted in hotter climates with high ambient temperatures.

You might be confused when seeing dry ice used in the garage or even on the grid, but it plays a crucial role in the cooling of the car and the driver. Keep reading to find out more about why it’s so important for the teams to keep this hazardous material close by when they’re at the track.

What Is Dry Ice Used For In F1?

Dry ice is mainly used to cool down the cars in Formula 1. This substance is carbon dioxide that has been frozen solid, and it can reach extremely low temperatures of around -78 degrees Celsius (-108 degrees Fahrenheit). There are two main risks to handling dry ice, and it’s incredibly important for it to be handled with care at all times to avoid putting team personnel in danger.

The Dangers Of Dry Ice

The dry ice needs to be stored in the correct containers, and it must always be used in an area that has a lot of ventilation. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which means that as it melts it turns into carbon dioxide gas which can be dangerous if inhaled in large quantities in an unventilated area.

Because of the extremely cold temperatures of dry ice, there is also the risk of suffering from severe frostbite when it touches bare skin. This can cause serious damage to the skin, so it’s important that dry ice is always handled with care. Team personnel will always handle dry ice with gloves and avoid contact with other people when they’re holding dry ice.

Why Do F1 Teams Use Dry Ice?

Formula 1 teams will use dry ice as it’s the most effective way to cool down a Formula 1 car. Parts of the car like the engine and the brakes can reach extreme temperatures, and they have no way to keep themselves cool if they are standing still, which means that an extreme method of cooling is needed to prevent the car’s internal components from overheating and being damaged.

Dry ice is used because of how cold it is, reaching a temperature of around -78 degrees Celsius (-108 degrees Fahrenheit). Using dry ice blowers (basically fans attached to a box of dry ice that blow out cold air) allows teams to move lots of cold air into the car’s sidepods and brake ducts. This cold air keeps important components like the brakes and engine at a safe temperature.

NOTE: The dry ice itself doesn’t come into contact with the car parts (in most cases) and instead it is the cold carbon dioxide that the pieces of dry ice produce as they sublimate (go from solid straight to gas) that is blown into or over the components using powerful fans

The Thermal Shock Problem

Thermal shock is always a concern when dealing with the extremes of temperature, especially when it comes to the expensive internal components of a Formula 1 car, not to mention to engines that cost tens of millions of dollars each and need to last multiple races.

Dry ice is much colder than the ambient air, so it’s fair to believe that thermal shock could be an issue, with cold air touching very hot components. However, thanks to clever technology in the form of an EXAIR Air Amplifier (essentially a powerful fan), Formula 1 mechanics are in full control of the volume of dry ice that is blasted into the car’s air vents.

When Is Dry Ice Used?

Dry ice is used when the car comes into the garage during practice and qualifying, when the engine and other components are hot after being driven around the track for several laps. It’ll also be used if a car retires in the pits during a race, as the teams want to prevent any further potential damage to the car. 

FUN FACT: Dry ice may also be packed into the cars’ internal components like the radiators, and when the driver brakes hard for the first time, we often see chunks of dry ice fly out of the car onto the track

Is Dry Ice Used For Driver Cooling?

Dry ice may be used for driver cooling in F1, but only when the car is in the garage or on the grid. The teams may use their equipment to blow cold air from the dry ice boxes into the driver’s cockpit before a session or in between practice and qualifying laps to cool them down.

The cockpit of a Formula 1 car can become extremely hot. Even though the cars are open cockpit, there is very little that the driver can do to cool themselves down. Even under normal circumstances and average ambient air temperatures, the driver can experience temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit)

In hotter climates such as Singapore and the Middle East, drivers can even experience temperature of up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) inside the cockpit of a Formula 1 car. Combined with their fireproof overalls and underwear, it can often feel like they’re driving in their own personal sauna for an hour and a half.

The cockpit of a Formula 1 car becomes so hot because of the internal components that are placed directly behind the driver’s seat. The intense friction and movement of the components generates a lot of heat, which is transferred into the cockpit of the car over time. This causes the cockpit of the car to become extremely hot, which is often amplified in hot climates.

Dry ice can often be delivered in Air Amplifiers or long tubes that run down from the roof of the garage. Many drivers use the dry ice that is aired through these parts to keep themselves cool while they are inside the garage. The dry ice can act as air conditioning for the drivers since their cars have no cooling devices for them, but they can’t use this while they’re racing.

KEY POINTS

• Dry ice is used in F1 to keep the cars’ internal components cool when they are stationary

• The dry ice turns to gas, and this cold carbon dioxide is blown over the components using a powerful fan

• Dry ice may also be blown into the cockpit to cool the driver before a session

Why Is Cooling So Important In F1?

Cooling is so important in F1 because it plays a vital role in the performance and reliability of the cars. Every team uses dry ice to cool their cars when they are standing still in the garage and on the grid. Cooling becomes more important the hotter the ambient temperatures get. 

Extreme Car Temperatures

The engine of a Formula 1 car can reach extremely high temperatures. At their optimum performance level, they are often running at around 100 to 120 degrees Celsius (210-250 degrees Fahrenheit). With the engine at these temperatures, the car is usually traveling at high speeds.

While the car is moving there is air flowing into the sidepods and the airbox above the driver’s head. This allows the car’s engine to be cooled as it drivers along as its heat dissipates into the air flowing over it, and out at the back through the exhaust. 

While the car is on the grid or in the garage there is no moving air to cool the engine and the other internal components. This means that there is a chance that they can overheat even if the car is not moving. Dry ice and Air Amplifiers are crucial to ensure that these parts don’t overheat when the car is stationary.

Hot Brakes

The brakes are another crucial part of the car that can quickly overheat. Formula 1 brakes cannot cool themselves down, and they always need air to be flowing into the brake ducts for them to remain at normal operating temperatures.

With brakes reaching temperatures of over 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees Fahrenheit), they can often catch fire if the car comes to a stop and they have not been properly cooled. This is why we always see the mechanics sticking cooling fans onto the brake ducts as soon as the car stops in the garage.

KEY FACT: We often see drivers’ brakes smoking or catching fire at the start of races after a formation lap, with one example being Max Verstappen’s brakes at the start of the Sprint race at the 2021 British Grand Prix

Reliability Issues 

The faster the engine is working, the more friction it generates, and the more heat it generates. When the internal components of the car are hot, they begin to change shape and size ever so slightly. When the engine cools, they remain in this shape, which causes even more friction over time and can lead to reliability issues.

Having dry ice in the garage while the car is standing still can help the engine to remain cool and prevent it from overheating, which could cause damage to the internal components. Since the car is not moving, the dry ice is the only way for the engine to remain cool inside the garage or even on the grid. 

Formula 1 engines need to be warm enough before the car can be driven, but they can’t be too hot. There is a fine line between the engine being damaged as a result of overheating and being just warm enough to be ready to head out onto the track. Formula 1 teams will constantly measure the engine temperature to ensure that it’s at a safe level.

Performance

Engine and brake cooling can have a massive effect on the performance of the car as well. If the engine has cold enough air running into its vents, the engine can work harder as the temperatures that it will be running at will naturally be lower despite the internal components moving at a faster rate.

The brakes can also be used more effectively when they are properly cooled as they can remain in their optimum working range no matter how hard the driver hits the brakes on the car. When brakes overheat they have a tendency to lock up or not work at all.

Ferrari’s Cooling Bag

During the 2018 season, Ferrari drew the attention of the entire Formula 1 community with their “cooling bag.” A bag full of dry ice was placed over the onboard camera above the airbox. The bright yellow bag was always placed on the car before a run on track or during the preparations before the start of the Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s initial reasoning was that they were cooling the electronics of the onboard cameras to prevent them from overheating. However, since no other teams were suffering from a similar issue, Ferrari’s rivals prompted for an investigation to be launched into their cooling trick.

It was suspected that Ferrari were using this system to cool the air going into the airbox which would give them a short-lived performance advantage in qualifying and in the opening laps of the Grand Prix. With the cooler air flowing into the airbox, the car’s engine could perform at a higher rate, allowing it to work harder than the cars around it.

Eventually it was decided that Ferrari were not allowed to use this cooling trick as it went against the regulations. It was never truly revealed whether they were using this bag for cooling, or to block the cameras seeing anything going on in the cockpit!

Final Thoughts

Dry ice is used for cooling in Formula 1 when the cars are on the grid before the race or in the garage between laps in practice or qualifying sessions. With the extreme temperatures that the cars’ internal components can reach, it’s incredibly important for them to be properly cooled.