Formula 1 cars are technological marvels, and building them takes a long time. It requires countless hours of work over several months before a Formula 1 car even makes it way to the track for preseason testing. Making an F1 car is therefore a major operation.
F1 cars are made in phases. The process goes from the design of the car to manufacturing the different parts before everything is eventually assembled. Once the car is put together, everything is tested out on track before the first race to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
While there are three main phases to building a Formula 1 car, each of those phases has a lot of “mini stages” that involves countless hours of work that needs to be put in by the engineers and team members at the factory. We discuss the process of making an F1 car in more detail below.
Where Are F1 Cars Built?
Formula 1 cars are built at the teams’ factories. The team factory is made up of several departments, and each one is responsible for a specific part of the car. For example, there is an aerodynamics department, an engine department, a chassis department and so on.
Each department will fulfil their role at the factory and bring their own piece of the puzzle together to form the entire car. Formula 1 teams have multi-million dollar factories that have state of the art technology and facilities available to produce the cars.
The majority of Formula 1 teams’ factories are in the UK, as it is the most central in terms of flying new parts out to different races. There are some exceptions though, such as Ferrari and Alpha Tauri, which both have factories in Italy; Haas, which is based in the USA; and Alfa Romeo, which has its factory in Switzerland.
How Is A Formula 1 Car Made?
Formula 1 cars are made in three broad phases:
- Design Phase
- Manufacturing Phase
- Build Phase
1. Design Phase
The earliest part of making a Formula 1 car is the design process. Designing involves a lot of drawings and discussions based on what the team’s new car will look like and any new features that the team would like to try out.
Designing is not just about the aerodynamics and the body of the car, although this is obviously an important part of it, as it’s also about the internal components of the car. Some parts inside the car will change with a new season, and it’s important to discuss and design these first.
The F1 technical regulations change in various ways every year. However, some years bring massive changes, beginning new ‘eras’ to Formula 1. An example of this was the shift to the 2022 car designs, and when these major shifts are brought about, teams must put even more of their resources towards development, as there is more to change than usual.
The team will draw up sketches and 3D renders of every single part of the car, even down to the smaller parts that are often overlooked on a Formula 1 car. These renders will then be sent to the manufacturing team in order to have them produced.
2. Manufacturing Phase
In a Formula 1 factory there are a number of manufacturing branches. This is where the teams build the various different parts of their cars. This process can take a long time, and manufacturing for the new car often begins during the middle of the previous season, regardless of how big the regulation changes are.
The manufacturing team uses the 3D renders produced by the designers to build each part to exact measurements and specifications. This ensures that each part of the car follows the design process precisely and that everything will fit and work together perfectly.
After the parts have been manufactured, there is usually a lot of testing that takes place to ensure that each part is strong enough and does the job that it needs to do. If a part fails or does not perform as expected, the design team needs to go back to the drawing board.
3. Build Phase
Finally, once all of the parts have been manufactured and tested in various ways, they are all brought together in the factory. Teams will then assemble the entire car from the ground up by putting each of the parts together.
This is the final part of the F1 car building process, and it usually happens in the months leading up to the start of a new season. Once the car has been assembled the team will have their official launch event.
From there, the teams head to the track for a 100 kilometer shakedown/filming day of the car before they head into preseason testing. The teams then head out to the first race of the season where the car will be assembled and take part in its first ever race weekend.
The Stages Of Building A Formula 1 Car
There is a long timeline to the phases outlined above, and oftentimes work on a car can begin as early as 16 months before the car is finally built. For example, Mercedes-Benz began work on their 2019 car in the late stages of the 2017 season.
However, in some cases, teams will remain focused on their current cars in order to win the development race and improve their chances of winning the world championship, as Red Bull did in 2021, taking it to the final race with Max Verstappen winning the Drivers’ World Championship.
Making Use Of Their Resources
Some teams might throw away an entire season just to work on the car for the following year. Haas is an example of this, as they didn’t work on their 2021 challenger (aside from the necessary design and maintenance throughout the season) and put all of their resources into their 2022 car. However, more development does not necessarily mean that the car will be faster.
The main reason for this is that Haas wanted to use the new rule changes to gain as much ground on the rest of the grid as possible. The result of this shift in development meant Haas failed to score a point in 2021, for the first time in their (at that point) 6-year history. This illustrates just how important it is to balance your development resources as an F1 team.
A Complex Process
While it’s easy to break down the building of a Formula 1 car into three basic phases, there’s a lot more that happens behind the scenes when it comes to the building of a brand new Formula 1 car. In fact, the process is much more complicated than just three phases.
Each branch at the factory has its own job, and there are usually different things happening at the same time. Sometimes a team can be working on their current car as well as the next season’s car at the same time.
While we often feel like the off season is a quiet time, it’s really the busiest time for a Formula 1 factory. This is the time when all the months of hard work comes together to build a brand new title challenger.
Chief Designers Meeting
The very first thing that will happen when a new Formula 1 car is made is the chief designers meeting. This meeting takes place a long time before the new car even begins development, in some cases about a year and a half before the new car is built.
This meeting consists of all the heads of departments in the Formula 1 factory such as the Chief designer, head of aerodynamics, chief engineer and many more people. This meeting is used to plan the new car and get everyone on the same page in terms of the direction they are going in.
This is the start of the planning phase, and it’s an important one. Having the entire team onboard and on the same page means that building the new car will ideally be a much smoother and more successful process.
Designing The New Car
Designing the car is no easy task. Formula 1 cars are made up of thousands of parts, and each one needs to be able to work with those around it and withstand major stress throughout a race. Think of a Formula 1 car as one big jigsaw puzzle, and each piece of the puzzle needs to be designed and built from scratch.
There are hundreds of team members that work on these 3D renders and sketches over the course of several months. It’s important for these renders to be 100% accurate with perfect measurements, as one mistake could throw off the entire design of the car.
With the designs and renders of the parts being completed, each part will be manufactured by the teams’ factory staff. All of the parts used to build the cars are built at the factory using state of the art facilities.
The manufacturing process can take a long time due to the complexity of parts that need to be built, and the fine tolerances to which they need to be manufactured. Most parts are also built from heavy duty materials, such as carbon-fiber, which takes time to mold into the correct shape and size needed for the car.
The manufacturing process is also one of the most expensive parts of building a Formula 1 car. Considering all the high tech facilities and technologies that are used in making the individual parts, as well as the expensive materials that are used to make them, there is no room for error here, and high costs are just part of the process.
Once each part has been built from scratch, the teams will put all of them through a series of extensive lab tests to ensure that they are up to the high standard required in a modern Formula 1 car.
Each part is put under essentially the same conditions it would experience on track, including heat and impact testing. This has to be done to make sure that the parts can withstand the extreme conditions that they will need to endure throughout the course of the season.
During this time a 60% scale model of the new car will also be built. This model will be used for wind tunnel testing. Using this model, teams can test out the aerodynamics of the car and see what they can work on to improve the aerodynamics of their new car to try and create the fastest and most well-balanced car they can.
When it comes to engines, the works teams, Alpine, Ferrari and Mercedes (and now Red Bull, since the departure of Honda at the end of 2021), produce their own engines. This is done in the engine department, which also works alongside the building of the new car.
The real challenge comes with the 6 remaining ‘customer teams’ as they buy their engines from the works teams. They have no say in the engine department, and they simply have to adapt their chassis and car design around the engine they are given.
The engine obviously has to fit into the new car, so the engine and the car cannot be built entirely separately, even if they are two entirely different parts. The engine is a key component, so large parts of the car naturally have to be built around it. This is why some of the customer teams may have similar car designs to that of their works counterparts.
The sub-assembly is the next phase of the car build. This is where the integral parts of the car will be put together. From the chassis to the engine and the internal components, the car will slowly begin to take shape on the mechanical side of things.
All of the parts that have been manufactured are brought to an area where the race team (which is the team of engineers and mechanics that travels to each race) begins to assemble the car. All the parts that have been built will then be bolted onto the chassis.
However, the main focus here is getting the working parts of the car assembled first, rather than the aerodynamics. The bodywork and wings won’t be fitted to the car during this stage of the building process.
First Fire Up
One of the biggest milestones for a Formula 1 team that is building a new car is the first fire up. After months of hard work, the basic shape of the car will finally begin to come together (although it definitely still won’t look much like an F1 car). It is still a long way from being completed.
This is the beginning of the assembly process, and the engine is fired up and brought to life for the first time to ensure that everything is working correctly. If there are any major issues, the team still has some time to iron them out.
The major assembly phase is when the Formula 1 car finally begins to take its final form. Once all the mechanical components have been fitted to the chassis and the team is happy with their engine’s first fire up, the bodywork will go onto the car.
The bodywork normally fits over all the mechanical components and is relatively quick and easy to fit to the car, when compared with the integral components like the engine. The major assembly process does not take the team too long to complete, and this stage of the build can be mere days before the team’s official reveal, should they be using the real car at their launch event of course.
Once the car has been fully assembled it will be ready for the start of the new season. However, there are a few more steps that Formula 1 teams take before they send their car to the first race.
Once the team has launched their car, they are entitled to a 100 kilometer ‘shakedown’ event. Since private testing was banned in 2009, teams have only been allowed to use their shakedown to test out their car on track before the formal preseason tests in Barcelona or Bahrain.
This shakedown normally happens at their ‘home’ track. However, in some cases it might only happen the day before the first official preseason test, at the location of the test to minimize the logistical burden on the team. The shakedown can also be used as a promotional event to film their new car and show it off to fans.
Teams won’t be able to gather much data from the shakedown because 100 kilometers of driving is barely anything in F1 (less than a third of a normal race distance). However, it can give the drivers an idea of what to expect with the car, and it can allow the team to address any major handling or performance issues on the car before preseason testing starts.
With private testing having been banned from Formula 1, teams need to make the most of the official preseason tests. Preseason testing is an important time for all teams, and it helps them to get a better understanding of how their new cars work on the track. Wind tunnels and simulations are now very advanced, but nothing provides data like a real run on the track.
The lap times in preseason testing are usually not very representative, as teams mostly aim to get as much mileage on their cars as possible, rather than run their cars as fast as they can. Many teams will set well over a hundred laps per day of testing to gather data about their car and test the car’s reliability.
Preseason testing will be the team’s last chance to spot any major problems and get them ironed out before the start of the season. From there, the cars are transported over to the first race to be driven for the first time under qualifying and racing conditions.
But the F1 car building process doesn’t stop there. Throughout the season, teams will bring new parts and upgrades to their cars, and so there is an almost constant level of development going on behind the scenes. Then, at some point, the cycle restarts, as development for the next season’s car begins.
F1 cars are built in three main phases, and these are the design, manufacturing, and building phases. F1 teams have dedicated factories for building the individual parts of the cars, and development of new cars may begin midway through a season. Hundreds of staff are involved in building an F1 car.