F1 cars travel at speeds of more than 200 mph (320 kph) on the straights and can corner at speeds of above 100 mph (160 kph). Slowing the cars down from such high speeds requires some very impressive braking systems, which may leave you wondering how hot F1 brakes get.
F1 brakes can regularly reach temperatures of between 400°C and 1000°C, but it varies throughout the race. Brake temperatures can be managed with cooling ducts, vents and holes, but if temperatures above 1000°C persist, oxidation of the brake discs and brake failure can occur.
The brakes are of course not the only parts of the car that need to be made especially for the harsh conditions inside an F1 car, but they are some of the most important components. Below, we take a closer look at the brakes on an F1 car and discuss the temperatures they can reach.
The Components Of F1 Brakes
F1 brake systems are made up of various components, most of which are not exclusive to these types of cars. The main ones are the brake discs, calipers, master cylinders and the brake pedal. These parts are all within your normal car’s braking system, although they will vary in size, weight and overall construction, as is to be expected with such a high-performance car.
Because the cars are so fast, the brakes need to be able to slow them down rapidly to allow them to take the sometimes-sharp corners around a Grand Prix circuit. However, even though the brakes on F1 cars are some of the most advanced and some of the quickest at stopping any car, there are still performance restrictions that prevent them from being too strong.
Key Fact: The brakes on an F1 car can slow the driver down from almost 200 mph to a stop in under 4 seconds!
F1 brakes are usually made from some very lightweight but strong materials. The pads and the discs are made using carbon fiber, and this allows them to be much lighter than steel brakes, helping to increase the overall performance of the car by cutting some extra weight.
This does make the brakes very expensive, as anything with carbon fiber carries quite a big cost. However, given the forces and the temperatures that the brakes can withstand, it is definitely worth the money for the teams!
The Speeds & Forces Involved
F1 cars can top 200 mph on the straights (or about 320 kph), with the fastest recorded speed at just over 230 mph (370 kph). The cars have massive amounts of downforce thanks to their design, and this allows them to regularly corner at speeds over 100 mph (160 kph). Sometimes they will need to slow down much more than that, such as for tight hairpin bends, and so they undergo a lot of force.
At some corners, the drivers may feel the force of upwards of 5G, which is 5 times what you normally feel due to gravity. They can feel similar G-forces when braking, and so it is easy to imagine the strain that the actual brakes must be under when decreasing from close to 200 mph down to less than 100 mph for a sharp turn, and so they will clearly get quite hot.
How Hot Do F1 Brakes Get?
F1 brake temperatures fluctuate during a race, but drivers usually try to keep them within a range of around 400-1000°C. F1 brakes provide maximum stopping power within this range. Drivers don’t normally have to actively monitor brake temperatures, as normal racing usually keeps them in this range.
If the brakes are too cold, they don’t bite the discs as well, and so they are not as effective at slowing the car down. This overcooling is limited by adjusting the size of the cooling ducts, so that they don’t allow for too much air to flow over the discs, which would cause the temperature to drop too low.
But overheating the brakes much past 1000°C can also spell serious trouble. When the brakes reach these temperatures for extended periods of time, such as under a lot of hard braking for several corners in a row, the brakes will glow red or even white hot. Although this looks very cool, it can cause a lot of damage to the brakes in the process.
At very high temperatures, the brake discs start to oxidize, which is a chemical reaction that causes the brakes to wear down much faster than they normally do. If the brakes wear down too thin, they can completely fail, which can spell catastrophic disaster for the driver. So, there needs to be a lot of cooling management in order to keep the brakes within this range.
KEY POINTS• F1 brakes can reach temperatures of between 400°C and 1000°C
• They are designed for maximum performance, slowing the cars down incredibly fast
• Damage and performance issues occur if they’re too hot or too cold
How F1 Brakes Are Cooled
With such hot temperatures, the cars need to be designed to keep the brakes within the 400-1000° range. There are several ways that the brakes in an F1 car are cooled, with the first and most basic way being the use of cooling holes directly cut into the discs themselves, which help dissipate heat into the air surrounding the brake discs.
These holes bring the weight of the discs down even further, but they also have an impact on the structural integrity of the discs. In modern F1 brake discs, there may be as many as 1500 tiny cooling holes, helping to keep the weight around 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs). Limitations have been put in place to prevent the discs from being subject to structural damage, and there are other ways to cool them.
The main way that the brakes are cooled is by careful routing of air over the brake discs, through the cooling holes. This is achieved via a series of ducts and vents that allow the speed of the car to drive the air through the holes at very high speeds for maximum cooling.
Key Fact: Because the brakes rely on the car to be moving fast to cool them down, you'll sometimes see the brakes smoking or even catch fire as the cars line up on the starting grid!
The brakes on an F1 car are similar in some ways to the brakes in your normal car, in that they feature calipers, discs and pads, but the structure of these components varies a lot. They cost a lot more than normal brakes, and they are designed to handle excessive braking from speeds of more than 200 mph down to less than half that in a matter of seconds.
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