F1 cars travel at speeds of more than 200mph on the straights and can corner at speeds of above 100mph. This means the cars need to withstand a lot of force, and the drivers need to as well. But one key component that needs to be up to the task is the braking system. So, how hot do 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 one of the most important components. Let us first discuss what they are composed of, and then what temperatures they need to withstand.
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 pedal. These items are all within your normal car’s braking system, although they will vary in size, weight and overall construction, as is to be expected when comparing with such a high-performance car.
Need To Be Up To The Task
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.
The brakes contain some of the components we have just mentioned, and these 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.
Worth The Money
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. However, along with limiting the performance, expenses are also limited by the regulations, to help prevent the overall cost of the sport reaching too high a level.
The Speed And Forces Involved
F1 cars can top 200mph on the straights, with the fastest recorded speed at just over 230mph. The cars have massive amounts of downforce thanks to their design, and this allows them to regularly corner at speeds over 100mph. Sometimes they will need to slow down much more than that, such as for tight hairpin bends, and thus they undergo a lot of force.
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 forces when braking, and thus it is easy to imagine the strain that the actual brakes must be under when decreasing from close to 200mph down to less than 100mph for a sharp turn, and so they will clearly get quite hot.
How Hot Do They Get?
The brakes don’t stay at a constant temperature throughout the race, as you might imagine. Their temperature fluctuates, but the drivers will usually try to keep it within a range of around 400-1000°C. this is because there can be some pretty nasty consequences outside of this range. The drivers don’t have to actively monitor the brake temperatures, as normal racing usually keeps them in this range.
If the brakes are too cold, they don’t bite the discs as hard, and thus 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, causing the temperature to drop too low.
Overheating of the brakes much past 1000°C does spell serious trouble however. When these temperatures are reached 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 themselves 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. Thus, there needs to be a lot of cooling management in order to keep the brakes within this range.
Keeping Them Cool
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 to 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 1.2kg. 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 through the body of the car and over the brake discs, through the cooling holes. This is done 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.
The brakes of an F1 car may be 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 200mph down to less than half that.
In order to do this, they are made from materials to allow them to withstand temperatures up to 1000°C, but if they get much hotter than that they begin to wear down fast. So, the cars feature various cooling methods to keep the temperatures below that, but also above 300oC, as they become far less efficient at lower temperatures. It is a balancing act to keep brake temperatures within this range.