There’s more to a Formula One team than the cars in the garage and the people at the racetrack. Back at our factory in Milton Keynes, England, there’s an operation working flat-out to design, test and manufacturer components to feed the beast – because the F1 development race is just as competitive as the one out on the circuit.
It isn’t just about making new parts. Between the races our cars are stripped, examined at great depth, and painstakingly rebuilt from the ground up. An F1 car leads a brutal existence, constantly being pushed to the absolute limit of performance. That takes a toll – and so, even after a race without incident, the cars have taken a pummelling. When they return to base, around 200 composite parts need to be inspected and returned to pristine condition before going out again – because failure simply isn’t acceptable. This video is story of the path taken by just one: an RB14 nosecone.
For the purposes of shipping, the car is partially stripped at the track on Sunday evening after a grand prix. When it arrives back at base, the renewal process begins immediately. In the case of the nosecone, it is stripped of external components and has a primary visual inspection for any obvious areas of concern. The racetrack is a hostile environment for a projectile travelling in excess of 300km/h. Even without any hint of a collision, bugs and gravel can reduce it to a pretty sorry state.
After this the paint is stripped, and the cone returned to the body-in-white state – or in this case, the naked carbon composite structure. The first test is to check the physical dimensions. Coordinate metrology and laser scanning, will measure the geometry of the part to an accuracy measured in microns – or a millionth of a meter. For comparison, a human hair might have a width of 100µm but our quality lab will be checking the nosecone at finer detail than that.
One particular area of interest is the adhesive joints where the various individual carbon composite elements have been bonded. Various methods of non-destructive testing are used to establish that those are still sound, and ultrasonic scanning is used to establish the integrity of the carbon laminates deep within the structure. The nuts and bolts that secure the nosecone to the front wing and chassis will be tested too. A fluorescent dye penetrant test is used to ensure they aren’t suffering metal fatigue and developing cracks. Once everything has individually been passed as fit for service, the assembly itself will undergo physical testing, simulating the loading the nose cone will face when racing on track at high-speed.
Once the integrity of the nosecone is firmly established, it goes back to the paintshop to be sanded, primed, painted, lacquered and stickered. After that is signed off and placed back in storage – or quite possibly despatched back to the race track where, coming out of the box in pristine condition, it will provoke little or no comment. The part is an old one but – in every respect that matters – just like new.