Richard Hammond reveals the surprising engineering connections behind the Formula 1 car, including a revolutionary 19th-century cannon and ancient sailing boats.
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This is one of the most highly-tuned machines in the world.
It was born for one reason and one reason only...
In a just handful of seconds an F1 car accelerates
to the kinds of speeds at which a jet aircraft takes off.
In fact they're so fast
that the engineers have to work hard to stop them taking off.
And that kind of high performance calls for titanium carbon fibre,
all those other exotic modern materials,
but it also requires some surprising engineering connections.
A revolution in artillery.
A new design for a jet engine.
-Any second now it's about to snap.
-Oh yeah, there it goes!
An ancient boat.
And a sword.
Chaps, broke my sword.
An F1 car has just one purpose in life -
to go as fast as possible around a circuit
for roughly 200 miles on a Sunday.
Everything you see is engineered to improve performance,
to shave weight and milliseconds off a lap time.
The materials, the engine, the shape.
Famously their sophisticated aerodynamics
keep it pinned to the road so well
that it could drive through the Monte Carlo tunnel upside down.
But the thing is there is nothing superfluous about these machines.
Nothing that isn't about making it faster,
pinning it to the road, or stop quickly.
That's why there's no room for luggage.
Or a map.
The result - a thoroughbred machine
that weighs about half as much as a small runabout.
But it's still a car.
It does the same things as ordinary cars, just a lot faster,
a lot more expensively, and without the indicators.
You might think that F1 cars would be built around monstrous engines.
But the engines are smaller than those in many family cars,
just 2.4 litres.
The secret is precision, not brute force.
And that precision is audible.
It's the distinctive sound of components
moving at speeds that would destroy an ordinary engine.
The beating heart of any car with an internal combustion engine,
be it a family hack or an F1 car
is this - this is the piston in the cylinder.
We have cut the cylinder away here so you can see what's happening.
And it starts with an explosion from fuel up here,
that's the internal combustion bit of an internal combustion engine.
Those expanding gases push the piston down inside the cylinder.
That does two things, by rotating the shaft at the bottom,
it sends another piston to the top
ready for its explosion to continue the process.
And that rotating shaft, ultimately is what drives the car's wheels.
You can increase the amount of power
by increasing the number of these pistons in their cylinders
and by increasing the RPM, the number of times a minute
the piston goes up and down and turns that shaft.
While F1 engines might share the same basic design
as an ordinary engine, a piston going up and down inside the cylinder,
the engine in your road car would literally explode
if it reached even half the revs that an F1 car is capable of.
The heat and pressure would be too much.
This is how F1 designers engineer the solution.
They get more out of each explosion up here
thanks to a huge leap forward in artillery development.
Internal combustion engines are like cannons.
They both use an explosion at one end to drive something along a tube.
Same process, very different effect.
To get the most out of your bang
you must reduce something called windage.
Not good for a cannon or a finely-tuned engine.
To find out why I have come to a typically sophisticated
and glamorous F1 location with artillery expert Nick Hall.
So this then is the point at which
F1 technology and military artillery history come together.
-What do we need to make it good?
-It is important to have the fit
between the projectile and the cylinder.
And in the early history of artillery,
because you couldn't bore a cylinder very accurately
and you couldn't make an absolutely, reliably spherical cannonball
there had to be a gap so that the cannonball wouldn't jam.
And so you lost power through that gap.
A windage gap was a safety feature
to ensure that a cannonball didn't get stuck in the barrel.
But there was a price to pay.
So this is the gap between the projectile the cannonball,
or in this case the piston,
and the cannon itself, the gap around the outside.
Yeah, that is the windage.
Well, I've got two projectiles here, two pistons,
now we've got one is smaller than the other.
One is a bit smaller, there is a bit of a gap.
Do you reckon that is sufficient difference
between the size on the projectiles
-make a difference in how they perform in the cannon?
-Yes, I do.
Because that gap expressed all the way around
is allowing a lot of pressure to escape.
-That tiny difference will make a difference in what we see fired out of that canon.
So first the smaller of the two, with the slight gap.
This should affect the performance of the cannon slightly
but will make it safer.
I've got the bigger one.
'Which is just as well as this is the first cannon I have built.'
OK, well let's load it up.
Just drop that in?
-It's in, I'd say.
Let's charge the cannon.
My finely-machined cannon stores air up to a pressure of 5 bar,
or 72 pounds per square inch, which when released
will hopefully propel the projectile down our makeshift range.
-Right, our cannon is charged. I'll go on zero.
-So I can run.
3, 2, 1, go?
OK, if we are ready, in...
-I've never fired a cannon, you've fired lots.
I'll just do it quickly. 3 2 1...
Released by means of a hi tech lever and rope assembly,
the pressure forces the piston along the cylinder and into the air.
Well, it worked, didn't it?
That was very good, wasn't it?
That was the smaller projectile
so what we must now do is go and mark the spot
with my industrial golf flag.
Look at it!
'A very respectable 48 metres on our first attempt.'
Right, this isn't an exercise
in demonstrating the effectiveness of my air cannon
-but come on, it's pretty good?
-It's not bad.
So that was the slightly undersized projectile or piston
with a slight gap in it around the cylinder bore which we call windage.
This one is now a snugger fit, so if it were too big and we had to squeeze it in
it would waste energy overcoming the friction to shove it out of the barrel.
-Yes, but we've got very fine machining here, haven't we?
-Only the best.
OK, so that is a closer fit.
'In fact such a close fit it may need just a little persuading.
'With our snuggly-fitting piston finally in place
'the air pressure is built up
'to exactly the same 5-bar level as the previous attempt.
'There is no windage gap in this one, no safety gap.
'On my home-made high pressure cannon.'
Right, the cannon is charged,
we've persuaded the projectile into the barrel.
I'll stand further away now, I'm suddenly more nervous.
No windage on this one.
No. If I go on 3, 2, 1? Go?
OK, if we're ready,
3, 2, 1!
Even sounded more dramatic at this end,
and that's clearly gone substantially further
-because of that tiny, tiny bit less of a gap around it.
So exactly the same force fired it much further
and all because of a better fit.
Well, we know it went further than the previous attempt of 48 metres but by how much?
-So this got an extra 12 metres.
25% increased range from just that
tiny, tiny extra bit that closed the gap.
Yeah, so you're not wasting that pressure
and gaining range by better fit.
But I really could not see the difference between the two,
you could just about feel it between the fingers.
Yeah, not much more than a thumbnail thickness.
This one is 25% more efficient, same charge, same power
so more efficient by cutting down on windage.
Precision machining meant gunners didn't have to allow for windage,
all thanks to one John Wilkinson,
known in his day as "Iron Mad" Wilkinson.
In the late 18th century he developed the cannon lathe,
to machine cannon barrels very accurately.
And Wilkinson also realised his cannon lathe could make
more powerful steam engines with precisely bored cylinders.
The same principle makes F1 cars faster, down the straights.
So just that tiny difference, that tiny increase in size
made all the difference in this as a projectile out of my cannon
and if you think if this was working as a piston in an engine
firing thousands of times a minute
it would make all the difference there as well.
F1 engines are so finely tuned
and the fit between the piston and cylinder is so tight
that you can't even start the engine when cold without damaging it.
As Mike Gascoyne, an F1 techincal director, explains.
-So this engine right now is stone cold?
And therefore inside those cylinders the pistons are actually...
Too tight, if you start this now it won't break,
but it will wear, and reduce its efficiency.
So we have to plug in oil and water heaters
and we actually have them on timers overnight
such that they come on three hours before we get in
such that the engines are sitting there at operating temperature
and then we can turn them over.
When you talk about tolerances which how finely,
how closely things are engineered and made in terms of size,
they are so tight that until they are at the right temperature...
They're hot honed, they are actually fitted together when they are hot.
So at the temperature they are going to be operating at,
that's how they fit them together.
This is why they end up sitting there
looking like they are on life support.
With warmed water being fed to them
-and warmed oil to get them to operating temperature.
An F1 car revs to 18,000 rpm, three times what a normal car manages.
An average car produces about 200 horsepower,
an F1 car belts out 800.
it only gets 4 miles to the gallon.
Its power translates into staggering straight line speed
and that is a problem.
A jumbo jet takes off at 180 miles an hour.
An F1 car can exceed that speed 200 times during a race.
Sometimes fast cars behave like planes.
Manfred Winkelhock was lucky to walk away
from this famous crash in Germany in 1980.
It's all to do with the aerodynamic shape of the car.
Get it wrong and it takes off.
Get it right and you win races.
Thanks to an ancient, much slower and much quieter vehicle,
a sailing boat,
F1 cars can keep all four wheels on the ground.
The same principle that allows mariners to sail into the wind
allows F1 cars to pin their wheels to the tarmac and corner faster.
Sailing in the direction the wind is blowing is relatively easy,
hold up a sail and you'll be blown along.
Sailing into the wind is more difficult.
More than 2,000 years ago Arabian sailors mastered the trick
by changing the shape of their sails.
A triangular sail was the solution, because it's a kind of wing,
as aerodynamicist, Phil Rubini, explains.
Phil, I'm familiar with the concept of a wing, it generates lift,
but how is a sail in anyway like a wing?
They are completely different, aren't they?
Well, they look different, yes,
but if you think about a wing, you know a wing will fly on an aeroplane
and so to keep this wing in the air we need a force pushing up
and that force is generated from the air when it flies over the wing.
The aerofoil shape creates low pressure above the wing,
and it rises.
The same principle helps sailors, ancient and modern.
The Arabian sailors, 2,000 years ago
effectively invented the wing that we are using on aeroplanes.
Now think of a sailing boat...
The sail now looks a little bit like a wing.
Add a flat keel and the boat won't go sideways
but forwards into the wind.
And that sail shape helps F1 engineers.
This is not an F1 car.
But thanks to a few modifications inspired by Arabian sailors,
here, in one of the world's most sophisticated wind tunnels
we can make it behave like one.
Fast cars use aerodynamics
to press themselves down to make themselves seem heavier.
That doesn't sound ideal,
but a heavy car is less likely to take off.
In this tunnel they have sensors to weigh the car.
It's about a ton now but should change when we unleash
the small hurricane they keep here.
The wind, pressing down on the upside-down wings creates downforce.
You can see there, that's the downforce being produced,
it's a minus number because the wings
are pushing the car down rather than pushing the car up.
-So it's minus lift?
-It's minus lift, it's pulling it down, that's right.
My aero modifications press the car into the ground,
good for giving the tyres more grip and good for getting round corners.
The wind blows at just over 80mph,
but engineers here can calculate what its effect would be at 200mph.
So this screen is showing the same figures
if the car were running at Formula 1 speeds,
and at those speeds it's telling us we've now got
- 1,195, that's pushing down rather than lifting up.
That's some downforce.
My wings would make the car a ton heavier -
it wouldn't take off.
It's a significant downforce but look at that drag figure.
The huge wings create huge drag, or air resistance,
which would slow the car.
And F1 engineers struggle to reduce drag while increasing downforce.
My car probably wouldn't even reach 100 kilometres an hour
unless I managed to fit several Formula 1 engines in there,
it's an idea but it's not practical.
Well, a couple of things proved there I think,
firstly that I'm probably not going to be employed
as an aerodynamicist on an F1 team anytime soon,
but the theory does work.
These spoilers, these upside down wings,
have the effect of pushing the car down
and making it weigh twice as much as it weighs normally.
So, in case you were in any doubt
aerodynamics make a huge difference to how any car behaves.
But you wouldn't need to tell that to Manfred.
To achieve the sophisticated aerodynamics of an F1 car
you don't simply bolt on a few spoilers.
Every single surface of the car is profiled
to produce the sweetest combination
of maximum downforce and minimum drag.
The right answers are the difference between just finishing, and winning.
According to most F1 engineers, Mike Gascoyne included.
So, Mike, aerodynamics, we all know instinctively,
you think make something pointy and it cuts through the air
rather than like a barn door pushing it out of the way and that's...
kind of it, isn't it?
Well, no, because if you want to go in a straight line
and go very quickly that's what you do.
You make it very pointy, very sleek, so you have minimum drag.
But unfortunately those cars won't go round a corner.
If you want to go round a corner, you want to push down on the tyres,
because the more you push down on the tyre, the more grip you will get,
the quicker you will be able to go round a corner.
The classic thing, if you look at the grid in a Formula One race
and if you look at the car on pole and you're two seconds slower,
1.9 of that is aerodynamics, always.
An F1 engineer's brief is pretty simple -
shave seconds off a lap time.
Usually the answer is also simple, boost power or shed weight.
But there is another way - through driver psychology.
Making a car faster means thinking the unthinkable,
about what happens when things go sideways, literally.
Because a safe, confident driver is a faster driver.
And thanks to a jet engine,
F1 cars protect their precious cargo very well.
Race cars, by their very nature, go very fast.
And if something goes wrong, it goes wrong very fast.
Amazingly, this driver also survived
because safety is now so important in motorsport.
Formula 1 engineers have to tread the fine line
between making their cars light enough to be competitive,
but strong enough to be safe.
This calls for material that is stiff, light and strong.
A stiff, rigid car corners faster.
It doesn't twist, so the wheels never leave the ground.
A light car accelerates and brakes more quickly.
And a strong car protects the driver.
A nervous driver won't push the car to its limits.
Finding stiff, strong, light material would be
the Holy Grail for F1 engineers.
40 years ago the aerospace wing of Rolls Royce
went out to do just that.
They started work with a revolutionary new material.
They used it for high-speed fan blades in their new jet engine.
These had to be very light and very strong.
Remind you of anything?
Just like aviation engineers, Formula 1 car designers
are always on the look out for lighter, stronger materials
and the answer to their quest
lies beyond these doors.
Only, it's quite special stuff, hence the need to cover up.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it doesn't exactly look or sound
like an industrial revolution factory in here,
it's all rather clean and neat and quiet,
but what they're making
is capable of putting up with some pretty rough treatment.
So this is carbon fibre in its raw, floppy state.
You really wouldn't think that was much use for making jet engine fans,
or Formula 1 cars for that matter,
and you'd be right, in this condition.
It needs two extra elements before it's ready for the track,
heat and pressure.
Basically, you stick it in a big pressure cooker,
a really big pressure cooker.
That is quite an oven door.
OK, so, select gas mark six and... wait.
The material that emerges is lightweight, but incredibly tough.
Tough enough to make an F1 car.
All carbon fibre starts its life as string.
It can be woven into cloth
or made straight into a high-stress component.
These carbon fibre drive shafts
are destined for very expensive road cars and Le Mans race cars.
Manufacturers and racers need to know exactly how much stress
a carbon fibre drive shaft can take.
And this is the world of Chris Jones,
a test engineer for a leading manufacturer.
So, Chris, test engineer?
I'm guessing that means you get to test things to destruction?
Yeah, pretty much.
That's where I think you can help me because I know carbon fibre
is used in Formula 1 because it's light and because it's strong,
but how light and strong compared to other materials?
And that's where you can help me.
We've got two prop shafts here.
I don't know if you want to pick that up?
So this is a steel prop shaft.
This big lump of metal connects the engine to the wheels,
-so all the power goes through this?
-Along the car, yeah.
Here we've got the carbon fibre equivalent of the same thing, so if you want to pick that up?
It doesn't weigh anything at all.
Obviously, if carbon fibre is as strong as the steel one,
-it's a no-brainer because this is so much lighter.
-You'd use this.
-But can you tell me how much so? Can you show me how much?
If this is as strong as that?
-I think we can do that.
-What I'm asking is can we break them?
-We can give it a shot anyway.
-Good. OK. Right.
'This rig uses torque, twisting force,
'to test materials until they break.
'Sensors can judge exactly how much force
'it coped with before snapping.'
So when this is working at full tilt and at full power,
how much torque can go through it?
8,000 newton metres we can put through with this rig.
-It's really not the kind of device to catch your tie in.
-Not at all.
To put this in perspective, it requires around two newton metres
of torque to drive a corkscrew into a wine cork.
This rig can produce 8,000.
That's a lot of plonk.
So that piece of plastic and those glasses will protect us
-from the forces being unleashed?
-That's the plan anyway.
Good. OK. A bit further back, maybe?
You should be OK there. OK, that's on its way up.
You see the numbers are rising here.
293. That's a lot of newton metres of torque. This is twisting force.
If you look at this end here,
you can see this end of the machine will be twisting around.
It's yielding already, look.
-What's this showing us?
It's about to fail, any second now it's about to snap.
It's distorting now. You should be able to see it necking.
'Necking. Yeah, I know what you are thinking,
'but here it's when a material gets thinner in cross section.
'It's an indication it's just about to fail.'
Oh, there it goes, look, look!
Oooh! It's gone.
-I think we'll stop that there.
-I think it is.
You have broken it. What did it make it to?
That got it to 1,376 newton meters.
1,300 newton metres and it's now a corkscrew.
There you go, then.
It certainly didn't spring back either. That is quite badly spoiled.
Well, now we know the limits for that one,
let's see what the carbon fibre equivalent can take.
OK, shall we get that one in?
And straightaway that's a reminder how much lighter this thing is!
'Lighter, but, in theory, much stronger.
'And much more expensive. £2,500 for this shaft alone.
-It certainly looks better, doesn't it?
Quite attractive, aren't they?
I can't believe it'll have any strength compared with the steel one.
OK, shall we see what we can do with this one?
Right, so 1,376 is the target.
If it can match that, it's matched the much heavier steel one.
-Yes, that's right.
-Pile it on.
So, it's climbing. 640, 7,
8, it doesn't hang about this machine, does it? 9,
10, 11, we're getting closer to where the steel went.
13. Well, it's just gone straight past it.
-And it's completely blitzed it!
-There is no damage to the shaft.
So this much, much lighter prop shaft
has just gone completely howling past.
What will it make it to, do you reckon?
I'm hoping for four and a half.
Compared to 1,300 for the steel, and it weighs so much less.
We're on the way to that. 4,2, 3, 4, 5, oh, we're past.
-I was about to ask what happens when it goes!
-That's what happens.
Now I know. I didn't jump. I didn't jump! So, it made it to?
-It made it to 4,728 newton metres, compared to our...
And it's so much stronger than the big, heavy steel one.
And let's not forget it's just made of this stuff, isn't it?
Which is threads. Basically, it's just...
Expensive string, isn't it? That's it. Just that.
Thanks to a jet engine, strong carbon fibre is perfect
for making light, which means of course fast, cars.
You make an F1 car the same way you make a dress,
by following a pattern.
Every shape necessary for making
all the component parts is precisely cut from carbon cloth...
..including this, the monocoque, or single shell.
It's the cockpit for the driver.
This ultra-light shell is also the body of the car itself.
There is no internal frame.
There's no need because the carbon fibre is tough enough on its own.
All that shields the driver is a skin of carbon.
But that's not the only thing that needs careful protection
on these sleek beasts.
F1 cars run on pretty much the same fuel you and I get at the pumps.
But petrol is petrol and it's highly flammable,
that's the point of the stuff.
In races, F1 cars must might carry all their fuel from the start.
200-litres of petrol travelling at 200 miles an hour,
that is quite a missile.
The tank has to be tough or the driver could be toast.
Strength usually has a weight penalty,
but in the anorexic world of F1, that isn't an option.
And, thanks to a bullet-proof vest, the cars stay safe, light and fast.
For their solution, the F1 designers took a bit of a swerve.
Rather than build strong, rigid fuel tanks to withstand impacts,
they used something that works on principles closer
to the way a car's suspension works. A bit of give.
Down here I have a water bottle and a rubber gym ball,
both with water in them.
I'm going to drop them both off here, same height,
15 metres, and then we will see the principle in action.
The bottle first, I think.
So, it's just up and over the edge, really.
Here we go.
That didn't work.
That would be bad in a fuel tank.
And now the ball.
That's more like it.
Now while our 15 metre drop may not have created F1 type speeds,
it does a fairly good job of replicating the type of forces
a fuel tank might experience during an impact.
A lightweight, flexible material that bends
and absorbs impact sounds ideal,
but apparently it's tricky to make something flexible and strong.
Professor Paul Hogg is a materials expert from Manchester University.
Paul, all I've demonstrated there is, well, a solution.
Why don't they make Formula 1 tanks out of rubber?
It's nice, it's conformable, it'll put up with of drop loading,
but what happens if you've got something sharp
that's going to puncture it?
This material is actually quite weak.
Most of the things that make materials flexible tend to make them weak.
If you have something sharp that'll puncture that, you've got a problem.
So, if it's sharp, pointy impact, something like, let's say, an arrow?
-Like an arrow.
-Good. Because over here master archer Steve Ralphs
is going to fire a flaming arrow into this,
which is going to be our fuel tank.
It's another rubber ball full of fuel.
I shall put it on the target, like so.
'Because our rubber ball has several litres of petrol in it, and we're
'shooting it with a flaming arrow,
'we thought it best if we had the local fire brigade on standby.
'They have a lot of flaming
'arrow related fires in Lancashire.'
You reckon you can put a flaming arrow
-in there from about here?
-We can but try.
If you watch Formula 1, you'll know this is
the kind of thing that can happen in a racing situation.
We are flaming.
Yeah, and that is why they banned crossbows at racetracks.
Whilst flaming arrows aren't usually an issue during a race,
the 230 litre fuel tank in an F1 car
sits in between a white hot engine and a vulnerable driver.
Any spillage, and you can have a fireball.
Possibly overkill there.
-That didn't work at all.
-The rubber is just not...
It's not strong enough when you've got that point loading on it.
Which could happen in an accident. Not an arrow, but a piece of metal could go in.
How will we make something that is flexible enough and strong enough?
We've got a bit of a problem there.
I mean, we know things that make
materials flexible tend to make them weak.
And if you want to make something strong, it becomes very rigid.
But we've got a trick we can use in materials,
and we use this a lot, and that's by making things very thin.
And if we make a very strong material into a fibre,
it's very thin and it becomes very flexible. This is Kevlar.
Its very strong material, it's actually a very stiff material,
but in a fibre form you can see it's very flexible like that.
Kevlar is so resistant to puncture
it's become synonymous with bullet-proof vests and armour.
It was originally invented in 1965 by chemist Stephanie Kwolek
as a lightweight replacement for the steel bands in tyres.
So this is very strong stuff made very thin,
which means it's flexible. Brilliant.
That material is about five to ten times as strong as steel.
'Just like carbon cloth, this miracle fibre is stronger
'than steel, between five and ten times stronger.'
That's why they that can afford to make it so thin.
So by making something like Kevlar thin,
you can make it flexible and strong, but that won't hold fuel.
-It'll fall out.
-The first thing we've got to do,
is turn that into some sort of fabric
so that we can use the material to make a shape.
But fabric isn't going to hold the fuel in, is it?
So we've got to encase that in something which is still flexible.
We combine that with the rubber.
The rubber encases it and we get...
And this is the real deal,
This is an actual F1 tank. They've lent us this.
It doesn't look much, but it's very, very clever and also very expensive.
Thousands of pounds to make one of these.
And that's combining the properties of these two materials,
so this is stiff and strong and it will hold
the fuel without it running out.
It's a rubber matrix reinforced with the Kevlar
to give it the strength that you need.
Really we should test this with another flaming arrow.
-I don't... We can't really...
No, there'd be shouting. It's very, very expensive.
We've been lent it, we've got to give it back.
However, I have devised something here that might do the job.
'I have brought along the industrial cousin of the material
'used in the F1 tank, rubberised Kevlar.'
This is the stuff.
So this is the Kevlar fibre inside making it strong,
and this is the rubber in it.
It's still flexible, but very, very strong,
combining the properties of the two materials.
Steve, have we got any more flaming arrows? I think we need another one.
Even though it visibly deforms the rubber,
the arrow can't pierce the Kevlar.
The bag is never punctured, the fuel never leaks and the driver is safe.
It works! OK, it was an unusual set up,
but the principles are exactly the same.
Those two materials working together can be flexible and strong.
Most importantly, my fuel is safe in that rubber ball
because it's quite expensive.
The flexibility of the tank has an added benefit.
It can be squashed to fit a tight space.
And I get to enjoy the spectacle of two highly trained engineers
using talcum powder to help post the crushed tank
through the slot in the frame.
The integrity of a stiff, strong frame
would be ruined if you cut a big whole in it for your fuel tank.
If you need a hand at any time just ask me.
For the more technical bits, obviously.
So, there you have it. F1s dirty little secret, talcum powder.
Thanks to combat proven body armour,
F1 drivers know that the fuel just behind their head
is going to stay in the right place.
And the only punctures they have to worry about are in the tyres.
Tyres in F1 are not designed to last the full race distance.
They have to be changed at least once during a race.
How long does it take you to change a tyre?
15 minutes? 20?
In the speed obsessed world of F1 that wouldn't fly.
Formula 1 mechanics can change all four wheels in less than ten seconds.
The key is having a pit stop crew
drilled with military precision and the right tools.
Instead of four or five fiddly bolts,
F1 wheels have one massive centre-locking hub
which can be spun off with an airgun in less than a second.
Looking at, and listening to, an F1 car you might think that only
serious rocket scientists and design engineer types
have anything to do with actually making one.
But we must not forget the vital role played by prehistoric blacksmiths.
Because the technique used to make this sword
also helps an F1 car flash around the track.
Things that go fast tend to get hot.
F1 cars are no different.
Some of the hottest and most stressed parts
of an F1 car are the wheels.
They can rotate 150,000 times in a race
and encase brakes that can work at temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius.
Road cars use wheels made of steel,
no good for F1, it's too heavy and too weak.
So, what's the alternative?
The material they use is this, magnesium,
which has many useful properties
It is also used in this that I have in my hands, which is,
well, it's a fire-starting kit, Which is a worry!
Just in case you didn't believe me
about this particular property of magnesium,
I thought it better to come away from the expensive F1 car to demonstrate.
First scrape some magnesium off.
Next, hit it with a spark off here.
One of those.
Now, do you really want that in the wheels of your F1 car?
In rare circumstances, such as when a puncture allows the wheel
to scrape along the ground,
magnesium rims can catch fire, with dramatic effects.
So, why does anyone use magnesium to make wheels for racing cars?
Same again, magnesium is strong and light.
On F1 cars, lightweight strength wins over the small risk of fire,
and it's one that's worth taking.
Magnesium is up to the stresses of rapid acceleration,
high-speed cornering and braking.
But to make it even stronger,
the F1 engineers borrowed an ancient technique for manipulating metal.
If you want to shape metal you can just cast it,
melt it and pour it into a mould,
as modern smiths Mike Rosser and Craig Jones show me.
It will still be extremely hot.
I can't undo it, I'm not manly enough.
Oh, it's a test! I can't undo that. Ow!
All right, I'm not actually a blacksmith, clearly!
Look at that! And that's what we just made.
There we go, I just made that mallet.
It's not just simple things like hammers that can be made by casting.
More ornate objects like my sword here.
See, that's cast iron.
Really quite delicate and quite clever, again, made by casting.
Oh, Lord! I have dropped my sword!
And, yeah, I think what I've done there
is demonstrate perhaps a weakness.
Some things are best made by processes other than casting.
Fortunately, they can do that here, as well.
Chaps, broke my sword.
Yeah, fortunately for clumsy swordsmen and F1 wheels
there is another process which leads to a far stronger end product.
The ancient technique of forging.
Hit it, basically?
Hit it, basically. If we work on the edges.
Forging is the shaping of metal using localised compressive forces.
Or smacking lumps of metal repeatedly with a big hammer.
So this is forging.
-Forging most metal aligns its internal grains,
which makes it naturally strong.
You need to put it back in the fire now and get some more heat into it.
By contrast, in cast metal the grains are randomly distributed,
creating points of potential weakness.
Tell you what, while nobody's looking
do you want to straighten it for me? Just straighten it up.
Cut this bit out.
After many, many back-breaking, arm-wrenching hours at the forge,
my blood, sweat and tears pay off.
Oh, yeah, that's just about perfect.
I did that. All of that.
Normally, it would take someone a long time to learn this.
-Can you go and finish mine off?
-I'll go and have a look.
'With a little gentle buffing from my glamorous assistant,
'my sword reaches showroom condition.'
Thank you very much.
And straightaway, my forged sword
already looks a lot better than my cast one.
It's lighter. Is it stronger?
Yeah, clearly that's a lot stronger than my cast one.
That's why F1 teams use forged magnesium wheels.
Forging is better than casting,
and that's before we even consider the weight because this whole sword,
the forged one, weighs less
than just this shattered portion of my cast one.
And the same is true for wheels.
A forged wheel will be lighter and stronger than a cast one.
F1 teams have armies of blacksmiths turning out wheels. Not really!
The process is somewhat more industrialised.
A semi-molten alloy is crushed into shape using a force of 9,000 tons.
The grains are aligned and you are left with some incredibly strong wheels.
Just pray you don't get a puncture.
Everything about an F1 car is designed
to get it from the gridline to the chequered flag
as quickly as possible
and it's spell binder for millions of people all around the globe.
But a huge chunk of that racing doesn't take place out there
on the track because the engineers compete constantly
with incredible ferocity to gain
just a few milliseconds' advantage over their competitors.
And that means being on the very cutting edge of science and engineering,
discovering technologies which end up far from the race circuit.
Almost as far as Mars, in fact.
Usually technology trickles down from space exploration.
Formula 1 cars turned that on its head.
Yes, the hi tech plastics that went into the Beagle 2 Mars lander
came thanks to F1 cars.
And at the risk of over stretching the metaphor,
they are like butterflies, say.
Even in death, considered objects of beauty and prized by collectors.
And it is easy to be seduced by the stark,
functional beauty of these things, by the depth of craftsmanship,
but it is worth remembering that they owe their existence
to some surprising engineering connections.
The first truly accurate cannon...
The very first wing...
A jet engine...
Any second now it's about to snap.
There it goes, there! Look, look!
And a sword...
I look menacing, I know. All right.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Richard Hammond reveals the surprising engineering connections behind the Formula 1 car. The stars of the most glamorous, and expensive sport on earth wouldn't even cross the starting line without inspiration drawn from a revolutionary 19th-century cannon, ancient sailing boats, jet engine fan blades, body armour and a technique practised by blacksmiths for thousands of years.
Eight hundred horsepower purebreds, F1 cars cost millions of pounds to design and build. They require hundreds of people to ensure they just start, but they have a simple purpose: to go as fast as possible around a track for about two hours on a Sunday. Attaining huge speeds requires a precision-built engine, which maximises its power thanks to a revolutionary cannon, (which is like an open-ended engine cylinder). Richard fires his own home-made cannon to show how minimising what gunners called 'windage', the gap between the cannon ball (or piston) and the barrel (or cylinder) increases the power of the shot (or engine). With so much power F1 cars can hit easily 200mph - faster than a Jumbo Jet at take-off - and they too could become airborne. But those same wings that lift a Jumbo into the air can also press an F1 car into the ground. Richard takes his modified car to a wind tunnel and adds a ton of weight to it using wind alone, all thanks to a shape derived from the sails of ancient dhows.
Carbon fibre was pioneered by Rolls Royce as a new material for fan blades in jet engines. It is light but still stronger than stee, the sort of claim Richard can't resist testing and proving. F1 cars carry 200 litres of petrol in a tank that sits between the driver and a hot engine. To contain the fuel the engineers need a strong, light, puncture-proof tank. The answer is Kevlar, the same material used in body armour such as bullet-proof vests, which Richard tests with flaming arrows. Finally, Richard visits modern blacksmiths to see how the ancient technique of forging makes stronger swords - and F1 wheels.