08. Sep 2020
While carbon fiberplays a pivotal role in Formula1 – accounting for around 70% of a modern-day F1 car’s structural weight, it is expensive. What if, in this age of economic uncertainty and environmental responsibility, there were a cheaper and more sustainable alternative?
McLaren has working with Swiss sustainable lightweighting specialist Bcomp to develop just that, starting with a natural fibre racing seat for Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris – the very first F1 car part to be made of renewable textile fibres. By optimising the mechanical properties of flax fibres through fabric architecture, it’s been possible to make a seat with the required strength and stiffness, but with a 75% lower CO2 footprint compared to its carbon fibre counterpart.
“The use of natural fibre composites is the latest example of pioneering, composite materials innovation at McLaren,” explains McLaren F1 Team Principal Andreas Seidl. “Not only does this solution provide equivalent performance to carbon fibre, it represents another step forward in our evolving sustainability programme, while underlining our commitment to helping F1 turn its ambitious sustainability strategy into action.”
“For decades, F1 has been an innovation lab for technology that has transformed not just motorsport, but the automotive industry and beyond,” adds McLaren F1 Technical Director James Key. “The sport must continue down the road of getting to an increasingly environmentally friendly set of conditions, and our development and application of natural fibre composites is an example of how we’re accelerating this journey, as well as the ongoing evolution towards cleaner mobility.”
It is a sentiment that is echoed by Bcomp CEO and Co-Founder Christian Fischer: “Sustainability and decarbonisation is a global issue, and it is fantastic to see motorsport embrace carbon alternatives, paving the way for widespread adoption within large-scale mobility applications. McLaren has always been a pioneer within the sport, in terms of both composites and sustainability, thus it feels like the perfect match and a great honour to collaborate with such a prestigious brand.”
Flax is an incredibly versatile plant that has been around for millions of years. As a CO2-neutral raw material, its fibres are biodegradable. At the end of the seat’s life, for example, it can be ground down into a new base material or thermally recycled without residual waste, rather than end up in landfill.
Inspired by the thin veins on the back of leaves, Bcomp’s proprietary powerRibs technology provides a three-dimensional grid structure on one side of the seat, which is then used to reinforce Bcomp’s optimally spun and woven flax fibre reinforcement fabric, ampliTex. Made by twisting flax fibres to form a thick yarn, the powerRibs act as a backbone to the ampliTex flax fabric that is bonded to it.
Why the seat and not another part of the car? Since 2019, a minimum driver weight of 80 kg has been mandated. And if a driver weighs less than that, ballast must be used to bring them up to the minimum weight. But instead of allowing this ballast to be placed in other areas of the car, which could improve weight distribution, it must be located within the immediate area of the driver’s seat.
“With the introduction of the new regulation in 2019, the seat now forms part of the driver’s weight budget, so it’s overengineered as a result,” explains McLaren F1 Principal Composites Engineer Steve Foster.
“The original carbon fibre seat design was reverse-engineered by Bcomp, and then we optimised and manufactured the new design. The seat was run in pre-season testing without any problems and we hope to be racing with Bcomp flax seats in the near future.”
“This seat is the first step in the successful application of natural fibre composites in F1,” concluded Andreas Seidl. “By working with Bcomp we can identify other components that we can replace with a sustainable alternative that has equivalent weight and performance. There is no silver bullet in the race to be carbon neutral. Instead, we must continually evaluate every element of our cars and our operations to identify the ways we can improve performance, drive efficiency and reduce environmental impact.”