Breaking down of F1 technology

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Brake manufacturer AP Racing doesn’t shout about its success in Formula 1 and beyond. But the technology behind its ground-breaking stopping power has a wider relevance, for the benefit of us all

Ferrari’s streak of five world championships at the turn of the century was either a brilliant display of superiority or a dominance that made you question your love for Formula 1 and possibly both. But imagine a company helping to win every Formula 1 World Championship for 45 years. That’s what AP Racing has done. However, the brake and clutch company doesn’t exactly shout about its success. I found that statistic on a company statement. It was the third-last point on it.

AP’s history stretches back further than that first world championship in 1968 with Graham Hill driving the Lotus 49. Automotive Products was set up in 1920 as an importer of components from the USA for the American ex-military vehicles left behind after the war. Nine years later it moved into brake component manufacture and within 12 months it had set up a competitions department an area where two-thirds of its business is still done.

When Ferrari was busy winning its first drivers world championship since 1979 in 2000, AP was struggling to stay a live. That year it was sold to Delphi Automotive Systems, but the competitions arm, AP Racing, lived on as its own company. The current owner of AP Racing is fellow brake company Brembo, which has its own competition division, Brembo Racing. Thus, like Audi and Porsche, related outfits often compete for the same tender. Despite this, Brembo is happy for AP Racing to work as an autonomous entity. It shows a lot of guts to keep us like that,” says marketing manager Joe Bennett when we sit down in a meeting room at AP Racing’s base outside Coventry. “Brembo is a big company they employ 6000 people but there’s no cross-pollination of technology between us and Brembo Racing. They compete in the same field, but there’s no collusion and AP Racing does its own thing.”

‘Doing its own thing’ means supplying brakes to a huge range of series around the world. Formula 1, WPC, NASCAR Sprint and Nationwide Series, DTM, MCC, BTCC and Australian V8s all use AP Racing parts, and some use entire AP systems from discs to pedal boxes. That’s just the motor sport side; there’s also manufacturer supply work, projects in armoured vehicles and upgrade packages for road cars which make up the final third of the business. A team of 125 currently oversees 30,000 product part numbers, and the work shows no signs of slowing down. Unsurprisingly the greatest leaps in braking technology are being made in Formula 1, and this feeds down into other series and even road cars. With great development, however, comes great expense. AP won’t talk about what Fl brakes cost, but the general consensus in the paddock is that it could be £1000 a disc, £500 per pad and £4500 per caliper.

That may not sound too bad, but bear in mind that the top teams will be getting through at least three sets of discs and pads a weekend and four sets of calipers a year. This means you’re looking at over £1.1 million for calipers, pads and discs each year per team.

Part of AP Racing’s success over recent years has been due to the new type of caliper that it’s using. In 2007 the company launched the Radi-CAL caliper, which is now used in Fl, NASCAR, LMP1, LMP2, F3 and the A/ICC. The idea behind it is simple: brake calipers used to consist of two machined steel castings and, even though they would be bolted together, the fact that they were two pieces of metal meant that they had to be extremely heavy in order to deal with huge braking forces. The Radi-CAL is made of aluminium, which has been used on high performance calipers for a while, but it is forged out of a single block of metal. This means that Fl Radi-CALs offer, on average, an 18 per cent decrease in weight and a 10 per cent increase in strength from the ‘standard’ calipers.

“What we’ve done with the Radi-CAL is to take the envelope of the wheel and maximise the space available inside it,” says Bennett. The new caliper can then be lighter and run cooler. There are also channels within the caliper that direct the airflow, and they can pipe air to where it’s needed.

Some of our competitors have variations on this theme, and you’ve still got to make two-part calipers for different formulas and budgets. Although the Radi-CALs don’t use rare materials because Fl is restricted in that area they’re still expensive because of the detail and the billet it’s machined out of.”

As with most things in Formula 1, the braking is expensive. However, unlike much of the technology on the cars there is a direct link between Fl braking and that now being used on supercars thanks to the Radi-CAL caliper. It’s good to hear that the sport still has plenty of relevance in particular areas.

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