Carbon brakes: the Formula 1 of the racetrack
Since McLaren first tested carbon brakes in 1984, Messier-Bugatti-Dowty braking systems have chalked up 261 Formula 1 victories.
So what are their advantages? They are both light – and in F1, like aeronautics, the weight issue is critical – and resistant to thermal shock. "On tracks with long straights, the brakes have time to cool down. In this case, the temperature differential between two braking phases can be very high – up to 1,000°C – leading to a risk of thermal shock and disk failure," explained Franck Ribas, Head of "Land Vehicle Braking Systems" Department. This can be avoided by using carbon brakes because, at very high temperature, they retain and even improve their braking capacity, with an extremely low risk of disk failure. Two of their features make them even more superior: their very low sensitivity to fading (reduction in braking efficiency as the temperature rises) compared with steel brakes and their durability, lasting up to six times longer than steel! Due to current regulations, F1 teams are quite limited regarding potential improvements to their engines and bank on braking performance to sharpen their competitive edge.
As private testing has been banned in Formula 1 since 2008, Messier-Bugatti-Dowty performs simulations and bench tests. Data is then sent to the F1 teams. Ribas continued: "We offer them a customized product based on the driver's needs, the track and the car. Our job therefore consists of advising our clients to help them choose the best braking equipment configuration with a view to an upcoming Grand Prix." Nonetheless, in this highly competitive environment, reactivity is the key to success: "An innovation can move from the research department to a Grand Prix track in a matter of weeks!"
Messier-Bugatti-Dowty supplies carbon brakes for other applications such as endurance (Le Mans 24-hour race) and single-type races (Formula Renault), and even heavyweight land vehicles (Leclerc tank). But Formula 1 remains the most demanding of them all...
© JF Galeron