The idea that Formula 1 is one of the most expensive sports in the world for manufacturers and teams to participate in shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Of course, quantifying just how expensive it really is becomes sort of tough and complicated, but let’s try and do it by talking about a single simple part: the humble wheel nut.
On a passenger vehicle, a wheel nut (or bolt if you’re driving a European car) will typically range from a couple of dollars each to maybe $20 on the higher end. Formula 1 teams, on the other hand, spend closer to $1,000 each, according to the excellent racing tech-focused YouTube channel Driver61, and the journey that the F1 wheel nut took from being something that teams knocked on with a hammer to the lightweight milled aluminum pieces they are now is pretty interesting.
If you want to get the whole story, watch the video, but some of the highlights for me include the fact that currently, wheel nuts in F1 are not spec parts, meaning they don’t need to be the same for every car like the wheels, but the manufacturers are required to share their design information with the rest of the grid, preventing this from becoming yet another area where richer teams can outspend poorer ones and leave them behind.
Also interesting is that most teams end up machining their own wheel nuts and that each wheel nut is typically only used once. The latter isn’t a rule, but because aluminum isn’t especially strong and can deform or break when subjected to high forces like, y’know, an F1 pit crew’s ridiculously powerful wheel gun, the cost savings of reusing the hardware don’t make sense when compared to potential time lost because the splines on the nut broke, which happened to Mercedes-AMG in 2021.
So, next time you’re watching a grand prix, remember that in addition to all the other costs a team has to participate, it’s looking at spending around $80,000 on wheel nuts for each race weekend, and know that for that money, you can buy a BMW M3 with a couple of options.