Formula 1's Brakes Are Pushing The Very Edges of Human Technology

Photo Credit: Luca Bruno/AP
Photo Credit: Luca Bruno/AP

Formula 1 is now attempting to break through a technological wall, seeking to get more than 1200 holes into a brake disc. This is a perfect encapsulation of everything wonderful and pointless about the sport.

Advertisement came out with a detailed report today detailing how F1 appears to be right at the limits of materials science with its brakes.

F1 cars use carbon fiber brake discs that need a lot of cooling so that they can operate at the right temperature, which happens to be around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem is that F1 teams do not want their brakes to be heavy, and they don’t even want to cool them all that much. Any air diverted towards keeping the brakes cool is air that could otherwise be directed for aerodynamic benefit.

Teams do not always err on the side of caution.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, pictured is Nico Rosberg catching his rear brakes on fire last year in Mexico
Photo Credit: Getty Images, pictured is Nico Rosberg catching his rear brakes on fire last year in Mexico

Basically, there’s a lot of pressure for F1 brakes to be ultra-light and ultra-efficient.

Motorsport spoke with Andrea Algeri, Brembo’s manager for their open-wheel supplies, who explained how this has led to a completely bizarre quest for tiny holes, stating “In the last years we reached a sort of limit in the strength of the disc, in weight and stiffness ratio of the caliper. So now we have been looking a lot on the cooling side.”


And that means drilling ever more holes in the brake disc. Holes mean channels for cooling air, and the smaller the hole, the more surface area for cooling is available.

Where brake discs used to have 30 or 70 holes a few years ago, F1 teams have pressured their suppliers to go up to 1200 holes! But that seems to be the limit, as there’s just not much ability to drill any smaller holes in the discs, which are regulated in their size.


Algeri offered this explanation: “It is true carbon is quite a soft material, but making 2.5 mm holes, quite long, with a single tool, is not a simple thing. So we invested a lot in the technological aspect in this sense. We had 4.5 mm holes, then we switched to 4mm, then I remember 3mm and the limit now is 2.5mm. This change takes some years to reach.”

It has taken years of research to reach this 1200 hole barrier! I can’t get over how wonderfully obsessive that is.


F1 teams seem confident that their brake suppliers will figure something out with their materials or their drilling techniques in the future, and Motorsport floats the idea of special brake discs only used in a single free practice session, which is so impossibly specialized I can barely believe it.

I love F1 sometimes.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.


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