Race Car Materials Over Time: What Were They Built From?

Many of us know that the Wright Brothers’ original airplanes were made from wood. But how about the motorsports industry? Formula 1 derives its name from the formula or build that a car must feature to qualify for a race. Material choices are often updated to improve race car safety. One such change has been from traditional metals, steel and aluminium, to more modern carbon fibres. Here’s the details on that change.

Steel and aluminium: the original car components

Much like a passenger vehicle, your own car in the driveway, the early race cars were built with the same materials. The main body was comprised of a mix of steel and aluminium, selected for each application based on whether strength or lightness was the main purpose. The monocoque chassis was first used in the late 1960s and was made from aluminium. A single car body meant that the properties of the material used to it were highly important. Over time, improvements in materials have seen steel and aluminium swap for carbon fibre.

Carbon fibre: a material for the future

Since the 1980s, most race cars have been made using carbon fibre. This material is considered superior because of its high strength, lightweight applications. It’s typically a mix of carbon fibre and some aluminium to piece together the main components of the chassis. Some older materials, such as steel tubing, are still used in the roll cage due to their extreme durability in a crash. Despite current materials being more than suitable for the job, race car manufacturers are far from finished when it comes to innovation in materials.

Experimenting in car materials

Many major brands from Ferrari to Toyota and Mercedes Benz have dedicated materials departments who are constantly testing new materials to see if there’s anything better out there. The ultimate race car materials will be strong, durable and light and if a material exhibits improvements to all three of these categories, it could become the new favourite in the industry. Even minor improvements to one of these categories can mean major improvements to the safety and performance of the race car.

Airport Metals: Australia’s preferred metal suppliers for motorsports

Based in Melbourne, Airport Metals are Australia’s primary distributor of aircraft materials and supplies. Our wide range of metals includes sheets, tubing, bars, plates and rods. We regularly partner with the motorsports industry to provide the best quality materials for any application. To place an order or for enquiries, call (03) 9310 5566 or send us a message.