Unlike road cars, the exhaust systems of Formula 1 cars, or any racing car, lack many of the “caps” required for pollution limits. This condition allows racing cars to have a different power delivery and, above all, many other advantages. But what materials are used to make the exhaust systems of F1 cars? Let’s find out in this article.
Since they are designed for a Formula 1 car, even the exhaust component is expressly designed to optimize performance. Everything must be meticulously crafted since “the exhaust” is not composed of a single component. In fact, by removing the cover from modern Formula 1 cars, we can see that there are three main parts in the assembly.
The first is the exhaust manifold, one for each cylinder bank, right and left, converging towards the rear in the turbine impeller. Also, from the manifold, another fundamental component for performance starts—the wastegate. This valve creates a direct connection between the outlet and manifolds and comes into operation when the turbine reaches its maximum operating pressure. In fact, it is a valve that, once the peak turbine pressure is reached, opens and allows excess exhaust gases to flow directly to the outlet. An exercise characterized by a different exhaust sound.
Observing the exhaust manifolds of Formula 1 cars, we notice that they are made with decidedly unique and sinuous shapes. The main reason behind these particular geometries is related to the pressure of the gases in the exhaust and the movement of the fluid in the manifolds. In the design phase of the manifolds, engineers must choose the appropriate length to prevent hot gases from re-entering the combustion chamber. This choice significantly affects the car’s performance—with longer manifolds, there is a better response at lower speeds, and vice versa with shorter ones.
In the design of the exhaust, the most challenging issue to address is temperature, with hot gases reaching temperatures of around 1000 °C. With these elevated temperatures, finding a material capable of not melting and dissipating heat correctly is crucial. To achieve this task, F1 teams currently use a metal called Inconel, a superalloy made from various minerals. An alloy that performs exceptionally well at the high temperatures to which it is subjected.
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However, these resistance advantages pose several problems in the physical construction of the exhaust. In fact, it is an extremely difficult material to bend, and to build the manifolds with those sinuous shapes, welding is used for sections. Before producing the Inconel exhaust, technicians study the shapes and parts of the exhaust in 3D printing, where they create a prototype as similar as possible to what will be mounted on the car.
Through this technique, technicians and mechanics can produce the shapes most suitable for the bodywork and available space. However, being enclosed within the shells and near sensitive components such as the hydraulic system and the power unit, it is essential to coat the exhaust to prevent damage to accessories. To achieve this task, teams adopt a thermal shield that limits heat radiation to other nearby components. An intervention that reduces heat reaching the accessories by half but also improves the performance of the turbine itself. In fact, the impeller at the exhaust is strongly dependent on the pressure and temperatures of the exhaust gases.
After passing the turbine and continuing towards the outlet, we reach the actual exhaust, a hollow cylinder made of titanium with a fixed diameter of 100 mm. This last element has undergone strong regulations over the years, with the FIA banning any aerodynamic improvement effect.