Nanotech and Formula One – Is It Legal?

At last weeks Nanotechnology for High performance Motorsport meeting, one of the participants, from a Formula One team, commented that he thought the current FIA regulations precluded the use of nanomaterials.

A bit of digging around in the current regulations (thanks to Chris Walker for unearthing this) only finds the following prohibition on using carbon nanotubes incorporated within carbon fibres, although given the difficulty of making an accurate distinction between nanotubes, nanofibres and carbon fibre it would be interesting to know which definition the is FIA using.

Carbon fibres manufactured from polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor which have :

–            a tensile modulus ? 550GPa ;

–            a density ? 1.92 g/cm3 ;

–            unidirectional or planar reinforcement within their pre-impregnated form, not including three dimensional weaves or stitched fabrics (but fibre reinforcement using Z-pinning technology is permitted) ;

–            no carbon nanotubes incorporated within the fibre or its matrix ;

–            a permitted matrix, not including a carbon matrix.

As far as I know, nanotechnology was used in the 2009 season, with McLarens KERS system using A123s nano phosphate lithium ion batteries as a result of their combination of weight and charge/discharge capacity. It certainly seems that other than the specific regulation above, there are no limits to what can be applied, and the ingenuity of motorsport engineers is second to none.

Of course were anyone except Ferrari to gain a substantial technical advantage from nanotechnology we may see the regulations being tweaked, but in general this is done to close loopholes that the use of novel materials may allow engineers to exploit, rather than to ban a whole technology.

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