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INSIGHT: What Happens to F1 Car Parts After a Race?

The second batch of flyaway races are fast approaching, making it one of the busiest times of the year for F1 teams - especially in the Non Destructive Testing (NDT) department...

F1 is all about learning. From fine-tuning car setup on track to delving into the data and stats post-race, there's always a lot of knowledge to gain. And that couldn't be more evident than in NDT.

After each race, hundreds of parts are stripped from the cars and returned to base, where they are put through a rigorous series of tests in order to check that they are in tip-top shape and ready to be put back on the car for the next round of the season.

The type of testing that a part undergoes depends on what material it is made from. Various techniques and methods are used to examine F1 parts, to make sure there are no problems, defects or areas of concern that could mean they need to be repaired or, in the worst case, even scrapped.

One of the NDT processes that a metal part goes through is Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI). "We create a magnetic field within the components and apply a green fluid onto their surface" explains Pete, a Process Engineer in Composites and Manufacturing.

"When the magnetic field is applied, we look at the part under a UV light and check for fine green lines, which would indicate a defect.

"We do this in different orientations to make sure we don't miss anything. We have to do these for every turnaround."

Metal parts also go through the Eddy Current Inspection process, where a pencil-like probe with a coil in the end is moved over the component and sets up a magnetic field inside it.

"This gives us an image on a display," Pete says. "If it meets a defect such as a crack, it will change the magnetic field, which will then cause the signal to change rapidly into an upward movement.

"What we have to do is scan over the component, keep looking at the screen and checking for any large movements, which would indicate an issue."

This area of NDT also includes Dye Penetrant Inspection, which is a lengthy process that can last around an hour per part. And when you think about the number of metal parts on an F1 car, that's quite a lot of work to get through.

"This is one of the biggest methods of NDT we use these days," Pete adds. "The part is placed into a tank of fluorescent dye for around 30 minutes, which allows the dye to soak into any cracks.

"It is then moved over to the wash station, where we wash off the dye and make sure there is no penetrant left on the surface.

"Next, we place it into an oven, which dries off the water before the final stage, where it's moved into a storm cabinet, containing developer powder.

"Here, the machine agitates dust over the surface of the component - acting as blotting paper to pull the penetrant out of any cracks. Once this process has happened, the part goes through to the viewing area, where we look at it under a UV light and, if there are any defects, they will show as a thin green line on the surface.

"If something comes up, we have to report it to the design office to see if it's acceptable to use or needs to be scrapped."

Using a digital X-Ray machine is another vital method of NDT. But it's not like the x-ray machines most people will be familiar with. "It uses a detector screen, which goes onto a computer to produce a live image," Pete explains.

"These machines will also do what we call computed tomography, which means if we rotate the part while the X-Ray is being taken, it creates lots of X-Ray images at various angles that can then be reconstructed into a full 3D model.

"We can then slide the model in any direction to see any defect in any of the part and how the part has been constructed."

The ultrasonics area is a particularly busy area of the factory. "We use ultrasonics on all the composite components to check for internal defects such as delamination and disbands," Pete says. "We do this with an ultrasonic flaw detector.

"How this works is a sound wave is pushed into the component and returns signals onto a display, which we then have to interpret. We apply gel to the component and move the probe backwards and forwards along the surface.

"We must be watching the screen at all times to see if there are any defect-type signals coming up. Something like a wishbone will take around an hour to completely scan. We have to cover 100% of the part.

"We do all of the suspension components, wings and suspension carriers (gearbox maincase), along with parts of the chassis and floor too.

"Each component has a report and the records are updated every time it is inspected, so we can see if a defect is growing during the part's expected lifespan."

It's all in the details. Even the slightest defect can potentially cause a race-ending failure, making the NDT department one of the most crucial (and busiest!) parts of the team, working relentlessly to make sure every part on the car is fit for purpose.