This month marks the end of the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix season. The last race is being held in Abu Dhabi and officials claim it is the biggest international event in the United Arab Emirates, supporting a crowd of 60,000. Spectators will be watching cars racing wheel-to-wheel at 200 mph.
A Formula One car is a single-seat, open cockpit vehicle, with wings and big tires. Tires are one of the most important components of these race cars. In fact, for Formula 1 events, a single tire supplier provides all of the teams with identical rubber. There are different specifications of tires, made up of different compounds, which are tested and used by the individual racers. There are strict regulations regarding tire choices and use, and all tires are given a bar code at the start so the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) can closely monitor their use and ensure that no team is breaking regulations:
Any driver who uses a set of tyres of differing specifications during the race may not complete more than three laps on this set before changing them for a set of tyres of the same specification. A penalty under Article 38.3(d) will be imposed on any driver who does not change tyres within three laps.
Teams are not allowed to modify the tires in any way, nor are they allowed to treat them with solvents or softeners. Race officials made a change to the tire regulations this year. According to the Formula 1 official website:
To encourage variation between race strategies, [the tire supplier ] is now making three, rather than two, of their five dry-weather tyre compounds … available at each event. The Italian company will allocate two sets of tyres for the race (only one of which must be used) and one set which can only be used in Q3 (the softest of the chosen three compounds). Each driver will then be able to choose 10 further sets of tyres from the three compounds to take their weekend allocation to 13.
That is a lot of pressure on that single tire manufacturer. The safety of the drivers and even the outcome of the race could be reliant upon the quality of the tires supplied. Different compounds are needed for the tire’s use in different environments – type of asphalt on the track, number and severity of the corners, top speeds, wet or dry weather—and tread patterns for gripping and channeling water. Deviating from the specifications of a particular tire ‘recipe’ can affect the quality of the final product. Since there is only one tire supplier allowed, if something goes wrong on the course and the tires are to blame, there is no question as to who is at fault.
So, quality control measures should be taken at several steps in the manufacturing process: on raw materials, during the manufacturing process, and on the final product. One of the most important ‘ingredients’ to get right is the carbon black rubber.
Carbon black rubbers (CBRs) are heavily used in all kinds of tires. The material adds reliancy and conducts heat effectively away from the tread, extending tire life. Carbon black is added to rubber as both a filler and as a strengthening or reinforcing agent. For various types of tires, it is used in innerliners, carcasses, sidewalls and treads utilizing different types based on specific performance requirements. As we mentioned, the compound, or ‘recipe,’ for each tire is different, and sometimes even patented, so analyzing the material is an important step in the development process.
As we wrote in a previous article, CBRs can be challenging to analyze because they are opaque to infrared light except when cut by cryo-microtomes which are not commonly available in analytical laboratories. At even a few microns of thickness, CBRs become opaque in transmission mode infrared spectroscopy. However, attenuated total reflection (ATR) is a powerful sampling technique ideal for samples which absorb or scatter strongly in transmission. However, ATR devices alter the appearance of the spectrum relative to what would be seen in transmission, so Germanium (Ge) crystals are needed for a lower depth of penetration.
Additionally, Thermal Gravimetric Analysis Infrared can be used to deformulate the CBRs by essentially ‘taking them apart’ (using high heat) and then analyzing the gases that are evolved. This allows the analyst to deconstruct the CBR checking both composition and processing conditions used to make the tires.
We conducted an experiment on a sample using an FTIR spectrometer with diamond and germanium ATR crystals in order to identify and verify the materials used in carbon black rubber. We discovered that employing the right technique of infrared spectroscopy with the appropriate accompanying crystals and software, may be one of the most important safety checks done outside the pit stop.
Read Carbon Black Analysis Using FT-IR with Germanium and Diamond ATR to learn about the study, instruments used, and results.