Richard Hammond reveals the surprising engineering connections behind the Formula 1 car. The stars of the most glamorous, and expensive sport on earth wouldn't even cross the starting line without inspiration drawn from a revolutionary 19th-century cannon, ancient sailing boats, jet engine fan blades, body armour and a technique practised by blacksmiths for thousands of years.
Eight hundred horsepower purebreds, F1 cars cost millions of pounds to design and build. They require hundreds of people to ensure they just start, but they have a simple purpose: to go as fast as possible around a track for about two hours on a Sunday. Attaining huge speeds requires a precision-built engine, which maximises its power thanks to a revolutionary cannon, (which is like an open-ended engine cylinder). Richard fires his own home-made cannon to show how minimising what gunners called 'windage', the gap between the cannon ball (or piston) and the barrel (or cylinder) increases the power of the shot (or engine). With so much power F1 cars can hit easily 200mph - faster than a Jumbo Jet at take-off - and they too could become airborne. But those same wings that lift a Jumbo into the air can also press an F1 car into the ground. Richard takes his modified car to a wind tunnel and adds a ton of weight to it using wind alone, all thanks to a shape derived from the sails of ancient dhows.
Carbon fibre was pioneered by Rolls Royce as a new material for fan blades in jet engines. It is light but still stronger than stee, the sort of claim Richard can't resist testing and proving. F1 cars carry 200 litres of petrol in a tank that sits between the driver and a hot engine. To contain the fuel the engineers need a strong, light, puncture-proof tank. The answer is Kevlar, the same material used in body armour such as bullet-proof vests, which Richard tests with flaming arrows. Finally, Richard visits modern blacksmiths to see how the ancient technique of forging makes stronger swords - and F1 wheels.