F1 regulation changes bring better steels for general automotive transmissions

The development of high performance steels to extend the life of transmissions of F1 cars to more than one race is expected to benefit driveline reliability and efficiency of a wide range of vehicles.

Xtrac's chief metallurgist, Steve Vanes,said: "Previously, the typical life of a set of gears for a main shaft was approximately 350,000 cycles. The requirement to further extend the life of an F1 gearbox could equate to a life of more than 2.5million cycles. Shifting the emphasis in F1 to endurance and reliability has the additional benefit of making the technology more relevant to road cars, as well as further hastening our steel development programme."

Xtrac steels are tempered at higher temperatures than normal steels, 200 to 350°C compared with 140 to 150°C, expanding the possibilities for surface enhancement processes such as physical vapour deposition, which require high temperatures that would affect the underlying hardness of conventional steels. This extends considerably the range of low friction coatings and solid lubricants that can now be exploited, which in turn have a dramatic impact on transmission efficiency and reliability.

The company has developed a number of special motorsport steels in collaboration with Corus, going back to the 1990s with the introduction of XVAR1, a vacuum arc re-melted version of the primary gear steel EN36C then used in motorsport applications.

Tom Shelley

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