An old saying goes “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. However, Formula One teams prefer to amend this to something along the lines of “If you can’t stand the heat, better call Zircotec”.
Zircotec are a company that specialises in heat protection for engine components, and supply their products to pretty much everyone on the grid. In fact, just one single team elected not to use their stuff in 2014 – presumably they used one of Nigel Mansell’s old moustaches as insulation instead.
Friend of Badger Nick Bailey pointed me in the direction of Zircotec’s stand at Autosport International a couple of weeks ago, and I caught a brief chat with their managing director, Terry Graham.
So what is Zircotec all about?
Terry Graham (TG): We started off with exhaust coatings. After a while we developed our ceramics to be applied to carbon composite components, so with F1 we offer coating for all sorts of things; heat shield, exhausts, wheels, and especially the brakes. Basically, anything that has a very high operating temperature.
Charlie Eustice (CE): With the raft of new rules for 2014 have you had to modify the product at all? With the MGU-H component the H stands for heat, which is your specialty, so has that required particular attention?
TG: Nothing’s changed too much, actually. What tends to happen is teams will approach us with a specific project in mind if they have something new on the cars, so we find that F1 is a great platform for us to develop our products. During the last few years, particularly with the blown-diffuser era, we were developing coatings specificially for that. Our base product is naturally white and bumpy, so for an aerodynamic area like a diffuser it’s no good.
We developed a smooth coating in black so that you don’t really see it. Thanks to that, we now have coatings developed for aerofoils. Then we’d get people saying “That’s great, but we’re having problems with tyre debris sticking to aerofoils”, so we developed a non-stick variant too. It’s like very expensive Teflon.
CE: I noticed you’ve got a variety of different-coloured coatings on show, do they have different meanings or is that purely aesthetic?
TG: It is an aesthetic thing. We start with our white product, what we call our ‘High Performance Product’ which will lower the surface temperature of a pipe by a third – I’m confident of quoting that. Sometimes black or white aren’t in-keeping with a customer’s paint scheme though, so we developed 14 different colours, which is where we add a liquid to the material. It seals the surface completely.
CE: Does it have uses beyond motorsport applications?
TG: It does, although they’re all motor-themed. It has applications in road cars and classic cars too, particularly with exhausts. As you can see on the Maserati we have at the stand here, its exhaust is coated in our black performance coating, which compliments it’s original colour scheme. It wouldn’t look right if we’d used the white one.
CE: What causes the bumpiness of the ceramic?
TG: That’s forced air inclusions; it helps with thermodynamic performance. The white one is great, although the air does make it slightly absorbent. As I mentioned, the colouring process seals the surface, so the coloured ones don’t have that.
CE: What have you got on show here today?
TG: The first one here is called Zircoflex. Several years ago we developed a heat shield material, which we put on to a backing piece, and from that, we got Zircoflex. People can buy it in sheet form and apply it as they need and it’s good up to 500 degrees Celsius. You wouldn’t put that on an exhaust because it would just catch light but it’s perfect for bulkheads, engine covers, body panels, essentially anywhere where moderate heat needs to be kept out. It’s doing extremely well.
CE: There’s a thicker one there too, what does that one do?
TG: I’m glad you asked. It’s our new product which we’ve just launched here; Zircoflex Form. It’s got a stainless steel core, with ceramic either side of it. Much as the name suggests, customers can form it into any shape they want. It’s more rigid that the standard Zircoflex, and because it’s steel, it can cope with extremely high temperatures, up to around 1000 degrees Celsius.
CE: A thousand degrees? That’s incredible! Is that the highest-operating product you make?
TG: No actually, our Performance White coating is… well let’s just say if you heated up a metal tube inside our coating, you could melt the metal out before the coating would even scorch.
CE: So the coating could exist in tube-form on its own?
TG: Yes, we’ve got some applications now where we use the coating without a metal insert, and that operates at over 2000 degrees.
CE: Wow, pretty resilient then!
TG: Absolutely, if I may stray away from our motorsport applications briefly, we produce components for furnaces that create optical glass fibres, and those operate at 2300 degrees. While our base product is white in colour, that actually glows white-hot.
After our chat I had a look at some of the samples they brought to the show, including the aforementioned Zircoflex and its Form variant too.
TG: Most of the F1 teams will have rolls of Zircoflex in their garages. As you can feel, it’s very flexible and lightweight and that makes it very general purpose too.
CE: It’s barely thicker than kitchen foil. You say this can go up to 500 degrees?
TG: Yeah, it’s roughly three sheets of kitchen foil in thickness 0.25mm. We have a patent pending on this, and we have it all over the world; in Japan, America, Australia, it’s doing fantastically well.
CE: Do you have the Form variant here too?
TG: Yes, as I say, we launched Zircotec Form at Autosport, which is the Stainless steel version, which is more rigid. You can still bend it, and because of that, we think customers will be able to build things entirely out of it. It’s black on one side, and gold on the other, so if you want it to look pretty, you have a choice of those two.
While I was fondling a few bits of Zircoflex, I wrapped one around my hand. So great are the heat-containing properties that my hand heated up instantly. I’m no technical genius, but the speed that the heat built up was proof enough for me that this stuff is magic – and it’s everywhere in Formula 1!
To see more of their products, check out www.zircotec.com.