Aluminium – The wonder metal for automobile racing

A decade has passed since the first Indian Formula One Grand Prix was held on 30 October 2011 at NCR’s Buddh International Circuit which, accommodated nearly a million enthusiastic fans cheering on the unwavering racers. What better day than today – the Aluminium Jubilee of Indian F1 GP – to dwell on the integral role of aluminium, the wonder metal, in the motorsports industry.

Aluminium has been used in race cars since the early days of automobiles. The first car with a full aluminium body, the Durkopp sports car, was showcased at the 1899 Berlin Motor Show. Two years later, the first aluminium engine built by Karl Benz made its debut at a car racing event in Nice, France. In 1962, the legendary racer Mickey Thompson drove a car powered by an aluminium engine and finished the Indianapolis 500 race in record time. Numerous companies later improved upon this basic aluminium engine design and used it in various racing models, including Formula One race cars.

Race cars are precision machines that require special care. The motorsports sector needs materials that are highly durable under such adverse circumstances. This is why, in the modern day, aluminium has become the most common non-ferrous metal used in race cars.

Aluminium, alloyed with silicon, magnesium, etc., has become the preferred lightweight material for manufacturing otherwise hefty components like engine blocks, cylinder heads, control arms, radiators, fluid tanks, and accessory brackets. Using aluminium parts, components, and bodies in race cars enable them to move at breakneck speeds, enhance vehicle manoeuvrability, greatly improve driving performance, and allow for higher fuel efficiency. Aluminium’s corrosion resistance, thermal conductivity and ability to absorb twice the amount of crash energy as steel makes it indispensable to the auto racing industry.

The motorsports industry has been a trailblazer for many alloys that have subsequently become popular in the consumer automobile industry. It’s worth mentioning that almost everything in your car has descended from something that was originally developed for a race car! Vedanta Aluminium has long been a partner to the automotive industry, creating specialized high-performance alloys suited to precise needs of the industry.

We were the first in India to supply Primary Foundry Alloy (PFA) to the domestic auto sector for manufacture of alloy wheels. Until we did so, the country’s entire PFA demand was being met through imports, even though India has the world’s 2nd largest aluminium production capacity. Recently, we also launched Cylinder-Head Alloy, a critical raw material for manufacturing cylinder heads and other automotive components. Our Cylinder-Head Alloy leverages material design to help automakers increase efficiency of internal combustion engines for improved performance on emission control, in line with BS-VI and CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency/Economy) norms. This alloy was also entirely being imported into India from other countries, till we engineered it.

The future of automobiles rests on superalloys like those of aluminium making them safer, efficient and powerful. As performance with sustainability becomes the metric for assessing the viability of automobiles in the coming days, we envision our role as that of a leader in exploring the limitless potential aluminium as the ‘metal of the future’ for auto industry.