SKF, headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, will be providing several Formula 1 teams with Powder Metallurgy produced wheel bearings in the coming season. The company currently supplies ball, roller and plain bearings for wheel hubs, gearbox, clutch, engine, turbo, MGU and suspension components as well as specialised support equipment, like high-speed condition monitoring systems to track component performance.
“We use very hard powder metals for gearbox and wheel bearings, high nitrogen steels, including our proprietary Nitromax alloy, and M50 (an extremely hard and heat resistant tool steel) for turbos,” stated Jeroen Wensing the company’s Innovation Manager for Racing. “In most cases, bearing rollers are ceramic, in order to reduce friction and save power. Cages may be made from PEEK [a high-performance polymer], titanium or steel. Plain bearings for suspensions and similar applications are made in steel, titanium or even aluminium, with special liners in PTFE and ceramic coatings on the ball.”
Bearings used in F1 cars must be designed to withstand extreme loads, speeds and high operating temperatures while keeping their size and weight to an absolute minimum. In the production process, all base materials are treated with high tech coatings to further improve their performance. The company uses manganese phosphate, diamond-like-carbon, and ceramic coatings on various bearing components, while seals and plain bearing liners are treated with special low friction coatings to increase engine efficiency.
“The products we provide for Formula 1 teams are all 100% customised for the individual application,” stated Andrea Rifici, SKF Application Engineer for Scuderia Ferrari. “This is an industry where the leading players are looking for solutions that go to the absolute limits of what is possible.”
Compared with the vast majority of the company’s products, which are designed with maximum life in mind, Rifici notes that its Formula 1 customers have very different priorities: “Reliability is vital in these applications, but it is a ‘limited’ reliability: coatings and materials might need to perform properly for just five races, for example.”