McLaren collaborates with Bcomp to develop F1’s first natural fiber composite racing seat

McLaren collaborates with Bcomp to develop F1’s first natural fiber composite racing seat

August 25, 2020
Press Release: McLaren

Carbon fiber plays a pivotal role in F1 – accounting for around 70% of a modern-day F1 car’s structural weight. But what if, in this age of economic uncertainty and environmental responsibility, there was a cheaper and more sustainable alternative?

McLaren has been working with Swiss sustainable lightweighting specialist Bcomp to develop just that, starting with a natural fiber racing seat for Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris – the very first F1 car part to be made of renewable textile fibers. By optimizing the mechanical properties of flax fibers through fabric architecture, it’s been possible to make a seat with the required strength and stiffness, but with a 75% lower CO2 footprint compared to its carbon fiber counterpart.

“For decades, F1 has been an innovation lab for technology that has transformed not just motorsport, but the automotive industry and beyond,” commented McLaren F1 technical director James Key. “The sport must continue down the road of getting to an increasingly environmentally friendly set of conditions, and our development and application of natural fiber composites is an example of how we’re accelerating this journey, as well as the ongoing evolution toward cleaner mobility.

And this is a sentiment that is echoed by Bcomp CEO and co-founder Christian Fischer. “Sustainability and decarbonization is a global issue, and it is fantastic to see motorsport embrace carbon alternatives, paving the way for widespread adoption within large-scale mobility applications. McLaren has always been a pioneer within the sport, in terms of both composites and sustainability, so it feels like the perfect match and a great honor to collaborate with such a prestigious brand.”

While the environmental benefits are clear, the mechanical properties of flax make it an attractive renewable raw material for high-performance composites. The tubular structure of flax fibers provides low density and high stiffness, which affords the opportunity to reduce weight while simultaneously improving vibration damping, as well as resistance to breakage, torsion and compression.

Lightweighting has been a crucial element of F1 car design for decades, as teams have sought to decrease weight to enable higher speeds and greater fuel efficiency, while retaining robust construction and preserving strength. Meanwhile, carbon fiber has long been a part of McLaren’s DNA. When it broke new ground with the MP4/1 in 1981, the car challenged conventional thinking on monocoque materials and construction. It set the trend for the cars that would follow in F1 and laid the groundwork for material innovation that has become a hallmark of McLaren.

Just as it did in 1981, McLaren is looking to stay ahead of the curve. And that’s why it is exploring the use of natural fiber composites which have the potential to be the next, sustainable, step forward in lightweighting. Flax fibers, for example, are 9% lighter than any equivalent carbon material and offer significantly better vibration damping.

In fact, they’re five-times better thanks to Bcomp’s ampliTex flax fabric and powerRibs technology. Greater vibration absorption and impact resistance makes the natural fiber material well suited to use in the driver’s seat. It improves comfort and reduces vibration in the cockpit, which can have a fatiguing effect on drivers, especially over a race distance and particularly at circuits with aggressive kerbs.

When it does break, unlike carbon fiber, it’s not prone to brittle fracture and splintering – a property that’s enhanced further by the structure of Bcomp’s powerRibs which stiffen and confine the damage zone.

The ductile fracture behavior of natural fiber composites opens the door to other possibilities too. One of the most spectacular, but equally dangerous, aspects of an on-track incident are the shards of carbon fiber that result from a collision. Not only do they present an immediate risk to the drivers, they are notorious for causing punctures and leaving a driver’s race in tatters. By using natural fiber composites in other areas of the car, such as front wing endplates and the floor, it’s possible to reduce carbon fiber debris and therefore the risk of punctures.

The advantages don’t stop there. With a budget cap set be introduced from 2021, many F1 teams will need to reduce costs while maintaining and improving performance – no mean feat in a sport where, typically, a team can pursue more development routes the more resource it has available. Teams are going to have to work even smarter, and with Bcomp’s ampliTex and powerRibs solutions reducing raw material cost by up to 30% compared to traditional carbon fiber, this significant saving can free up budget to explore other ways of improving car performance.

“Looking outside the sport to find new technologies is a crucial driver of innovation that can deliver unique competitive advantage,” added Key. “Through the experience gained this season, we’ll have learned more about sustainable composite materials and the potential for their application in the future.”

“Where we see significant potential is in the non-critical, semi-structural areas of the car, such as the driver’s seat, as well as off the car,” said Fischer. And it’s the latter, revealed McLaren F1 principal composites engineer Steve Foster, where the immediate scope for further adoption of natural fiber composites really lies. “When used intelligently, the flax fibers reduce weight and cost, while maintaining and, in some cases, even improving performance. There are a range of possible applications beyond the car itself, including pit gear, truck panels, packing cases, timing stands and mold tools.”

With so many potential applications, the natural fiber composite racing seat is just the beginning. “This seat is the first step in the successful application of natural fiber composites in F1,” concludes McLaren F1 Team Principal Andreas Seidl. “By working with Bcomp we can identify other components that we can replace with a sustainable alternative that has equivalent weight and performance. There is no silver bullet in the race to be carbon neutral. Instead, we must continually evaluate every element of our cars and our operations to identify the ways we can improve performance, drive efficiency and reduce environmental impact.”

The rescheduled Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 will now take place virtually – live and on-demand – on Monday 9 November and Tuesday 10 November. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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