The E20 always looks immaculate out on track; how different is paint used to spray a Formula 1 car compared to that of a regular road car?
The paint itself is actually very similar; it’s just a 2 part epoxy, which is what you would use on a standard road car. The main difference is the amount used; we make every effort to keep the weight down to an absolute minimum, to the extent of trialling potential paint shop facilities to establish who can provide the finer finish.
What about in terms of surface preparation? Is this also similar to that of your everyday vehicle?
Again it’s relatively comparable, but only at a basic level. We use a base coat and a lacquer as would any paint shop, however the initial preparation of the parts is fairly involved. We use a very lightweight surface filler to remove any blemishes before sanding down, followed by a primer coat which is sanded right back using grit paper until it’s almost completely gone. On a regular car you would be building up the thickness at this stage, but here we are removing as much as we can. We then apply the colour and finally the lacquer on top.
Is the process any different depending on colour?
The process is the same, but surprisingly the weight can vary quite significantly. Depending on the colour, this could be anything between 250-350gsm (Grams per Square Metre) – which is of course very light even at the upper end of the scale – but it all makes a difference. We’re lucky with the E20, as black is the lightest of the lot!
Obviously there is often damage to the paintwork when the cars run off track, or simply from general wear and tear; how easy is this to repair?
This is actually the other main difference between a Formula 1 car and a regular vehicle. Every part has to be look pristine for each race, so we frequently need to carry out re-sprays to ensure that everything is as it should be. We can’t just keep adding new layers to damaged areas, as this would create slight visual differences and above all else, added weight. We therefore have to remove all the existing paint from the part and start again.
What is the technique used for this? Is it difficult to do?
It’s actually quite a painstaking process. We can’t sand the paint down or use any sort of solvents as you would with a regular job, as this would run the risk of damaging the carbon fibre underneath. Instead we have to use handled razor blades to get between the top coat and the primer, and delicately lift the top coat away. It’s a highly skilled job, and not something you could do on a regular car due to the extra thickness of the paint.
So re-sprays don’t have any effect on the weight of the car?
Actually, this can throw up a few surprises. When the chassis comes back from the paint shop after its initial coat at the beginning of the season, we’ll measure its weight to establish a base line. However on some occasions, once the car has returned from a re-spray later in the year, it actually weights in fractionally lighter than before. This can occur when the top coat is removed and the primer sanded down slightly further than previously; so in fact as parts get older, they can actually get lighter! It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s always a possibility.
So overall then, slightly more complex than spraying your garden fence…
You could certainly say that! Quite a lot more interesting too!