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Why are carbon-ceramic brakes a big deal?

“The most important part of a sports car is not the engine, but the brakes.” - Mika Häkkinen
AMG with Brembo pioneered the carbon-ceramic brakes

Let’s look at the carbon-ceramic brakes for a bit, since my “58k for a rear brake replacement” post gained a lot of interest. The concept of carbon-ceramic brakes dates back to the 70s. With motorsports like Formula1 and the technological achievements related to it, carbon brakes were a matter of time. Cast iron brakes were used on the Formula1 cars until the early 1980s, but with the rapid development of the cars, the brakes wouldn't last long, they were heavy and needed a lot of intercoolers, which meant - even more weight. Even though they were a cheap option with a cheap replacement, it’s Formula1 we’re talking about. Around that time Brabham was the largest producer of Formula1 cars and had its own British racing team with Gordon Murray appointed as a Chief Designer. He recognised the need for lighter, more reactive brakes. By that time, carbon-carbon brakes were used in aerospace and one of the first commercial uses was on the supersonic plane/airliner - Concorde. Murray and Brabham introduced the carbon-carbon brakes in 1982, but the car was disqualified for being under the weight limit. Ahead of its time, the team was forced to go back to the cast iron options due to thermal problems. It was McLaren together with Carbon Industrie who created the first ventilated carbon-carbon discs in 1984, which allowed greater cooling. The car -1984 McLaren MP4/2-TAG Porsche - won the same grand-prix in which the brakes were introduced and later - Niki Lauda with McLaren won the championship. The McLaren MP4/2-TAG Porsche is considered to be one of the greatest and most celebrated cars in the Formula1 history. The carbon-carbon brakes became the standard ever since.


But the carbon-carbon brakes were too expensive to be used in production cars. They were also temperature-dependent, which made them unusable outside the world of the motorsports. The solution came in the year of 2000, when the first street-legal car to use carbon-ceramic brakes was produced. It was the Mercedes-Benz CL 55 AMG F1 Limited Edition coupé. AMG with Brembo pioneered the carbon-ceramic brakes, while the CL 55 was based on the Safety Car in Formula1. Only 55 were ever produced. Quite the unicorn, if you ask me.


With Mercedes-Benz having this technology available and already working on the SLR with McLaren, it only made sense for the SLR to be the next street-legal car to use them. Now, here it might get a little tricky trying to define things, because at the same time Porsche launched the GT2 with ceramic brakes. Some count the SLR as the second ever, others - the GT2. It really doesn't matter, Mercedes-Benz together with AMG and Porsche put the carbon-ceramic brake technology out there and turned the other manufacturers into spectators in their own industry. The carbon-ceramic brakes became the standard for most supercars, hypercars and became available as an option for some sports cars.

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