Red Bull Racing have likely kicked off a new trend in Formula One, as the team appeared with obvious coating on the car's floor, downstream of the exhausts. With the RB9 having one of the most effective designs to pull the exhaust gases down to the car's floor to seal the diffuser, its carbon fibre floor is also very much exposed to the heat of the burning hot exhaust gases flowing over the floor. Such single sided heat exposure is a risk for the carbon fibre laminate which may end up slightly bent, creating an unwanted effect on the car's aerodynamics. The severity of this very much depends on the exact thermal conductivity of the carbon fibres and the temperature resistance of the resin between the sheets.
Although the team have obviously not revealed which coating exactly is being used, one of the most popular suppliers of protective coatings in Formula One is Zircotec. Apart from coatings to protect against heat, the company has coatings that provide protection against wear; coatings that offer electrical insulation; and coatings (non-metallic) that offer electrical conduction, e.g. for earthing and for shielding sensitive instruments against stray interference signals.
In Red Bull's case it is quite obvious that its coating is targeted at protecting the carbon fibre floor against heat, seeing the area where it is applied. It is clear to see where, as the typical carbon fibre structure is hidden by the uniform colour of the coating.
Coatings like Zircotec's Performance range (known to be used in F1) are obvious candidates for this. They can be applied to a range of thicknesses from very thin (say 0.05mm thick) up to say 0.5mm thickness depending upon the required level of protection. Teams are also often requesting the coatings to be coloured to help disguise where they are used and which ones exactly are used.
Similar coatings can be found on various carbon composite components to protect them from fire/heat damage. These include brake components; various engine and exhaust heat shields; and engine parts. Additionally, as there are coating for metal parts as well, such as those currently used on exhausts, it could well be that the use of these coatings will expand even further due to the high number of new hot components that will be introduced around the engine as of 2014.