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How the top Formula One (F1) teams stay on the podium
Dec05

How the top Formula One (F1) teams stay on the podium

You may already know that Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is currently used by all Formula One teams as part of their ongoing development for their aerodynamics and cooling packages. Since the technologies pioneered in F1 car development regularly flow through into other engineering industries, we felt that a post on this topic was the perfect way to launch LEAP's CFD blog.   In recent years, CFD has become a tool that is no longer just a complement to F1 team's sophisticated wind tunnel and track testing equipment, but an indispensable tool for the top teams to gain that extra competitive advantage. In this post, we will focus on why and how this powerful technology is used by Formula One teams today, as well as global automotive manufacturers who employ similar techniques (within slightly longer timeframes).   Formula One is a unique sport from a technical perspective, where all teams manufacture and design components from a blank sheet to conform to a certain set of rules. These rules are interpreted differently by all teams and as such there is considerable design freedom (amid regular rule changes and updates). Ultimately, this design freedom has a significant impact on the performance of F1 car designs during on-track testing, qualifying and during real race conditions.   The aerodynamic design process must be extremely efficient for a team to remain competitive, as any inefficient period will inevitably lead to a loss of performance compared to other teams that have continued along an efficient development path. This is why supercomputers and wind tunnels run 24/7 at most Formula One team headquarters.   Typical Formula One Super Computer Courtesy of SAUBER PETRONAS Engineering AG   Most teams will adhere to the following development process.   Initial CFD analysis of multiple concepts Further CFD development of the most promising concepts Wind tunnel tests of developed concepts Track confirmation of new parts (usually on the Friday before a race)   This whole process can be accelerated if the performance improvements are found to be significant enough, and potentially any idea (even relatively radical changes) could be designed, tested, and raced within just a two week period.   For an aerodynamicist, the use of CFD is a vital tool in Formula One, as it provides repeatable results in a controlled environment that is sometimes not achievable even in the controlled environment of a $200 million wind tunnel. The aerodynamicist has the freedom to design without limitations on mounting points, prototyping lag times or mechanical issues that may otherwise prevent physical testing. The increasing use of CFD has led to a process that encourages creative design and rapid development of...

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