ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 2 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Taking the Lid Off F1

Formula One Technical Analysis

  by Will Gray, England

Last year, Atlas F1 ran a series of articles that investigated the technical areas involved in design, development, and construction of an F1 car. Now, a year later, Will Gray picks up where he left off, and dives deeper into the technical analysis of Formula One.

Part A1: "Mission Control: Designs on Victory - Who's Who in the Design Office ?"

Back at base, there is a large bunch of dedicated people who, out of the limelight, strive away behind the scenes to make those in the limelight move further into the limelight! The race circuit demands high intensity, high pressure work, but that also goes for the guys back at base - don't even begin to think that it's easy street back at the factory. Far from it. Designers and manufacturers regularly work into the night in a job that is a whole league away from a nine-to-five.

The technical side of the factory team consists of a large group of engineers, fabricators, laminators, and machinists, which is generally split between the design office and the factory floor. The factory manager will take care of the day to day operations in the manufacturing section, whilst the Technical Director is responsible for the whole design procedure.

Added to these two areas will be a research and development department (which works on longer term projects involving more in-depth research) and also, if the team owns a wind tunnel, a group of engineers and technicians dedicated to running that facility. The design office is the area of consideration in this article, and it consists basically of groups of engineers separated out into the departments of Aerodynamics, Mechanical, Composites, Electronics and Race Team.

The design and manufacture of the engine is undertaken by the company which provides it rather than the team itself, leaving them free to concentrate on the car - that is with the exception of Ferrari, of course, who design and build both car and engine in the same factory. The design of the Formula One car is very interactive, however, and all departments (be it within the company or between companies) must constantly communicate to ensure the job is done correctly.

Moving through the design office then, the first department we hit is that of Aerodynamics. They are responsible for the preparation, running and analysis of wind tunnel tests, and for the initial development of the new car as a whole. The engineers in this department spend most of their time designing and testing parts on the scale wind tunnel model, in a relentless bid to find more downforce.

The work tends to be spread out among model designers (who draw up the parts) and test data analysers (who spend days in the wind tunnel immediately analysing data as they go). These are backed up by the wind tunnel staff who run and maintain the tunnel. Also in this department lives the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Engineer, who basically tests components day after day in a virtual wind tunnel on a computer screen. This is the next big thing, and as the technology improves to make more realistic computer models, the use of the medium is expanding. Results are only just begging to be trustworthy, however, so don't expect this to take over the traditional wind tunnel just yet!

Next up is the Mechanical department, which covers a broad range of areas, the most important of which are the suspension, gearbox, and chassis. Lots of detailed drawing is done here, as is a large amount of rig testing and computer simulation to ensure designs are accurate and successful. The team of engineers working in this area will draw up every part that makes it onto the full size car - a job which also includes the re-scaling the drawings done by the aerodynamics department, and allows that team to then concentrate solely on the model.

The Materials Engineers work with those from the mechanical department to ensure all parts designed meet the ultimate F1 goal: required strength for minimum weight. The advantages of carbon fibre is that the teams can achieve just that. By correctly designing the lay-up of the carbon fibre, a materials engineer can ensure that the part is just strong enough to pass structural tests and rigidity requirements, without carrying excess material weight. These two groups of engineers will also set up the required structural tests (such as crash tests) to ensure that all safety requirements are met.

While mechanical design is the backbone of the Formula One racing car, Electronics has recently been the area in which most gains could be made in terms of innovation - and before the driver aids were banned, electronics had truly come to the forefront of design. Many say that aerodynamics is the most important area in Formula One design, but these days it is in danger of becoming surpassed by electronics. Even with the FIA banning as much as they can, the electronics engineers still manage to design systems which (be it fair or foul) assist the drivers.

However, with such technical masterpieces of electronic design, it becomes more and more important that there is a technical master who knows how to work it. Generally any system designed by someone must be maintained by them as only they know how it works, and the design and maintenance of such systems on the car is a complex and important task because almost everything on the car needs the electronics to work!

The final major area of the design office is the track-based team because although their place is at the circuit, they do actually work back at the factory too! When not at races or tests, this team of engineers are analysing data from the race or test just gone, or using simulation software to prepare for the next one. These clever computer programmes can take set-up data for the car, along with all the basic parameters such as gross weight, fuel weight, torsional rigidity, etc., and analyse the best lap time available on the track for the given weather conditions.

This, along with aero maps provided by the aerodynamic engineers, gives the race engineer a baseline to work from when he arrives at the next circuit which is designed to challenge him, the car and its pilot. All the engineers on the team are at the top of their profession, and their skills at finding strength, stiffness, control, and superior aerodynamics, whilst at the same time limiting the overall weight of the car are all essential parts of a good design - and a winning team.

Next Week: "Tools of the Trade: Designer's Tools"

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Will Gray© 2007
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