Can F1 perform without his wind tunnels?

Red-Bull-Racing-F1-WindtunnelFacing multiple sponsors losses and the explosion of engines and electronics costs, Formula 1 is looking for ways to cut costs in order to maintain an adequate shelf to fill the stands of circuits and especially television justifies the exorbitant cost discipline .

Among the advanced tracks by the strategic group of F1 which is currently considering the future of the sport, the prohibition of wind tunnel tests. Numerical simulation would replace expensive wind tunnels which burden the budget of the big teams.

The transition to hybrid engines blew costs

The arrival here two seasons hybrid engines in Formula 1 has led to an explosion in costs for the teams. The average cost of the engines for a complete season rose from € 8 million for one season at a range of 15 to 20 million. A weight became insurmountable for small stables while the sponsors are deserting the discipline since the last financial crisis.

Williams F1The strategic group of the formula 1, which reflects on the future of the discipline is exploring ways to reduce costs. Various measures should be presented to Council of the FIA ​​to be held September 30, 2015 in Paris. Among the measures that will be addressed, a price reduction motors 8 million euros a year, a maximum price for the gearboxes of 2 million euros, etc.

The shock measure that will be discussed at the headquarters of the FIA ​​will focus on aerodynamics: the strategic group will propose a suppression of wind tunnel tests for the benefit of the simulation. Currently, all the teams are using these expensive tests that require models to build 60% of the cars, historic stables all have their own facilities. Upstream, the stables have supercomputers with which they are testing hundreds of configuration before selecting those that seem most promising. Currently, both the wind tunnel tests on calculations that computers are capped. The stables may not use calculators whose power exceeds 25 TeraFlops. A ceiling which has already been reduced repeatedly.

The end of wind tunnels is predictable, but when?

wind-tunnel_HotSpot fullThe proposal of strategic group is different. This will prohibit all use of traditional blowers to only allow more than the numerical simulation, ie the fluid dynamics calculations (CFD). Eric Boullier, the boss of the McLaren team militates in this direction and the subject was discussed at one of the press conferences preceding the Grand Prix of Japan was held at Suzuka weekend. Asked about the feasibility of the abandonment of blowers, Jonathan Neale, McLaren’s director of operations, said: “ I think the answer is: I think it’s possible. The progressive march forward of supercomputing and the software and CFD and the ability to run sensors on the car use the car more as a full scale wind tunnel is definitely a direction that’s happening. I wouldn’t like to predict a pace or timescale on that. I know there have been discussions recently about the proposal to eliminate wind tunnels from the process. We are fairly neutral about that. I personally don’t have concerns from a safety point of view. I think there are plenty of other ways of validating that what you have works. “

Jonathan Neale se montre donc assez sûr de lui et prêt à se passer de sa soufflerie assez rapidement. Pourtant, le risque de voir les performances chuter est réel. Quand, en 2010 , Richard Branson décide de créer l’équipe Virgin F1, sa première voiture, la VR-01, est conçue uniquement via la simulation numérique. Ce fut un échec et les voitures n’étaient pas du tout compétitives et l’écurie devra louer la soufflerie de McLaren a partir de 2012 pour essayer de progresser. Encore aujourd’hui les écuries testent l’aérodynamique de leurs voitures en piste, pendant l’hiver. Celles-ci sont alors bardées de capteurs pour vérifier que ce qui a été calculé, puis longuement testé en soufflerie, présente bien les qualités attendues sur la piste. Preuve s’il en est que l’efficacité du “tout numérique” reste encore bien incertaine.

Williams F1 2Paddy Lowe, the current technical director of the Mercedes team was much less enthusiastic about the idea to close its fan: “I think there will come a day when we will stop using wind tunnels all on our own – because new technology becomes superior. I think the timing of that is a long way off. Many, many years. At the moment CFD is a great compliment to the wind tunnel process – but only when it has the ability to be calibrated against the tunnel on a regular basis. I think I’d have to disagree with Jonathan there to some extent, that there is an overriding safety demand. We’ve seen other formulae in which cars become unstable at high speed. We must make sure the cars are fully validated from that point of view and the wind tunnel, at the moment, is the only reliable way of doing that.

If the removal of wind tunnel tests for the benefit of supercomputing certainly goes in the direction of history, it is not at all certain that the aerodynamicists are now ready to do without. Paddy Lowe particular evokes high-speed instability phenomena difficult to model on computers. The security argument could save blowers, for now.

The savings plan submitted to the FIA ​​should allow the discipline to save 20 to 25 million euros per season.

Translation : Google Translate

Sources :

“FIA Friday press conference – Japan”, Formula1 official press release, September 25, 2015

“Windtunnels could become ‘obsolete’ in F1 if teams update CFD”, Autosport, September 20, 2015

“Formula 1 plans engine deal cost cap and ban on windtunnel use”, Autosport, September 18, 2015

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