An interesting application of CFD is the sport of Formula 1 racing. Unlike other racing series, each F1 team designs and builds a car from scratch – there are no interchangeable components between cars from different teams. The stakes are certainly high, given the outsized budgets and driver salaries meant to gain tenths of a second in lap time. Teams rarely release detailed operating budgets, but most estimates place Ferrari’s F1 costs in excess of $400M per year and their rivals are not far behind. Formula 1 drivers are among the highest paid athletes in the world.
Recent rule changes and technological innovations have resulted in an increasing reliance on simulation for the design of Formula 1 racecars. With the freeze on engine and electronics development, aerodynamic performance is now the primary means to gain an advantage. Moreover, to reduce costs, teams have agreed to limit track testing and wind tunnel measurements. Exact CFD capabilities are closely guarded, but some teams rely on computational facilities in the ~80 teraflop peak range.
The most visually striking change to the cars in 2012 are the stepped noses. They are a consequence of new safety rules that mandate a maximum height of the noses at several points, with most teams choosing noses that follow this maximum envelope. High noses are beneficial because they feed more air to the undertray and diffuser, which produce approximately 50% of the car’s total downforce. New regulations will also ban blown diffusers, where high-energy exhaust gases are directed into the diffuser to increase downforce. Many teams developed special engine maps last season to keep exhaust gas pressure high, even when the driver is off the throttle (producing a distinct exhaust note). Returning this season is the so-called Drag Reduction System (DRS), a driver-controlled movable rear wing element. To encourage passing, drivers can decrease the angle of attack of their rear wing via an actuator when close to a car ahead. The DRS is meant to counteract the disadvantage experienced by the following car in the highly turbulent wake of an open-wheeled Formula 1 car.
The 2012 season promises to be exciting – for the first time ever, six world champion drivers will be on the grid. Formula 1 may also gain traction in the United States with the recent addition to the calendar of the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. In a sport where tenths matter, high-fidelity simulation will inevitably become more widespread and sophisticated. Stay abreast of technological developments in the sport with two of the best English-language F1 blogs: James Allen on F1 and ScarbsF1.