Formula 1 By Design

Engineering the pinnacle of motorsport racing through simulation.

Engineering the pinnacle of motorsport racing through simulation.

“Unified design and simulation capabilities enable race teams to shave hours and even days off the traditionally manual process of updating simulation models and meshes with every design change.” — Fred Quemeneur, Dassault Systèmes. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.

Formula 1 (F1) racing stands as the pinnacle of motorsport engineering, where speed, efficiency and innovation converge on the racetrack. Teams in this elite competition leverage advanced engineering design and simulation tools to create their cars to push the boundaries of automotive technology.

Engineering design tools such computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel testing are employed to meticulously sculpt aerodynamic profiles, reducing drag and enhancing downforce for optimal performance. Use of simulation software allows engineers to predict how design changes will perform in a variety of race conditions, enabling rapid development cycles and continuous improvement throughout the racing season.

Simulation to Reality

Fred Quemeneur is a SIMULIA industry process consultant expert for Dassault Systèmes in France, who has noted “tremendous development” in simulation technologies in motorsports over the last quarter century. “Within F1, it all started with teams who were the first to adopt structural and fluid simulations from the world of aeronautics,” says Quemeneur. “Soon after that, they began to develop methodologies focused on making the cars lighter and faster than ever. The use of simulation, also referred to as computer-aided engineering (CAE), was facilitated by the early adoption of computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1980s, which replaced the drawing boards in the race teams’ design office. Dassault Systèmes was a key partner for CAD and simulation technology in this evolution right from the beginning.”

Quemeneur adds that fierce competition in motorsport pushes teams to be in a continuous design evolution process and simulation is now a pivotal technology in race car development. For example, race teams use CFD for aerodynamic analysis to reduce the amount of time and cost of wind tunnel tests.

“CFD can also be used to simulate engine lubrication and fuel tank sloshing effects,” says Quemeneur. “Finite element analysis (FEA) is used to evaluate the structural integrity of the body, chassis and critical components. FEA technology makes it possible to analyze the structural behavior of a wide range of materials used within a race car including composites, metals, plastics and rubber. Multibody simulation (MBS) is used to analyze the dynamic motion of mechanical systems including engine pistons, drivetrains and gears, clutches, suspensions and vehicle dynamics.”

“In a general sense, a race car is not that different from a production car: it must be safe, reliable and built quickly at the lowest possible cost.” —Fred Quemeneur, Dassault Systèmes. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.

Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday?

John Grimes is the director of emerging technologies for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), in New York.

The old saying in motorsport goes: “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” says Grimes. “Many of the bleeding edge technologies developed in motorsport do trickle down to mainstream automobiles. Not surprisingly, low-volume exotic vehicles are where they are typically featured first until economies of scale allow them to be implemented into higher volume vehicles at a more accessible price point.”

Grimes adds that technologies—including hybrid systems, carbon-ceramic brakes, active aerodynamics and carbon fiber components (including wheels)—were all first proven on the racetrack before they appeared on consumer vehicles.

“Another carryover motorsport technology is vehicle telemetry, which has made huge advancements. It has now become a convenient tool for customer awareness of their vehicle’s health and a new repair and maintenance revenue stream for vehicle manufacturers as they too become more data-driven—a path towards having a true digital twin at the individual vehicle level,” says Grimes.

Grimes notes that motorsports professionals aren’t just users of advanced technologies. But often their extreme technical demands and obsession with gaining a minute edge drive the development of the next generation of tools used by racing teams.

Material Science

Israr Kabir, director of emerging technologies for ASME, says that advanced composites play a critical role in optimizing the power-to-weight ratio and meeting design and safety regulations in most motorsport series.

“Software simulation tools assist engineers in optimizing carbon fiber layup orientation to achieve desired structural performance,” says Kabir. “In recent years, additive manufacturing has gone from a fringe technology for prototyping in motorsports to one that’s increasingly used for demanding applications such as load-bearing components that are only achievable through advanced topology optimization and FEA software. The additively manufactured components are typically stronger and lighter than traditional designs.”

Kabir adds that although there are now various electric vehicle race series, internal combustion engine/hybrid-based race series including F1 are the most dominant today. To gain milliseconds on the racing circuit, high-performance engine components that are pushed to the limit must be designed (using modeling and simulation), manufactured and assembled with extremely precise tolerances to achieve the desired performance goals.

“Engineers apply geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) to create part specifications and use advanced tolerance analysis software to ensure engine components work in harmony and meet reliability requirements to avoid unexpected surprises on the track,” says Kabir. “In fact, during the current 2024 F1 Season, all cars finished two consecutive F1 races for the first time ever!”

Making the Best Time

Maurizio Sperati is the vice president for automotive global account management for Stellantis, Ferrari and Italy automotive operations for Altair in Torino, Italy.

For motorsport, the most important measure is how much time you can save on each lap. Simulation helps explore a larger number of possible solutions. Image courtesy of Altair.

He emphasizes that for F1, and racing in general, time is the goal. The most important performance: making the best time. Any initiative to be developed in F1 is evaluated based on the time it can save on the lap.

“Every tenth of a second scraped off is priceless,” says Sperati. “Being able to count on solutions that save a few tenths per lap equates to winning. We can try to imagine how complex a Formula 1 car is, where 50% of the performance depends on the aerodynamics, 35% on the weight and structure and the remaining 15% on the engine. These three areas need hundreds of parameters each, leading to several thousands of possible combinations: from the smallest aerodynamic appendage, from its shape to the individual components, to their structural mass and weight characteristics that contribute to the weight distribution and the center of gravity and dynamics, to the possible engine mappings. Every single detail, if well studied, can produce an advantage.”

Sperati adds that choosing between thousands and thousands of possible combinations cannot be done physically by a person or group of people without the aid of calculation.

“F1 has been exploring the use of digital twins for a long time and the level of simulation and correlation with reality has proven impressive,” he says. “Every possible solution is investigated by calculation, multidisciplinary and multiphysical effects are taken into consideration to adhere as closely as possible to reality, to help choose the best setting.”

Future of Motorsport Vehicles

“Motorsports teams employ a combination of simulation, advanced design, aerodynamics and other technologies to give their driver every possible advantage on the track,” says

Edward Bernardon, vice president, motorsports/racing strategy, Siemens Digital Industries Software. “The ability to design rapidly, gather data on performance, and utilize that data to improve a design can make the difference between winning and losing. Therefore, teams heavily depend on advanced simulation tools for accurately modeling and predicting race car performance both in the off season and between races.”

Bernardon says that the core of building a winning race car lies in effective simulation and testing. “Precision and efficiency in simulation are a top priority, notably in Formula 1, where regulations severely limit testing time in wind tunnels, aerodynamic simulations and track testing,” he says. “This underscores the importance of creating an accurate digital twin of the race car to enable teams to precisely forecast track performance.”

“With [artificial intelligence (AI)] seemingly playing a role in anything and everything that requires creativity, it’s likely the design and optimization of motorsport technologies will become even more accelerated as AI allows engineers to amplify their technical ambitions and explore new design possibilities,” says Grimes. “As more stringent rules around emissions and cleaner fuel sources arise in the future, digital engineering technologies will continue to play a key role in developing the next generation of winning motorsport vehicles.”

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