Renault F1: Supercomputer Part 2

Murray Walker, the veteran Formula One (F1) commentator once said, "There are a lot of ifs in Formula One. In fact, if is F1 backwards." And the key if is "if only the car could go faster".

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Hackland said, "APC did their work in five days and then it was just another week to connect it all up. Even supercomputers have gone commodity now. It's just a case of mounting the 16-blade chassis and hooking them up.

The tricky thing afterwards is making sure that the software works and starting to optimise it. All of that takes time so the actual assembly, optimisation and handing it to the users took us six months."

The software is naturally the key component. Renault uses CD-adapco's Star-CCM+ CFD package. "Star-CCM+ is an off-the-shelf package which we've spent a lot of time customising but we are also using code that we are developing in partnership with Phantom Works, a Boeing company," Hackland explained.

60Terabytes of data

"On the IT side, Appro has supplied configuration software that let's us have a view of the whole cluster so we can see if we have any issues and it is really working well. For storage, we are currently at 60TB of data which runs in a parallel configuration."

It does not take much to lose a race. A hundredth of a second is a long time in F1. In a race of around 190 miles, shaving off one hundredth per lap would, in most cases, amount to over half a second saved overall - possibly the difference between winning and losing.

These fragments of time can be saved because of one of the four key elements in F1: the driver, the tyres, the engine and the aerodynamics. Drivers are the biggest variable and a lot of success is a blend of good fortune and skill but, given a decent car, it is their abilities that make the greatest difference.

Formula One

Other factors

Again, Murray Walker once exclaimed, "That's not four tenths of a second. Look at it, it's Michael Schumacher."

No matter how good the driver is, the car has to be in the best possible shape. All the teams get their tyres from Bridgstone so it is a case of choosing the right grade at the right time.

As far as consistency is concerned, it is the engine and the aerodynamics that have to be tuned to perfection for every kind of weather and track conditions.

This year the focus is on aerodynamics. Rear wings are narrower and positioned higher than last season and can be adjusted from the cockpit.

Features such as turning vanes, winglets and bargeboards that assisted air flow have been stripped away and under-floor diffusers moved up and back towards the rear of the cars.

CFD software

These changes determine the shape of the 2009 cars and, for Renault, the new supercomputer is its latest tool to ensure that there is as little drag on the car as possible.

Aerodynamics is the most complex element of the car because wind resistance at one part of the track becomes a cross wind at others or a potentially helpful tail wind elsewhere. Changes in wind direction when cornering and "dirty air", or turbulence created by other cars, also have to be considered and their effects minimised.

The decision to use CFD software rather than build a second wind tunnel, an approach adopted by other F1 teams, was a major gamble because initially there seemed to be no cost advantage and the technology was new to Renault.

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