Renault F1: Supercomputer Part 3

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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However, the costs were not as high as initially thought and there are other benefits accruing. Hackland commented, "We now know that it was about a third of the capital costs up front for building the facility and we are running at about 24% cheaper than the wind tunnel.

We expected it to cost the same but in actual fact we are seeing a significant savings. One of the reasons is that we put the building underground which keeps the temperature fairly constant and the APC equipment is proving to be very efficient."

Renault's wind tunnel uses accurate, one-third scale models for tests but the time taken to create and modify these models causes delays. Using a supercomputer simulation allows 3D digital models to be constructed from the computer-aided design software within seconds with a massive saving on time.

Wind tunnel

"With the wind tunnel you're making a model and that takes time," said Hackland. "It's just one model. So you put the model on the test rig but you're constantly having to stop while you modify that model. Whereas, for the CFD guys, it is possible to work in parallel with the job currently running.

While this happens, the team is creating new jobs, putting them into the queue and that makes them much more productive. We run about 20 tests at a time so it's a lot more physical capacity than one wind tunnel."

The models are created using 3D printing techniques. Every part of the car is prototyped in this way from computer-aided design (CAD) software. The printer uses a liquid gel that solidifies when a thin laser beam hits it.

The printer spreads a thin layer of the gel across a flat surface plate and the laser, guided by the CAD design draws shapes for that particular layer of the model.

Then another layer is added and lasered and so the process repeats until the model is completed. Extremely intricate and accurate shapes can be formed but the process is slow.


In comparison, the supercomputer can take the same drawings and create a model of the car in far less time and this is a particular advantage if a major change is required.

That's not the end of it all. As Hackland pointed out, "You can do other things, too. You can simulate two cars behind one another or you can simulate cornering.

There's so much more you can do with CFD. Some parts of the car still lend themselves better to the wind tunnel but there are parts of the car that are only done in the CFD - they don't even do it in the wind tunnel anymore.

"Simulation has become the big thing because they're reducing the amount of time that we can run a car around the track. We used to have an open season and you could do what you liked so every second week we were testing something.

Now we've got 50 days a year, and there's possibly more restrictions coming next year, so you really have to rely on simulation to be accurate because if you get to the track and it doesn't do what it said in the simulation you're in trouble."

Hackland's work will be put to the test in early hours of Sunday morning when the team competes in the Austrailian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

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