The 2010 F1 grid, some theories so far

February 17, 2010

Will CFD ever replace the windtunnel and will Virgin have a competitive car?

Any conclusions from an F1 test have to carry a major health warning that they may be simply a function of a teams desire to close the deal on some new sponsors (if it’s good) and running on heavy fuel loads (if it’s bad). Given the lack of sponsor decals on many of the cars at both Valencia and Jerez, the implication is that many teams still have some very big holes to fill in their budgets, or alternatively they are waiting to launch the full livery at Bahrain. Given that the tests are a good opportunity to give new sponsors exposure, I suspect the former is closer to reality.

But is there anything we can say, given all the provisos on fuel levels/ tyres etc. ? Well can I suggest one or two theories regarding the rhetoric around the teams at testing. The first is that the teams who claim that everything is going fantastically well (e.g. Virgin), means that it isn’t, and the teams that claim to still have lots of concerns and issues (e.g. Ferrari) means that it is. One big part of the build up to the start of the F1 season is expectation management. This is a difficult path to tread in that the new/smaller teams want to reinforce the message to their new investors and partners that they’ve made the right choice, and the larger teams want to make sure that if they do have a performance advantage it’s kept under wraps and that they don’t end up disappointing all their fans by not living up to expectations. My theory after Valencia was that the Ferrari engine was good, and this has not been disputed by the performance at Jerez so far, particularly that of the Ferrari powered Sauber and Toro Rosso. Ferrari themselves have been making lots of concerned noises after a dominant display at Valencia, a less dominant display at Jerez may be due to the fact that they don’t want to be seen to be too far ahead at this stage in the game.

The other really interesting comparison is between the two new teams running: Lotus and Virgin. Virgin have had a difficult start with some front wing problems and, so far, appear to be a few seconds behind the Lotus. Given that they both have the same engine, the main difference is that the Lotus was designed by using a wind tunnel and CFD and the Virgin by 100% CFD, this suggests that the CFD technology is not up to the wind tunnel, yet. However I do believe that at some point it will be and, if so, Virgin will have a potential advantage. Of course the big question is how long it will take and whether Virgin are prepared to wait for it to happen. Of course the good news is that both Lotus and Virgin have cars and are testing, whereas the other newcomers Campos and USF1 have yet to make it to a circuit.

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One Response to “The 2010 F1 grid, some theories so far”

  1. Simon Corbyn Says:

    Mark,

    All F1 teams make extensive use of CFD during the design and development of their cars. CFD is an increasingly cost effective and efficient approach to evaluating concepts before committing to hardware. A key requirement for any CFD model is that it is properly validated against a baseline before attempting to assess the potential benefits of design changes. This baseline is achieved against wind tunnel data.

    The key performance differentiator between cars (excluding drivers/team strategy etc.) is aerodynamics (and specifically front wing and rear diffuser). From a management perspective then an all CFD team is therefore running an enormous risk by not wind tunnel testing. The main benefit to this approach is that is cheap.

    It will be interesting to see how Virgin compare to WilliamsF1 and Lotus…

    Simon


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