2011 F1 season
Whether it’s an F-duct, an exhaust-blown diffuser or something else, upgrades on F1 cars always attract attention.
But the investment F1 teams put into their factories also makes an important contribution to their race performance.
F1 Fanatic took a look around the Lotus factory yesterday to see their preparations for the 2011 season and hear about their future plans.
Linking the factory to the track
Lotus have been grappling with the demands of gathering the vast amount of data produced by an F1 car when it is running.
Head of IT Bill Peters explains:
There are 2,000-plus sensors on the car that are constantly channelling data back to our systems. The data comes back in real-time, continuously. We use telemetry to capture all of that data, that has to be analysed in real-time and we also have to compare it to historical data.
So you can imagine there’s a lot of processing power going on track-side and there’s a lot of storage requirement track-side. Year after year we’re going to have to hold more and more historical data. We get gigabytes of data every single lap.
Last year Lotus were not being able to share data from the car at the track with the team at the factory. They’ve addressed that for 2011:
Last year we didn’t feed that data back to the factory. Most F1 teams have a data centre back at base. We didn’t have that last year because just didn’t have time.
This year we are going to have that so we’re in the process now of setting up an operations centre. Our vehicle dynamics guys and a couple of strategy guys will be based back at the factory.
Back at the factory, the data is stored and processed by a 1,500-core cluster with 96 terabytes of storage space. All the team’s track-side and factory IT equipment and support is provided by Dell.
The team’s head of strategy, Jody Egginton, described this as a “critical” improvement:
The advances we’ve made there are going to be critical. It’s always good to have as much data going back as possible because it means you’ve got more eyes looking at it, more people processing it.
The faster that it the better, really. It also means you can make better use of people’s time because we are a small team and with the resource restriction it’s not possible for us to suddenly become 700 people strong.
It is especially important as all the teams have to cope with new limits on how long their staff can work at tracks on race weekends. New rules prevent mechanics from doing “all-nighters”.
Egginton explained how they plan to use computing power to replace lost manpower:
I’m trying to automate as much stuff as I can through software. There seems very little point having a guy there when something can be done automatically. We’re trying to save time so we’re not late at the track.
A number of the large teams were against this concept, I think they’re worried that they can’t react quickly enough, so we’ll see if our small size means that we can get the jobs done quicker and make best use of our time.
Another area the team are aiming to make progress in is their strategy software. They admitted some of their rivals’ tactics in 2010 left them baffled:
Last year, racing Virgin Racing, they often did things that didn’t make any sense – though maybe it made sense to those guys on Friday or Saturday.
But you have to react to that, you can’t just say, “well that doesn’t make any sense, we’re not going to do anything about it,” you have to understand what they’re doing. What we were doing probably didn’t make sense to them on occasions.
Like their rivals, Lotus developed their own race strategy software in-house. It rapidly became so complicated they required 64-bit machines to run it:
There are three main pieces of software we’ve developed in-house.
We’ve got one package called Lotus Timing Software. It takes the timing feed which Formula One Management provide and manipulate it to try to apply a fuel load to that, because the amount of fuel in the car has an effect on the ultimate lap time.
We use it to see what everyone’s doing, what they’re not doing, how quick they are in a straight line, what their sector balance is, what their times are, tyre degradation and predicted fuel load.
Then we’ve got another one called Pace which is our strategy software. We use it in the race primarily to understand how people are using their tyres and what the knock-on effect of their tyre change will be. So we’re looking forwards to what the probabilities are of them doing something after they’ve done one event.
It’s probably one of the most closely-guarded pieces of software in every team. Everyone believes their strategy software is the best.
Then we’ve got another tool called Raptor which is our simulation tool. Basically, if we want to predict how our car will react to a particular set-up change, be it a downforce level or a mechanical change, we load in the parameters and that very quickly tells us how the car will behave, be it an ultimate lap time, or just its ride height at the end of the straight, or how it will make use of its engine and gearing.
Working at a race track presents its own challenges – and one of the hazards comes from the car itself:
The vibrations from a Formula 1 car will crash a normal hard disk. You can’t really run a normal spinning disk near a Formula 1 car so we had to go solid state because it’s very important that we have robust and reliable systems trackside.
Building a wind tunnel
Looking to the future, Lotus plans to build a wind tunnel housed in a new facility in Hingham.
The team is heading in a different direction to fellow 2010 newcomers Virgin, who in 2011 are again designing their car entirely using Computational Fluid Dynamics.
CFD and R&D manager Lesmana Djayapertapa explains why the team uses both CFD and wind tunnel data:
I’m very fond of CFD. One big advantage of CFD over a wind tunnel is that it gives aerodynamicists and engineers insight into the behaviour of flow structures. CFD can show you where the downforce is coming from by looking at the flow behaviour around a car, and you can pursue even more if you can tweak the design or add a few parts.
But as good as CFD can get, it’s still a simulation. When you’re dealing with unsteadiness around a race car it’s difficult to fully trust CFD. One example is if you want to do development on a rear brake duct or the diffuser. The flow that arrives there is so disturbed that it’s difficult for us to believe the data that’s coming from CFD.
Our philosophy here is that we combine CFD and the wind tunnel for aerodynamic design.
He said the team was not yet using the maximum allowance of wind tunnel time or CFD processing power permitted under the Resource Restriction Agreement.
However he also said the RRA limit may be lowered in future:
At the moment, as a new and small team, FOTA says you can have [between] 40 teraflops of CFD and zero hours of wind tunnel work, to 60 hours in the wind tunnel and zero CFD teraflops [per week]. So we have to find the right balance between the wind tunnel in Italy, which gives us about 14-16 hours per week, and our CFD cluster.
At the moment it doesn’t really present a big problem for us because the sum of our wind tunnel hours and CFD teraflops is still below the FOTA restriction.
I think it’s going to become a problem when we get closer to the line. Also there’s a discussion that they’re going to reduce it next year to 40 teraflops or 40 hours.
The team were working hard on building the parts for its 2011 and several of the new components could be seen around the factory.
Its final design remains a secret – but not for long. We’ll get the first indication of how the new Lotus will perform when the team commences testing at Valencia on February 1st.
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Images © Cosworth F1, F1 Fanatic, Lotus Racing.