As the technical director of Haas F1, Simone Resta, said after the presentation of the VF-22 car via renderings shared online: “So far everyone has played with the models, whether it is a scale model of the wind tunnel, which is you are dealing with a virtual model, a simulator, a simulation, etc … It’s all in the virtual world. There’s still nothing on the track. “
“The only thing that matters is the performance on the track with the drivers. We really need to see how the package will work, how it will interact with the tires, how it will interact with the set-up, and so on. We can only be able to judge and improve on the following when we are able to stay a second behind another car in a fast corner and understand how the delivery will be compared to 2021”.
Simone Resta’s caution is based on the times the FIA and F1 bosses have pushed with bold rule changes to try and improve the show, but now we’ll have to see what the real track says.
One of the main and most recent examples dates back to 2009. That revision of the regulation aimed to drastically change the aerodynamics to allow the cars to follow each other more effectively.
The FIA’s work on simulating airflow turbulence and eddies had made F1 leaders confident, but the teams ruined it by overriding the intention of the rules through their pursuit of performance. The way in which the aerodynamics of the teams were done actually broke the trail in a way that made it difficult for the cars to follow each other.
As current FIA head of single-seater issues Nikolas Tombazis, who worked at Ferrari at the time, said: “The rules allowed so much development freedom that in a few weeks of testing in the wind tunnel – and at the time I was on the other side of the fence working for a team – we had completely nullified all the good things that had been thought of and incorporated into the rules. “
As F1 heads towards a much bigger rule change than in 2009, there is a much higher level of confidence on the part of the sport’s leaders about how the 2022 cars will perform on the track. And the basis for that came from F1 and the FIA who have done a lot more work on setting regulations than ever before.
Perhaps more crucial though is that Formula 1 was able to appeal to technology that was far ahead and far more powerful than anything the teams are allowed to use on their own.
So rather than being at the beck and call of the teams trying to help out in their spare time, F1 was at the forefront and far ahead in the self-made job.
This has come about thanks to a partnership that F1 has with AWS, using its cloud technology to run CFD simulations that have reduced the average time of things enough to give F1 and the FIA a huge advantage in setting the rules.
What was fundamental for F1 and the FIA in its research was the following aspect: being able to run two cars together, because only at that juncture can the full impact of the disturbance created by the flows be analyzed. It was necessary to understand what was essential to make them run close.
The complexity and processing power to do this was beyond what the teams could deliver in a realistic time frame. And that’s why the AWS solution has proven to be such a technological change.
Smedley explains: “The key technology barrier was that we needed a 2-seater CFD simulation. A CFD simulation with a car, if you run it under the restrictions of the team’s aero tests, then that half car with something like 200 cores is about five hours. And just to geek for a minute: that’s about 100 million cells in that simulation. When you go to a full car, you get to about 200-250 million cells. So, using the 192 core team simulation, you get to 14 hours for the complete car. If we wanted to use the same technology and the same computing power within the teams, a simulation of two cars with double the number of cells would lead to 550-600 million cells, and that would be four days. So when we started this journey, it was four days to do a single iteration. It’s something prohibitive. It’s a barrier to necessary research and development.”
Formula 1 knew they needed to find another solution which is why AWS’s offering proved so beneficial in dramatically reducing the time it takes to do laps.
“I think the first iteration was done in their EC2 service, at 1000/1100 cores, and in the second version we got to about 2,500 cores,” Smedley continued – “”It took the iteration of the project from four days to about six to eight hours. We were back to the same situation in which teams find themselves when they make a half car, while we did complete simulations of two cars. The advancement in terms of technology has been tremendous. This was enabled by our partnership with AWS and they were the real enablers and the key ingredient to making it all work. But the point was, we had to do the simulations and iterations at enough speed. That design cycle was as fast as possible to keep up and be able to write the rules the way we did.”
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Is it therefore possible to completely exclude a repetition of 2009, with a context that have destroyed the intention of the technical regulation?
Smedley, having enjoyed a long career that has included stints at Ferrari and Williams, fully accepts that the way teams approach rules is not in the same mindset as those who drafted the rules.
So he’s aware that competitors are probing the gray areas for performance, and this could ruin F1’s best intentions. But he doesn’t think it’s going to happen.
“Certainly the concept, the aerodynamic architecture of what we are trying to create here with a semi-ground effect car and a clean wake is undoubtedly the direction we had to take if we really wanted to reduce the effect of the cars wake for those who follow. behind. So, from a theoretical or scientific point of view, there is no doubt that the concept is fundamentally solid. The fundamental truth is that teams chase performance as quickly as possible, in any direction. And it is possible, of course, that they find performance and that they do not favor the slipstream for the cars that follow them.”
That unpredictability of how teams will approach regulations and potentially derail the best intentions of F1 leaders means that Smedley can’t be foolish enough to ensure the 2022 rules work flawlessly. But he says there is a certain degree of confidence at the starting point and that if improvements are to be made, F1 will be able to respond.
“And as Ross Brawn always says we can’t hope to get everything right on the first try. But let’s take a look to see if we’ve made any progress. And if we have done that, and then there are more fundamental steps to take after the first one in 2022, it will be fantastic. We will continue to work on it and continue to build a better sport.”