The Enstone home of Lotus F1 Team – the Whiteways Technical Centre – is a highly impressive facility nestled amidst the picturesque Oxfordshire countryside. Based on the site of a former quarry, the team’s base is located in a natural protection area and designed to blend into the local environment without causing an eyesore.
The essence of Enstone is an exceptionally friendly persona, playing home to over five hundred people all striving for victory. Everyone eats in the same canteen and can make use of the team’s 24hr gym. From the person who greets you at the gate to the very highest echelon of the organisation, each team member is approachable and easy-going.
This friendliness shouldn’t be perceived as a lack of focus however. Great things happen at Enstone, as the countless rows of trophies and seven Formula 1 World Championships [3x Constructors’, 4x Drivers’] can testify.
It would be wrong to think of the team’s base as a static entity either. Over the past few years, dynamic developments have been taking place. Evidence of this can be seen in the form of ongoing improvements to the CFD facility, a significant upgrade of the wind tunnel from 50% to 60% in 2011, the creation of a ‘driver in the loop’ simulator in 2012 and the construction of a new gearbox dyno facility as the team prepares for the significant regulation changes for 2014.
The creation of the E21 at Enstone occurs with only limited outsourcing. Most of the creative engineering takes place on site with components manufactured from raw materials, whilst design, fabrication, carbon build, quality and durability testing – using a multitude of mechanical rigs and virtual simulations – are all conducted in-house.
Of course, contained deep within the factory, the race bays can also be found; a set-up which is largely familiar to the race garage layout. Here, the race team mechanics work on the build of the cars as each component comes together to signal the birth of the twenty-first championship contender to come out of Enstone. If you want to experience the real magic of Formula 1, this is the place to be.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has become an increasingly influential tool in the design and development process for a vast range of industries, and has been pioneered by Formula 1 from an early stage.
While a more traditional wind tunnel conducts research into aerodynamic forces by blowing wind over a real object in a controlled environment, CFD allows the same experiment to be conducted in the form of a computer simulation.
A huge range of industries benefit from the mastery of aerodynamic design that a successful CFD programme enables. It is probably no surprise that the aerospace, road car and wind turbine industries use CFD in their design process. In fact, in any application where there is any sort of fluid (gas or liquid) flow, CFD can bring benefit.
Climate modelling, the force of wind on a building, the way in which medicine is distributed in an inhaler, efficient air conditioning design, transport of gas or liquids in pipelines; the list of applications is truly enormous. All of these applications benefit, to a greater or lesser extent, from the investment that Formula 1 has made in the growing technology of CFD.
When building the new CFD centre here at Enstone, Lotus F1 Team took the unusual decision to build a subterranean facility. This allowed a design that addressed planning and environmental concerns, resulting in a building that is entirely integrated with the surrounding area.
During the construction of the centre, the soil removed to make space for the building was retained on-site, avoiding the need for relocation of the 24,000m3 of quarried material. This material was subsequently recycled and used to submerge the building into the ground, thus reducing the carbon footprint of the construction phase.
Building underground also opened up other advantages, such as the stable temperature. At a depth of just 1.5 metres the ground temperature rests at an almost constant 10°C all year round. This means the facility consumes less energy, as will not be subject to the large external temperature variations of an exposed building and requires less energy to heat and cool.
With the latest CFD upgrade at the factory allowing the team to complete even more accurate aerodynamic simulations in less time than previously, this is a facility which has had a significant impact on the performance and efficiency of Lotus F1 Team and will undoubtedly continue to grow in the future.
Formula 1 teams have had simulators for decades. There are many types of simulator, and they are used for many purposes. For example, a team might have a hydraulic loading rig which is capable of subjecting a wishbone to a series of loads that accurately simulates the burden it will carry when racing for real. In this case, the simulator is a way of ensuring in a controlled manner that the bone will perform safely when you send it racing.
A team might have a different form of simulator where the behaviour of the aerodynamics, the suspension, the tyres, the gearbox and the engine are all accurately represented as a series of equations in a computer routine. The same computer would have a rudimentary mathematical model of a driver that attempts to ‘drive’ the virtual car around a virtual circuit in the computer to return information about the behaviour of the car around the lap.
This type of simulator – often referred to as a ‘Lap Simulator’ – has been in use for over quarter of a century, and is a vital part of preparing and optimising the setup of the car prior to arriving at a race. For example, in this virtual environment items such as spring and wing settings may be tried out and the ones which produce the best simulated laptime retained.
In many ways, our new ‘Driver-in-the-Loop’ simulator is similar to ‘Lap Simulator’ described above. The key difference is that in place of a rudimentary mathematical model, a human driver provides the control inputs to drive a virtual car around a virtual lap, enabling him to give real input into the development process. The main benefit here is that although conventional computer simulations are very powerful, they are still limited in their ability to tell us whether a new concept will produce acceptable handling characteristics. The ‘Driver-in-the-Loop’ simulator goes a long way to closing off that gap in our previous competence.
Although there are a host of problems with using a real driver in place of a mathematical driver model, the real driver brings a capability to the simulation that cannot be matched by a computer model. The reasons for this are complex, but a simple explanation is that it is not yet accurately understood how a racing driver controls a car when running close to the limit of tyre grip.
A computer is capable of driving an unstable virtual car in a manner that the human driver would not be capable of. This difference between real driver and computer model driver leads the ‘Lap Simulator’ approach to make serious errors in its recommended setups whenever the engineers are trying to assess changes in the driveability of the car.
By inserting a real driver in the simulation, a team is able to bypass the difficulty of providing an accurate mathematical model of a human and the ‘Driver-in-the-Loop’ simulator is able to make setup recommendations to improve the car that could never have emerged from the ‘Lap Simulator’ approach.
Like the ‘Lap Simulator’, there must be a mathematical model that accurately describes the physics of the real vehicle. Creating this is a daunting undertaking, and the driver can only add value to the process if the simulation environment mimics reality with sufficient accuracy for the driver to feel like he is driving a real car. This means that the system must be very carefully designed to provide very accurate visual representations of the circuit and its environs. It must accurately reproduce the sound of the real car as this is one of the cues that the driver uses to judge things like braking and gear changes.
Finally – and most challengingly – it must move the driver in a manner that is convincing. It is not possible for a simulator to reproduce the G-Forces that a real Formula 1 driver experiences, but it is capable of reproducing particular aspects of the motion of the car that are very important for persuading the brain that the simulator is really driving around the circuit.
Although our race drivers will use the simulator, the main bulk of the work will be carried out by specialist development drivers. A driver might use it for learning the layout of a new track or learning various procedural aspects of driving – the start procedure for example – however, the lion’s share of the benefit will accrue in car development.