As well as providing a very effective tool to visualise the airflow around the car, CFD is used directly in component design. For example within the design process for a new front wing for a particular aerodynamic update, a number of CFD optimisations will be computed. This is a largely automated process therefore enabling hundreds of front wing geometries to be analysed in a short space of time before selecting the one with the desired aerodynamic characteristics. This geometry will then be manufactured and tested in the wind tunnel to confirm its attributes before it is produced for the race car.
Another example where CFD is particularly advantageous is for large design modifications such as wheelbase changes. Working in the virtual world of CFD where there is no need to manufacture physical components, a number of different wheelbases can be analysed in just a few days. This provides very significant cost and time benefits.
With such a powerful tool like CFD, you may ask ‘why do we need a wind tunnel at all’. This is a good question however the wind tunnel is still very much an important part of the process. As well as to perform further aerodynamic design, it is used to ‘validate’ the CFD results. This process involves comparisons between the forces and pressures acting on the wind tunnel model and those calculated in the CFD simulations to ensure that the CFD results do not deviate from the real world.
Whilst CFD is predominately used for aerodynamic design in Formula One, it can equally be applied to any problem involving fluid flows. Consequently CFD is used in engine design for air intakes, in-cylinder combustion and exhaust flows, to simulate the motion of petrol in the fuel tank as the car moves around the race track and to analyse the heat transfer and temperatures within the brakes.
In the ongoing race to shave hundredths and thousandths of seconds off a race car's time, Formula One teams are set to continue their focus on advanced technology. As cars become ever more sophisticated and computing power increases yet further, it is clear that CFD will form an increasingly crucial part in the design of a winning Formula One car.
With thanks to Henrik Diamant, Lucy Gagliardi and Victor Miyakawa