Simulation in F1 Racing: Saving Costs, Improving Outcomes & Trialing Innovations
Every so often we take a look at how Simulation is being used in other industries as a way to compare progress, gain ideas, and consider opportunities. Today we’re taking a look at how the most expensive racing car teams in the world utilize high-end simulators to reduce costs, improve performance and trial innovations with an article share from The New York Times and a video interview and demonstration from WTF1.
New York Times: “Simulation Key to F1 Racing Success”
Formula One is known for its high spending and advanced technology. But over the past decade, the sport’s attempts to reduce costs have seen increasing restrictions on the amount of testing it allows teams to conduct on the track. But teams still need to try out new technology and ideas. There are new engine parts, wing designs and racing strategies to work on. With track time reduced, teams turned to virtual reality and now do much of their testing on simulators. Far superior to virtual gaming in home entertainment systems, a Formula One simulator is a massive computer larger than a studio apartment. It usually has hydraulics that provide a full range of motion, replicating the effect of being on track — allowing teams and drivers to learn circuits, to assess new parts before track testing and to supplement learning.
According to Chris Dyer, head of vehicle performance for the Renault Sport F1 team, simulators have become a valuable tool, one that teams would continue to use if track testing restrictions were lifted. “A simulator isn’t just something that replaces track testing,” Dyer said. “There’s a lot of stuff we can do here better than we can do at the track, faster. So it is a valuable tool on its own. Even if we still had unlimited testing, I’m sure most teams would still be spending money on simulators.”
He said, for example, that in a certain kind of corner, “like a low-speed corner, you might have an issue at the track where the car is unstable and the driver struggles to control it. But in the simulator world, maybe we don’t see that problem, and that’s a trigger to then try and investigate why that is: Is it an aerodynamic problem, is it a tire modeling problem, is it a suspension modeling problem? That will focus us, and we’ll review it through the year.” Also, Dyer said, “If somebody has a crazy idea — ‘what happens if the car behaves like this?’ — we can write some code, we can make the car behave like that, we can go away and test it and say ‘that’s pretty good.’ Now, how do we do that in the real world? We need to tell the wind tunnel ‘look, you need to spend six months making the car behave like this’ or you go to the design office and say ‘we need a suspension that works like that.’”
While the initial investment in a simulator is significant, upward of about $10 million, the savings in team resources — to simulate testing instead of testing on the track can be substantial. “About 10 years ago, I got my first introduction to sim racing,” van Buren said. “At first it was only a little bit of joy, nothing serious behind it. But that’s also the period where the online sim racing took off. So it’s like I grew up with it.” As a simulator driver, van Buren helps McLaren test new components, establishing which designs merit testing on a real track. During race weekends, he often works in the team’s Woking base in England, simulating different race strategies to help the team establish where to focus its on-track efforts.
Once work has been done on the simulator, teams must then use the track time available — eight days of preseason testing each winter and three practice sessions that run for a total of four hours per Grand Prix weekend — to correlate their simulator predictions with real-life results. “There are things that you wouldn’t ever dream of doing at a track test because you know we’d never get a result out of the noise that’s inherently associated with track testing,” Dyer said. “So we just need to understand, ‘what are we trying to do?’ and work out what’s the best tool to get the results we need.”