Technical Talk: Simulation gains?

2009 British GP Red Bull Webber - 0

Formula One has entered its traditional three-week summer break - but at a time originally designed to give testing teams a rest, the development continues in team headquarters around Europe.

On-track testing, of course, was completely banned this season in a bid to cut costs but there are plenty of means that teams can use to ensure they continue the pace of development throughout the season, from computer simulations to mechanical seven-poster vibrating rigs, all of which ensures Formula One technology does not slow its pace, even when it's supposed to be on holiday.

In the factories, most teams now have sophisticated simulators that enable them to take the car through a qualifying lap or a full race simulation without turning a wheel, by vibrating up to seven actuators attached to the wheels and the chassis under the car in a set pattern specific to whatever track they wish to 'test' on.

This is traditionally used to tune cars to specific circuits before they get there - and this week the simulators will be 'driving' their cars around the Nurburgring lap after lap obtaining vital information the best suspension and damper settings for that particular set-up - but it is also now used more than ever to put new development parts through their paces.

Equally, dynamometers can help the team tune an engine for a specific circuit without the powerplant even being in the car and can also be used to look at the success of new trial parts.

They can even be tested down to the specific style of the individual driver, with maps from previous outings at the circuit used to put the engine through the same throttle, revs and gear change requests made by each driver and anticipate any problems before they are experienced.

For aerodynamics, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is used to develop and test initial concepts using 'imaginary' computer airflow, while wind tunnels will take these concepts and test them at scale size before going on to the full-size car. These tools can also be used to test the aerodynamic performance around a specific race circuit.

But despite all these tools, there really is no substitute for on-track testing - especially in the important area of aerodynamics, where more often than you would expect in the past teams have taken new parts to tests only to discover that, for whatever reason, the numbers in the wind tunnel do not match up to those out on the circuit.

So development parts will continue to be processed more than ever inside the factory walls - and any of the teams that upped their game in the simulation tools area this year will benefit to some extent in sorting out the successful new parts from those that do not work. But only when the new part hits the track can its true success be proven.

Teams such as McLaren and Ferrari, who have spent millions upgrading their systems this year, will still have to wait until the Friday sessions at each race to test their 'simulated' proof for real - and that is why it is taking so much time for the challengers to chase down the lead duo of Brawn and Red Bull.