Innovative technology developed in Formula 1 goes well beyond motorsport. It’s not all about winning the race, it’s also about supplying cutting-edge technologies to the wider world, for the benefit of everybody.
Managing airflow for energy efficiency
A silent revolution is coming to a supermarket near you. One that – though it’s effectively invisible as well as inaudible – could help slash the energy consumption of every major food retailer on the planet.
It’s happening thanks to advanced Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) technology first developed to understand the airflow over racing cars and now being put to more practical use in the quest for better refrigeration efficiency.
In simple terms, the ‘super-fridge’ tech works by channeling low-temperature airflow more efficiently around those products which need cooling, while also dramatically reducing the amount of ‘cold-wash’ that spills uselessly – but expensively – to the floor from current chiller cabinets.
If the notion of ‘channeling airflow’ sounds familiar to any fan of motorsport, that’s because it is. The wings, bodywork, underfloor, radiator pods, brake ducts and so on that are an essential part of all high-end racing cars, work specifically to control the flow of air and create downforce – the key to making racing cars go faster around corners.
The gulf between one esoteric racing application for CFD and one of almost humdrum utility might seem vast, yet the underlying principles behind them are identical, explains Nick Wirth, founder of Wirth Research, now established as one of the world’s leading centers of CFD excellence. “We built a fridge simulation with a model using 300 million ‘cells’,” says Wirth, an ex-Formula 1 team technical director, “and that’s probably about the cell count that’s used in F1 now. So, it’s a very, very sophisticated model of a fridge.”
And the nature of CFD modeling, whereby computers create ‘real time’ visual representations of intricate aerodynamic movements, was fundamental to the component created by Wirth to improve refrigerator airflow: the ‘Ecoblade’. A simple, clip-on, device, it reduces energy wasted through unnecessary cooling by as much as 27 percent – as well as lessening the ‘freezing’ feeling familiar to any shopper passing through the chiller aisles.
Wirth’s expertise, which has also been used to model airflow inside the new landmark HQs of Apple and Bloomberg, is but one example of motorsport tech being applied to areas beyond racing. Their own portfolio encompasses defense and haulage industry projects, while those of household-name motorsport concerns, such as McLaren, Williams and Red Bull, take in a plethora of contracts for non-motorsport applications.
McLaren’s F1 race strategy technology, for example, became the basis for air-traffic control software now in use at Heathrow Airport. Through McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) – a thriving off-shoot of a company that was once just a race-car manufacturer – simulation software created to monitor the location, position and speed of every car on the circuit was re-developed to perform a similar function for aircraft. The resulting Decision Insight platform enables air traffic controllers to optimize the flow of air and ground traffic, thereby reducing delays and jet engine emissions. Result: happier customers, less polluted air and an improved bottom-line for airlines, thanks to savings on fuel costs.
McLaren’s expertise in aerodynamics and carbon-fiber manufacture, meantime, has been called upon by cycling giant Specialized to enhance the performance of their most exotic racing bikes, such as the Specialized S-Works+McLaren Venge. Taking the standard Venge model as a basis, McLaren’s enhanced version emerged 20 percent lighter and 11 percent stiffer than the original. Geoff McGrath, vice-president of MAT, says: “The bike has been winning races, and Specialized have a legitimate claim to say they have the fastest road bike in the world. It carries the McLaren brand partly because we’re proud of it, and partly because we expect it to be a high-performance benchmark.”
Red Bull Advanced Technologies, an affiliate company of the Red Bull F1 team, recently announced a similar technology-sharing partnership with Swiss premium cycle manufacturer BMC. “There are a huge number of parallels between cycling and motorsport, encompassing materials technology, aerodynamics, human performance analytics, as well as increasing use of electric power solutions,” says Red Bull F1 team boss, Christian Horner.
Impressive though all of these achievements are, perhaps none is quite so ambitious as the latest project announced by Williams Advanced Engineering, which will take technology developed at their Oxfordshire factory into space. WAE have begun work with Oxford Space Systems (OSS) to help develop a new generation of lightweight, unfurlable, boom arms and foldable antennae. These will be used on so-called nano-satellites that are lighter, less complex and cheaper than those currently in use. Their smaller scale presents a host of packaging and weight challenges – precisely the types of problem that are meat and drink to F1 engineers.
Their latest project is another feather in the cap for a division of Williams that has already worked in the automotive, aerospace, defense, health and energy sectors.
Proof, if it were needed, that there’s an awful lot more to modern motorsport than cars going round in circles. As Matthew Burkle, head of technology ventures at WAE notes: “There is a good fit between OSS technologies and our own expertise and it’s great to be able to explore additional ways in which we can work together on new discoveries.”
To boldly go, indeed…