THE DESIGN TEAM
How many people are involved in designing a Formula 1 car these days?
It depends on how you define the design team. It’s easy to count the number of people producing the layouts and schemes that lead to the detail drawings, but this is the final step in a lengthy process. Contributions to the progression of the design will have started much earlier, with a significant input from the aerodynamics department. The early stages of design, when the basic architecture of the car is determined, are interesting, because it’s here that the design philosophy develops. Input at this stage comes from many areas, such as the vehicle dynamics department and even the chief mechanic, who will have a wish list of items that may ease the burden on his mechanics.
In terms of detail design, every team is different, but it’s normal for the bigger teams to have 60 or more people involved in the various disciplines that form the main design group. Even small teams employ around 30 designers.
This seems a lot – has it always been this way?
No. When I started out in F1 there were just three people drawing the car – although we didn’t draw every component. An exhaust system, for example, would never be drawn but would be made as a prototype on the rst car by the fabricators, who would then make a jig from that prototype to produce more. All drawing was done by hand, which is much quicker than CAD modelling but nowhere near as effective in producing quality parts with a minimum of errors. Very little true analysis was done and a designer was expected to check the sanity of his design with just hand calculations of stress.
How is a design team organised?
This will vary a little from team to team, but the major design groups will generally consist of a number of designers reporting to a head of department, who will in turn report to the chief designer. The largest design group will typically be the composite designers, who are responsible for the chassis, bodywork and wings. The engine systems design group and the suspension and steering design group would tend to be a little smaller, as would the transmission design team. All would be supported by a team of structural analysts and often an advanced design group who will be the rst to tackle new projects. Each of these groups will take part in regular design reviews where it is the duty of the chief designer and technical director to guide the overall design in the direction they wish.
What drives design: inspiration or perspiration?
It is a mixture of both, but a number of other factors also drive it forwards. Perhaps the most obvious of these is regulatory change. This has been the prime initiator for the 2014 season, but design is also driven by such things as competitor analysis, in-house research and development and, of course, the need to address any potential reliability problems.
For a team to progress, it is the inspiration part that really pays dividends, and that inspiration need to be driven by a fundamental understanding of the limitations of performance of the current car – and the areas that, if addressed, will reap the most benet.
How long is the design cycle from start to finish?
Assuming that there are no major rule changes, the aerodynamics team will begin their basic CFD studies soon after the current car has departed for the rst race. Before we reach the mid-season point the basic architecture and design intent of the car must be established, and any long-lead items such as the monocoque and the transmission will be dened by the time of the summer break.
Detail design begins in earnest in August, and by the time the car arrives at the rst test, around 10,000 3D models of components and tooling will have been created in order to manufacture the 4,500 or so parts that are needed to build the chassis.
How big a role does simulation play in design?
Simulation is increasingly important to design and is largely responsible for the impressive reliability of the modern F1 car. CFD simulation will have been used for aerodynamic studies and sophisticated vehicle models will have been used to aid suspension and vehicle design. Dynamic structural analysis is employed to minimise the number of empirical crash tests, and of course all critical components will have been simulated using nite element analysis to ensure the safety and integrity of their design.
Do the current set of regulations inspire or demotivate designers?
No matter what the rules are in any given season, design is always a stimulating process. It could be argued that all design is built around compromises, such as deciding how to achieve the appropriate balance between the weight and the stiffness of a particular component, and while this type of challenge may not appear to be as inspirational as developing a totally new concept it is still nevertheless a fascinating intellectual exercise. Design is always a creative process and creation can never be anything but rewarding.