Systems Engineering in F1 – The challenge facing Haas

Systems engineering takes a holistic view of the various components of the system to optimise the performance of the whole.  As far as Formula 1 is concerned the system could be broken down into the various components of the car (power unit, gearbox, suspension, chassis, brakes, tyres, aerodynamics, etc.) but also includes the personnel (driver, pit crew, engineer, team principle, etc.) that are essential to allow the car to perform at the race.  It should also include the design process in the factory and how the car is developed through the season.

Many of these components can be broken down into smaller parts (the power unit comprises six elements: the internal combustion engine; the turbocharger; motor generator unit – heat; motor generator unit – kinetic; control electronics; and energy store).  Even the personnel within the team can be split into different functions that the team members perform at different times through the race weekend (building the car on the Thursday ready for scrutineering; setting up the car during free practice; qualifying; repairing accident damage; routine pit stops; etc.).

The integration of all of these parts is vital if the team is to operate at the front of the field.  One of key advantages that both Mercedes and Ferrari have is that all the parts are designed by one organisation.  This should allow optimisation of the design compromises to give a performance advantage.  It was seen at the beginning of last season, Mercedes made a late change to a log style exhaust system, which was far more compact.  The works team was able to design the car to take advantage of the smaller volume of the overall power unit, while their customers weren’t able to react in time and as a result suffered an aerodynamic disadvantage compared to the works team.

Italian organisation has traditionally prevented Ferrari from fully exploiting their potential advantage when compared to their mainly British opposition.  The disagreements between the departments responsible for the chassis, engine and gearbox have been a constant issue for the red team, and getting the whole Ferrari organisation to work coherently is possibly the biggest issue for Sergio Marchionne and Maurizio Arrivabene.  The improvements made during this season give some indication that the team may be getting a handle on this aspect of their performance.

If Renault do end up once again at Enstone, they could also potentially benefit from this coherent approach to their design solution to the F1 problem.  However, first of all they will need to address their power and reliability deficit.  Being in control of the environment the power unit has to operate within will no doubt help in this process.

McLaren Honda have certainly made the integration work in the past, although at the moment I think the biggest issue is the integration of the power unit components themselves.  The information coming from the team seems to indicate the while the internal combustion engine has a competitive power output, the shortfall is within the energy recovery system.  This could be because the control electronics or energy store is preventing sufficient energy being stored through the lap (perhaps due to temperature issues).  However the most likely candidate would seem to me to be a small turbo charger generating insufficient energy through the motor generator unit – heat to feed the motor generator unit – kinetic for the whole length of the longest straights.  Winter development of the power unit will hopefully see an improvement for these issues.

For teams that use customer power units there are different integration challenges.  Hopefully for next season the FIA will remove the in-season development of the power units.  This will mean all power units supplied by a manufacturer will need to be the same specification for the whole season, and would mean Red Bull (along with other customers) get the same specification of power unit as the works team.  One thing that isn’t covered by the regulations though is the software within the control electronics to manage how the energy is recovered and deployed through the lap.  The other variable is the fuel, lubricants and coolant used by the teams.  As the companies supplying these products have sponsorship arrangements with each team, it is not always possible to use the products that the works team uses.  This is likely to result in different performance between otherwise identical power units.

Teams like Manor and Haas have a further integration issues to deal with, while Manor is buying power units from Mercedes and gearboxes / rear suspension from Williams, Haas has a larger scale issue with chassis coming from Dallara, power units, gearboxes and suspension from Ferrari.  The issues for these team is more around the development of the car through the year, when so many parts are coming from other suppliers, with their own design direction which is optimised for their own car.

The power units as they are developed are proven on the dynamometer which can simulate its use at various circuits, to try and show reliability and demonstrate the power output.  The aerodynamics of the car can be modelled in the wind tunnels or by computational fluid dynamics.  The chassis and suspension performance can be measured using seven post test rigs.  The whole performance can then be fed into the simulators where the driver can be included in the whole system.  However the performance can only truly be confirmed once the cars get to the track in the limited pre-season tests or on the race weekends.

When it comes to the personnel within the team, they are just as important to the overall race result, whether it is ensuring that the right tyres are fitted at the pit stop (Williams I’m looking at you), or the driver ensuring he stops accurately within the pit box to enable the team to execute the wheel change as fast as possible.  These issues can be addressed by the team practising, as can a quick response to some accident damage (nose changes for example).  Other issues, like Williams apparent problems with sticking wheel nuts may need components on the car redesigned.  The integration of all the pit crew to perform a perfect pit stop is an issue that affected Grace’s favourite team – BAR F1.  While the team bought the entry that had belonged to Tyrrell the team personnel were recruited from up and down the pit lane.  All were experienced, but all used to subtly different processes for completing a pit stop: some raised their hands when the wheel was on and secure; some raised their hands until the wheel was on and secure and then lowered them; one jack man waited until the fuel was in before dropping the car, the other dropped the car as soon as the wheels were on.  The end result was at the early pre-season tests the practice pit stops didn’t go well, with the lollipop man not knowing when to release the car.

The driver has to know far more than just how to drive the car extremely fast.  This could be seen in Singapore this year when Hamilton’s Mercedes suffered a power loss issue mid race.  The team gave a whole series of complicated instructions to reset the various electronics systems to try and restore the car to full power.  None of this worked, as this issue was a mechanical failure of a clam, but the telling thing for me was that Lewis had already tried most if not all of the procedures before the team told him.  This suggests to me that perhaps he had already been required to perform the processes many times, so either the team were practising for potential failures in the simulator, or the car hasn’t been as reliable as it appears from the outside.

Finally, at the end of each race weekend, the cars and pit equipment need to be broken down for transport either to the next race or back to the factory.  In either case parts will need to be checked, with components at the end of their service life replaced, and hopefully some new parts fitted to help the car go faster.  Performing these tasks efficiently will allow the race mechanics to get a sensible break between events, so that they are able to perform as effectively as possible at the next event.

So as the Haas team gears up to enter Formula 1 for the first time, they have a steep learning curve.  Yes the team management have raced in other series before, but these have not been worldwide series, and not against opposition with the same budgets and resources to develop their cars.  They are taking things sensibly, by outsourcing much of the cars components.  However this presents a different set of integration issues that don’t affect the bigger more established teams.  This isn’t to say that they won’t perform well in their debut season, but we should reasonably expect them to make the occasional mistake as they learn the intricacies of racing in Formula 1.

What are your expectations for F1’s newest team in their debut season.  What would you consider to be a successful year, qualifying within 17%, scoring points, a podium?  Share your opinion in the comments below.

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Great insight into f1 preparation and challenges!

Patrick Chapman

F1 is nothing if not complicated. I expect that Haas will have been researching all of these aspects for the last year and should have a very good handle on most of it. The team principal has experience but apart from him, little has been said about the rest of the team personel. Even if they have hired all the operational staff from a previous team, it will take some time for it all to gell. I expect that they will be on a steep learning curve for at least the first half of 2016 so I am not expecting… Read more »

charlie white

We have seen others, with much deeper pockets, enter Formula 1 and fail miserably(remember Toyota?). I would measure great success for the team if they scored 10 constructor points in its first season. If they do better than that and earned more points or even a podium finish over Sauber, Force India or Williams, things will get very interesting in the sport.


If they can annoy the Sauber’s, McLaren’s and Force India’s every now and again it would put a smile on my face. Until winter testing my expectations are low; just beat Manor!

Even if they score just a single point I think they’re on the right path. It’s been a long time since a new constructor, without buying a previous team, scored points in their first season.


Manor should be more competitive next year, a Mercedes power unit, Williams gearbox and a new chassis (rather than a year old design). It may come down to the quality of the drivers, which can only be a good thing.

Junipero Mariano

Thanks for the insightful article! I think points are possible for Haas.