When Formula 1 decided to stop the extravagant car launches and cut testing out of its DNA, it did so to save money and make F1 less expensive. All good intentions to be sure but the result was perhaps obvious to predict.
The large, well-funded teams simply moved their testing program money and other resources into massive CFD design labs, outrageously expensive simulators and even wind tunnels. They reckoned, and they were mostly correct, that they could design cars using CFD, simulate the changes and parts in CFD then try them out on the simulator and when fabricated, vet them in the wind tunnel.
I am not disagreeing with the notion that this became, and still is, very effective but this year’s first test session of the new 2022 regulation cars with more ground effect left some teams porpoising down the front straight.
It’s not as if we haven’t been here before as 40 years ago teams, laden with ground effect packages, struggled with the same issue so why did they fall prey to it this year knowing of its presence?
I was reading an article over at The Race and as Edd Straw put it, their simulation tools are just that…simulation. Edd reckons they can’t account for the real conditions on a rolling road belt in a wind tunnel and he’s probably correct on many counts.
Edd quotes Alpha Tauri’s technical director Jody Egginton:
“You rely on CFD for correlation. This is our first big [track] correlation opportunity, so we’re learning about how that floor’s working at very low ride heights.
“It behaves differently on track to the windtunnel. That’s just a simple function of ground effect.”
This seems relatively straightforward in that you cannot simulate the true conditions of the road and while you can correlate data, the proof is putting the car on track with undulations and bumps. So Edd is correct in that simulation still leaves much on the table…not the entire meal but possibly the appetizer or desert at least.
The most pointed quote in the article is that of Haas F1’s Simone Resta who said:
“The dynamics in the windtunnel are fairly slow, so there are a lot of things you can only learn on track,” Simone said.
“On simulations, you can reproduce phenomena and play with models, but on the track is the only thing that matters.”
Now Edd makes a very good point here in that some teams suggested they understood what was happening and could cure some of it with ride height adjustments and making cuts in the floor to contain the low pressure or even using DRS to lessen the load. As Edd points out, these are containment solutions meaning they are compromises to the cars performance and that is a step backwards…my words, not his.
All of this makes me wonder just how much we’ve actually saved in banning the testing program in favor of massive wind tunnels, CFD design labs and incredibly expensive simulators. Is it still less expensive to operate with these elements or would it be simpler to rent wind tunnel time, develop parts and test them on track?
There is no doubt that at the height of the testing era, well-funded teams had complete testing teams that were out constantly and this was very expensive so the ban made sense from that standpoint but is there a balance that could reduce costs and achieve more effect results without the guesswork?
F1 teams and F1 itself would know far better than I would but it seems to me that we may now be faced with a lingering porpoising issue that will leave some teams scrambling for the first half of the season trying to stay in touch with those that didn’t suffer with the phenomenon and that’s really not what we wanted is it?
You could say, “well, those teams got it wrong so that’s their fault”. That’s true but it’s not what we wanted from these regulation changes. It may have been caught earlier if they were allowed to do some development testing earlier in the car’s development phase.
To counter my point, there are limitations on the amount of CFD time teams can spend and that’s good but has that played any role in this situation? I’m sure the team engineers and designers would have some very good suggestions about how to approach this car development phase of F1 with more effective programs with a charter of reducing costs so why not ask them?
All of this may be a tempest in a teapot as the teams may quickly get on top of the porpoising issue but I do recall Edd’s comment about those solutions possibly being compromises instead of true designed solutions that increase performance rather than contain issues. Any regulation change opens the door fro teams to get it wrong and perhaps that’s part of the fun…although I think having all teams banging on all cylinders and capable of racing for points would be more fun.