Montreal—How's this for a multivariable problem? Take input from 220 sensors and factor in a structure that can have its geometry and dynamic characteristics adjusted. Place this all on an elastomeric foundation under various conditions of friction, while a human controls it all at forces up to 4 lateral Gs. Now come up with a workable solution overnight—and you've just prepared a Formula 1 car for a grand prix race.
Design News found out at this year's Canadian Grand Prix how Jaguar Racing engineers handle such multi-tasking jobs as routine.
In a way, the most interesting day for technical folks is the "free practice" day on Friday before the Sunday race, because it serves as a foundation for the weekend. Here drivers check out various suspension geometries and adjustable characteristics (such as different torsion bar stiffness), traction control and engine response settings, aerodynamic components, and the two tire compounds allowed—all geared to produce the most favorable handling, downforce, and speed compromise over the race circuit. Each course not only has its own characteristic layout of straights, curves, and road width, but also differences in pavement friction and side curbing arrangements.
Track ball. The leading teams don't take to the course until the usual backrunners first lay down some gripping rubber on the track more characteristic of a race. Activity picks up, but cars frequently duck in and out of the pits for new tires and adjustments. By the end of the two one-hour sessions, though, circuit activity resembles a race with most teams trying to acquire as much high-speed data as possible to help set up the cars for the next day's all-important qualifying session here, where drivers with the fastest times earn positions at the front of the starting grid on Sunday.
Starting position is critical since many courses are narrow and less than ideal for passing. The teams must also choose one of two tire compounds for use the rest of the weekend—playing off tire hardness and long life against softness with more grip. Having an accurate race day temperature forecast helps too, because hotter tires grip more.
For the Jaguar engineers, all the sensor data acquired at the track (which is satellite telemetered to the pits) is sent to team headquarters in Milton Keynes, UK. "The car is wired up like a critical care patient with all functions monitored," says Bobby Rahal, head of Jaguar Racing at the time the race took place. Back in England, another group further analyzes the data overnight and also runs them on a dynamic seven-poster hydraulic simulator (see DN 5/1/2000, p. 68) which duplicates the car's response to each curve and bump on the track.
Steve Nichols, technical director, leads the 35 engineers on the Jaguar Racing team (including 15 assigned to engine builder Cosworth). He notes many of these people cycle between team headquarters, testing at various tracks, and the race venues for races on average every two weeks. The morning of qualifying, the drivers and engineers at the track select the set-up. They work to optimize this in the short practice sessions before qualifying begins. Nichols emphasizes, "With a wide range of items to consider, you only want to fine tune at a race. You try and test beforehand to come up with tire and pitstop strategies." The latter involves accounting for the lightening fuel load during a race and its effect on handling, etc.
Back to basics. In team engineering, Nichols says, "You rely on the fundamentals you learned as a student—correctly identifying a problem to come up with a solution." He adds that you want enough latitude available so "you can ID a problem in the field and deal with it with adjustments. Problems should be solved in the factory in the design phase."
Jaguar driver Pedro de la Rosa says that, after qualifying, he surveys the telemetry with the race engineers, and looks at the times of the other teams to further improve team prospects during the race. How has Jaguar done? In the first two-thirds of the season, they have done well in practice, but have often ended up deep in the pack during qualifying—only to run well on Sunday. The facts that the team is only in its second season, and tire supplier Michelin has just come back to Formula 1 this season, may say something about it.
And what does Jaguar get out of this automotive technology pressure cooker? Rahal notes that materials technology is one area where production cars realize improvements from racing. When it comes to advanced electronics, however, many production features, such as ABS braking and stability control, are not allowed in. Only this year was traction control allowed. Of possibly greater benefit is the fact that engineers are assigned to the race team. "It gives them a sense of urgency having to deliver a product for a race every two weeks," says Colin Tivey, chief engineer on Jaguar's newest passenger car, the X-Type.