Under The Skin Of F1 Testing
Autosport|February 15,2018
Under The Skin Of F1 Testing

Pre-season testing is fraught with tension for the Formula 1 teams. Here Gary Anderson explains how they prepare for and carry out the initial running of their new cars – fingers crossed, of course.

Pre-season testing for the latest batch of Formula 1 cars is just around the corner. Since this is the second year of the current technical regulations, we can expect the car concepts to converge.The aerodynamic and tyre changes for 2017 were fairly dramatic and they brought roughly what was predicted in terms of lap-time improvement. This year, optimising that package will be the order of the day.

During the season, there is always development and most teams will try for around one tenth of a second of improvement each race. That should add up to a 2s gain over the season. That, combined with the introduction of new chassis for 2018, with all the developments it wasn’t possible to add last year, means that at pre-season testing the cars should be 3s faster than they were last year. It’ll be very interesting to see which teams achieve that.

Most of the big teams have the infrastructure to manufacture components much more quickly than was possible a few years ago. This is what some have concentrated on, because once a drawing is printed or a machine is fired up to make a part, that component is already out of date. The later that everything comes together in the build schedule, the more time it allows for pre-build development.

Since testing now gets under way later in the year, teams have extra time for designing, optimising and manufacturing components. But the start of February will have been D-Day for final assembly of the 2018 test package. Before this, hopefully the chassis will have passed all the FIA crash tests. These are high-pressure moments and you want to build everything to be as light and efficient as possible, while still meeting strength and stiffness requirements. One failure can set a team back dramatically.

Recovery from a failure will either mean a redesign and remanufacture of the chassis itself, which will take time, or the remanufacture of components by adding weight. Neither solution is easy or optimum, and it will mean that everything moves closer to when the cars must be shipped to Australia for the first race. Every component on the suspension side of things will also go through strength and durability tests. Setbacks here can also mean delays that will interfere with the build schedule.

The front and rear wings will also be tested by loading them up with hydraulic actuators. This is to simulate the FIA deflection tests to ensure these components are stiff enough to comply, and they will then be loaded up to potentially their maximum load to see if they will withstand that force. There will also be a safety factor of something like 20%. When you consider that a front wing at high speed will produce something in the region of 600-700kg of load, this is not easy. Combined with some aerodynamic stall characteristics, which will potentially introduce fatigue load, the problem is doubled.

Many teams, including Mercedes and Haas, have had problems in the past few years with front wings falling off. There is nothing that gets the driver’s attention quicker than bouncing over their own front wing, so you want to err on the side of safety with the first batch of components!

Many of these tests can be completed back in the workshop before testing begins, but there’s no substitute for circuit mileage. There the car will get real use bouncing across kerbs, being subject to instantaneous changes of forces on all the suspension and steering components, and real-time engine and gearbox transient-load fluctuations.

The first running is what is normally called a ‘shakedown’. This is just to make sure that all the systems work and that the sensors are supplying the correct data. Normally, a new car will be built with a few extra sensors to help understand the water, oil, fuel and hydraulic systems better.

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February 15,2018