F1 cars shaped by wind tunnel testing

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by ANDREW CHUNG / KVUE News & Photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndrewC_KVUE

Andrew Chung

Posted on November 18, 2012 at 3:30 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 19 at 8:09 AM

AUSTIN -- Inside a wind tunnel at UT's School of Mechanical Engineering is a scale model of a Formula 1 race car - just like the ones that raced this weekend.

 
It's countless hours of testing - inside wind tunnels - that determine the distinctive shape of these race cars. Wind tunnels help engineers improve the design of the cars by making them more aerodynamic and efficient.
 
Carlos Hidrovo is a mechanical engineering professor at UT, and a huge F1 fan.
 
"I started following F1 back in the 90s when [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost were duking it out with Nigel Mansell, and I have continued through all that time to cherish it," he said.
 
Think of an F1 car as being the opposite of an airplane. An aircraft needs to be kept up in the sky. That's where the force of lift comes in. In an F1 car, the objective is to keep it pinned to the ground, so that's where down force - the force that pins the car to the ground - is very important.
 
An F1 car sits very low to the ground. This squeezes the incoming air on the bottom of the car. That means the air pressure underneath the car is lower than the air pressure above the car. This creates that down force - keeping the car on the ground.
 
"There's two upside-down wings - one at the front, and one at the rear - the front wing and the rear wing - which are essentially upside-down wings as the ones you find on an airplane, so they produce down force. They push the car down on the back and on the front," said Dr. Hidrovo.
 
Creating that down force allows the F1 cars to handle turns faster - without slipping off the track.  However, too much down force on a car can be a bad thing.
 
National Instruments, based in Northwest Austin, created software that helps engineers improve the cars' efficiency.
 
"These tools will tell the engineer that's designing the car that 'you've increased the down force but now there's too much turbulence, and now it's causing friction and slowing the car down'" said NI engineer Shey Clymer.
 
Clymer was excited about this weekend's race.
 
"It's great. I take a lot of pride in seeing our tools contributed to a sport that's now come to the United States," he said.
 
Dr. Hidrovo has his favorite drivers.
 
"My goal will be - or my hope would be - [Fernando] Alonso first, Sebastian Vettel second, so that they go to the last race in Brazil and duke it out and the best man wins there," he said.
 
Those drivers will rely on their expertise, their teams, and the wind tunnel testing - to win.

 

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