Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor sport, but does it have any real world value to the automotive companies involved?AMS talks to Julian Reed, Head of Manufacturing at the ING Renault F1 team

The shape of a 2007 Formula 1 (F1) car suggests that at sometime in the past it shared a common ancestor with the road car: the DNA is more or less the same but it’s very difficult to see the relationship anymore. It’s regularly stated that F1 has become too specialised to have anything in common with the automotive world.

The six carmakers involved in the world championship would beg to differ, arguing that F1 retains its relevancy and adds more to their business model than a marketing buzz alone. Among the strongest supporters of this view is Renault. The French carmaker has repeatedly restated the view that running an F1 operation has a positive impact on its mainstream operation. It enters the 2007 season as defending champion, having achieved a double of doubles, winning driver and constructors’ championships in 2005 and 2006. In both years it has spent significant parts of the season competing against rivals with observably faster cars – but on those occasions when Renault hasn’t enjoyed outright pace, it has had peerless reliability to fall back upon: speed alone doesn’t win many Grands Prix.

Entente car-dial

The Renault F1 Team is an Anglo-French operation: engine design takes place at Viry-Châtillon, in the southern suburbs of Paris. The rest of the car is designed and constructed in England, at Renault F1 Team’s technical centre near Enstone, Oxfordshire. The first two months of the year are perhaps the busiest in the calendar for the Enstone operation. Renault will build six cars for the 2007 season, the first completed and on test at the end of 2006, the rest in various states of manufacture and shakedown over the winter months.

In years past, winter was the busiest season in the factory with furious activity in January and February, falling away once racing began. Now the slow down is only marginal: developing an F1 car is a continuous, constant process.

A statistic from one of Renault’s main rivals suggests that during the eight months of the racing year, the big teams will implement an engineering change, on average, every thirty minutes.

Julian Reed, Head of Manufacturing for Renault F1 Team at Enstone, is somewhat sceptical about that figure: “If I had to guess, I’d say that by the end of the season, around 20 percent of the current design specification will remain.

Whether or not that constitutes an engineering change every 30 minutes depends on what you class as an engineering change.

There are fault fixes and we do see a high number of updates, particularly at this time of year when the car is new. A better statistic might be that we see performance developments coming through at the rate of three or four a week.”

Prudent production

Seen in a certain light, the factory at Enstone bears a passing resemblance to the operations of many low-medium volume road car manufacturers. Despite its eminence on track, the Renault F1 Team is a frugal operation, well down the order for overall budget. The formal lakes and marble concourses built by some of its rivals are absent. Around 550 people, 200 of whom are tasked to manufacturing operations, work in a modern industrial unit. It has design and admin offices, quality laboratories, a sizeable machine shop and composites fabrication facilities. All that’s missing is a production line.

“We break down our manufacturing into four main arms: machining; composites; fabrication and purchased parts – the latter being very important to us,” says Reed. “The ancillaries are rapid prototyping, sub-assemblies, inspection and then various logistics, stores and production control tasks that make everything work. We’re driven by dates: our main objectives are to meet specific test target dates, race quantities, development parts, and car builds as required by the team.”

F1 holds its place at the pinnacle of motor sport by a relentless determination to maintain a technological lead. In design terms this translates into massive simulation and analysis, with the large teams using the same computing capacity as a major aerospace project – only while the Joint Strike Fighter or Airbus A380 might spread that over a ten-year programme, an F1 team repeats the process every year. It is therefore surprising to see that the manufacturing operation relies on the same tools and techniques as many other high-end industrial processes.

While composites fabrication is a labour intensive operation, the similarities are most obvious in the machine shop. “We have technical partnerships with Charmilles and DMG: Charmilles on the wire and spark eroding, DMG principally on the milling and turning,” says Reed. We might use more exotic material grades but the processes are what you might find elsewhere. 80 per cent of the machines are less than three years old because our business relies on having the fastest, most accurate equipment that we can get.

The faster we work here, the less we have to subcontract. Our suppliers do an excellent job for us, but the demands we place mean they can charge a premium – working in house makes us more cost-competitive.”

Technical Centre at the top

According to Jeff Fullerton, the Machine Shop Manager at the F1 team’s Technical Centre in Oxfordshire, the secret behind Renault’s admirable record over the past two years has been consistency.

“A combination of high performance and reliability has pushed this team to the top,” he says. “It’s a sentiment that I can also apply to our DMG machine tools. Our component reject rate and machine breakdown record has never been better.”

Built in 1992, the Renault F1 Team Technical Centre was originally furnished with Japanese machining centres and turning centres. In 2003, the Renault F1 Team commenced a programme of replacement, selecting DMG as its preferred partner. As this rewarding partnership enters its fourth year, the Technical Centre now houses an army of DMG machines that totals 18 CNC models. Over the past 12 months the most recent additions have been a DMU 80P duoBLOCK fi ve-axis machining centre, two DMC 64V linear vertical machining centres and a GMX200 linear turn-mill centre for high precision, six-sided complete machining.

Precision and capability are paramount in F1. Using V8 engines, lap times can be extremely close. In qualifying for the recent San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, only 0.1 seconds separated the cars lining up on the grid in positions 6-13. The Technical Centre is responsible for the design and manufacture of the car’s aerodynamic and chassis components, so the Oxfordshire facility can have a huge influence on performance, especially when the difference between winning and losing is so small.

All of the mechanical parts designed at the Technical Centre have to fit within an aerodynamic ‘envelope’. The result is that many components incorporate a high degree of complexity, which in turn leads to demanding surfacing requirements. It is here that the DMG machines excel, as Fullerton explains: “The performance of the DMG machines is exceptional.

Naturally the trend is towards five-axis machining, which is why we have recently added a second DMU 80P. This will allow us to complete a greater number of components in a single-hit.”

The DMU 80P duoBLOCK offers a large working envelope for effective metal cutting with traverse paths of 800mm in all axes. The cornerstone of the thermo-symmetrical design is the innovative duoBLOCK concept, which consists of two sturdy cast-iron blocks in conjunction with three guideways in the X-axis and the proven three-point-support concept. The resulting extremely high machine stability allows the Renault F1 Team to combat a wide variety of materials including high silicon aluminium and high tungsten steel, as well as carbon-fibre composites.

All of the DMG machines run 24 hours a day, five days a week at the Technical Centre, plus single shifts at weekends. Typical parts manufactured include suspension components such as uprights and wishbone end units, brake parts, chassis ancillaries, engine ancillaries and hydraulic manifolds.

Major assembly operation

F1 is regularly berated, not least by its own governing body, for the scale of the modern teams, and on face value the presence of 200 manufacturing staff might seen overly generous for the production of six cars. In mitigation, however, the production aims of an F1 team are different to those of a carmaker, and indeed different to those of every other motor sports franchise.

“Talking about the number of chassis that we produce is a little misleading,” says Reed. The race team might take three or four chassis with them to an event – but there may be eight and upwards sets of other major assemblies. We might have seven or eight gearboxes, eight sets of rear suspension, six or seven sets of front suspension, eight or more engines; and as I’ve already mentioned, new parts are constantly in development and everything, in reality, is changing every three or four races. The number of components that we make is massive in comparison to the stark number of bare chassis.”

Most of the changes to which Reed alludes are incremental rather than revolutionary: aerodynamic tweaks to body parts, thicker sections on components seeing unacceptable failure rates, thinner sections on components that conversely aren’t failing as expected. “Only very rarely do we see radically different shapes requiring new manufacturing techniques or bespoke FE analysis, and this allows us to be very responsive to change. If the designer understands the properties of the part he is involved with, and we know how to manufacture it, integrating a production change to the car need not be a lengthy operation.”

Changes in the Formula One rules and regulations, designed to reign-in cost and promote closer racing are altering the traditional approach to the process of designing an F1 car.

A freeze on engine development is now in place, and a standard electronics package is shortly to be introduced. Together will the introduction of a control tyre and murmurings about standardised aerodynamic parts, it’s a radical shake-up of the established order, polarising opinion on many different issues. One thing that does seem certain is that the value of a reliable car, always high, is set to gain even more prominence.

One hundred per cent inspection

A cornerstone of F1 is a test and inspection regime close to absolute: “We 100 per cent inspect everything apart from things like washers; items like that we only sample. Components are liable to pass through inspection several times during the manufacturing process – prior to coating or treatment, for example, then again after that treatment, and finally once again after assembly,” says Reed.

One hundred per cent inspection has become more prevalent in the automotive industry, but only in safety critical applications or areas of specific prominence: volume, cost, speed and the availability of technology preclude against anything more exacting. Instead, carmakers can rely on a healthy prototype evaluation stage and a ramp-up period to identify and expunge faults. F1 operates on a different timescale and volume, and in this it is perhaps more akin to the aerospace industry. The two industries see considerable technology transfer and staff crossover. The sense of this is straightforward: motor sport and aerospace are tasked to produce something as light and as strong as possible, in low volumes and intended for regular, labour-intensive servicing.

They have much in common.

Portable scanning technology in Honda Racing F1 Team’s model shop

Perceptron is typically associated with non-contact quality management, robot guidance, and gap and flush inspection systems employed in automotive production lines. The product portfolio of this experienced supplier of laser-based dimensional measurement solutions also includes a powerful 3D scanning tool that has been adopted by the Formula 1 community – more specifically into the Honda Racing F1 Team model shop, where the prototype models for the carbon fibre chassis are developed.

To offer Honda a convenient and versatile measurement solution, Crewe-based EuroPac Metrology has integrated and supplied a Perceptron ScanWorks 3D scanner with a Romer Infinite portable measurement arm and InnovMetric PolyWorks point cloud processing software, which creates machinable polygon models and NURBS surfaces from the high-density point clouds gathered by ScanWorks.

EuroPac also acts as the single source of support for the resulting measuring solution, which is characterised by unparalleled flexibility, speed and accuracy – exactly the benefi ts that the Honda Racing F1 Team was expecting to leverage throughout the development process of new chassis designs for its F1 cars.

Perceptron’s latest 3D scanning development features data capture rates exceeding 450,000 points per second, thus offering even greater time and cost savings. Designed for hand-held use, the V5 scanner projects the field of view of the camera onto the model for visualising optimum scanning strategies. It is light and compact enough to facilitate measurement in hard-to-reach areas whilst the amazing dynamic range provides accurate reproduction (to 0.024mm 2 sigma) of the reflective metal, translucent resin and black carbon fibre surfaces utilised in the model shop, without the need for prior surface treatment.

Innovation in production processes

So where does that leave the concept of F1 being relevant to automotive manufacturing? Historically F1 has been able to point to the wealth of innovation that has developed in the sport and eventually trickled down into road car use: everything from anti-lock braking to paddle-shift gearboxes;

Renault itself was instrumental in the 1970s development of effective turbo-chargers. But with F1 now operating as a highly specialised business, that flow has dried up. F1 teams have invented resins that, when cured, allow a carbon-fibre panel to take paint better, allowing supercar manufacturers the option of offering a class A paint surface warranty, but beneath the skin there is little transfer.

That the link between track and road is alive and well, therefore, comes as something of a surprise, but it depends on what you perceive as being a relationship. F1 can’t offer component technology to its automotive relatives anymore, but the skills base of an organisation that excels at reduced lead times has become a valuable commodity in its own right.

“Renault Group certainly looks at our processes as much as our technology,” concedes Reed. “We have 15 people here from Renault Group, on average for a two to three year secondment. “They are here both to impart experience and to gain knowledge from us – it is very much a two way street – and they tend to be involved in the more long-term development. We have specialists from group involved in CFD analysis, FEA structural analysis – NVH for example – and many other aspects of the operation. And far from being a minor issue, the collaboration is very much at the forefront of the concept of Renault being in F1.

“The road car programmes benefit from what we do. Possibly we don’t yet have much of an impact on production models, but Renault makes over 700 prototype cars a year, and in recent history the speed with which these can be made has a direct bearing on time-to-market. We have skills in this area and passing that knowledge along to the group is obviously useful. Part of this is our experience in managing the flow of information. At this time of year we like to manage our production control operation on a minute-by-minute basis but primarily it’s the F1 operation’s ability to manufacture with very short lead times. While a gearbox might require several months’ lead, less complex items we are expected to turn around in a matter of hours.

“For example, we’re expert in the use of rapid prototyping, and have a collaborative agreement with 3D Systems to that end. The majority of use is in the wind tunnel but we also make patterns to be used to create the shell for investment casting. RP parts also run on the car, and their usage on track is increasing every year. At the moment this is limited, but as technology changes and resins get stronger, that usage will increase.

“If you go back a decade, work in F1 was seasonal, with a busy winter and perhaps a quieter summer. That has evolved, particularly since teams have commissioned their own wind tunnels – our own is running 24/7 – and because the pace of development is pretty constant, there is never really an opportunity to back off. However, we are still busiest between October and February when the new season’s car is in development. The longer we can give the designers the better the design is going to be, and so we therefore compress manufacturing times. With Renault Group taking away our techniques in this area, inevitably it will allow them to speed up their own development.”

Time Denshaw talks straight about the new R27

Chief Designer of the new R27 Tim Denshaw doesn’t like to over-complicate things when it comes to producing an F1 car. Here’s his down to earth take on Renault’s new championship challenger...

What has been the design philosophy of the new R27 chassis?

R27 is our second-generation V8 car, following on from last year’s championship-winning R26. That clearly gave us a very solid platform to work from, and we have honed it according to the same in-house design philosophy that has worked very successfully in recent seasons.

What impact have changes to the regulations had on the car design?

The most important regulation changes have been new impact tests at the front, rear and side of the car. These have required some fairly intensive design work to integrate them into the overall packaging at the car, particularly when it comes to the rather bulky side intrusion protection panels. The second important element for the design process was the shift to Bridgestone tyres. We had an early idea of the tyres’ basic characteristics, and began the project with the aim of making the car’s weight distribution as flexible as possible. The subsequent tyre data and track testing confirmed that we needed more weight towards the front of the car in order to get the most from the tyres. Much of our design work has focused on saving weight in order to give the race engineers the ability to find the optimum handling characteristics for every circuit.

The R27 was produced in parallel with a very intensive development programme on the R26 just as happened twelve months earlier. Was the process easier to manage this time?

I think that it proved a little easier, because in 2006 we were designing a car for a brand new engine. For 2007, we were starting with a known quantity, and we understood a lot more about the vibration levels involved, and how components needed to be designed to cope. Our improved understanding made the process easier. The second important factor was that we chose to run a hybrid car during pre-Christmas testing.

This meant that the rear end of the car was effectively ready by late November, which helped us balanced the workload during the winter months.

What have been the primary objectives for the new car?

As always, our goal has been to push hard in the traditional development areas: we have tried to improve the stiffness of the package, to save weight where we can – and to package the car as tightly as possible in order to give our aero team the maximum opportunity to generate performance gains. In general terms, the R27 is a car in which we have taken a good step forward in overall engineering quality.

The car also features a brand new IGC gearbox…

This is a programme that has been up and running for quite a long time. We ran a prototype version of the gearbox in testing throughout the season, and were able to integrate the information from that prototype into the definitive version. That gearbox ran for the first time during the final tests of 2006, and performed well, in spite of some normal teething problems.

How big a step forward will the car represent relative to the R26?

I think the new car features as many improvements relative to its predecessor, as R26 did relative to R25. Of course, some areas have not changed, but we have targeted our design and development resources on those areas that can bring us maximum performance advantage. And we are pushing very hard on development already, with a continuous stream of improvements already planned. That was a strength in 2006, and we are aiming to maintain that through the new season.

You have said that the car is an evolution of the philosophy that has served the team well in recent years. Could that be an advantage in 2007?

We have deliberately maintained a consistent mechanical layout, as this will allow the trackside teams to find their feet very quickly – and the same will be true for the drivers. Our recent cars have all been very drive able, and they have allowed the drivers to really push to the limit and have confidence in its reactions. We hope this will be an advantage in the close, competitive environment during 2007.