While Formula One and the automotive industry have diverged on chassis technology, the transfer of ideas is alive and well in powertrain development. But F1 teams do not necessarily lead the way
The first part of this feature, published in the May/June 2008 issue of AMS, examined how F1 chassis technology has been adopted in mainstream manufacturing. The overwhelming consensus from F1 team principals and technical directors was that the pinnacle of motorsport had more in common with the aerospace industry than with road cars. Powertrain, however, is a different proposition.
Producing an engine for F1 is a marketable commodity, while also providing useful impetus for the development of automotive technology; while the requirements are very different, the basic principles are often similar. BMW has a long and successful history in F1 as an engine supplier. Since purchasing a majority stake in Peter Sauber’s racing team in 2005, BMW-Sauber, based in Switzerland, has since been lauded for its use of advanced super computerbased simulation techniques in the design of its chassis. Engine manufacturing and development, however, has stayed semi-autonomous, with BMW Motorsport being based in Germany. It is at the heart of BMW operations, in line with the carmaker’s often-stated intention of using F1 as a lever to improve its road car research and development capabilities. As BMW-Sauber team principal and BMW Motorsport director Dr Mario Theissen points out, “It’s a two-way exchange.”
“The F1 project is a type of high-speed technology laboratory for BMW. Benefiting from the synergies that arise in the development of F1 and volume production was a key target for us from the start. This is why it was clear that the BMW F1 engines were going to be developed and manufactured in Munich, Germany. The BMW Research and Innovation Centre plays a key role in what we do; the F1 design and manufacturing facility is close to this think-tank, and the two are fully integrated. The centre has massive resources and we benefit from them directly.”
Exploiting the synergies
For 2008, F1 is using a single-specification ECU, supplied by McLaren Electronic System in partnership with Microsoft. It replaces the tailor-made systems used previously, the BMW variant of which Theissen cites as an example of the type of synergy BMW has been able to exploit. “The expertise of the electronics specialists at the BMW Research and Innovation Centre gave BMW the confidence to develop its own F1 engine management systems instead of having to resort to racing specialists.
“Engineers who normally design the onboard electronic systems for the BMW M3 and M5 models drove the project – and the expertise they gained in this field flowed back into volume production,” he says. Premium BMW models such as the 7 Series and M Series already have two microprocessors that were first tested and used in F1. Other examples of the crossover include memory technology, first used successfully in F1, that has now been used for internet access and the navigation system in the BMW 7 Series. Theissen adds that BMW-Sauber’s sequential gear shift and launch control systems have also been introduced in the M3, M5 and M6 models.
BMW has repeated the process at its foundry in Landshut, Germany. The volume production castings site added a dedicated F1 facility in 2001 and the two units work in tandem. “They operate under joint management, which guarantees an ongoing exchange of information,” says Theissen. “For example, oil sumps for the M3, M5 and M6 and the intake manifold for the eight-cylinder diesel engine use the same sand-casting procedure as used for the F1 engine. To gain a similar benefit, an F1 parts manufacturing facility was set up next to the plant for volume components at the same time as the foundry,” he tells AMS.
In both component design and manufacturing, the common theme adopted by Theissen is the concept that sharing experience and techniques carries a greater premium than the actual direct sharing of technology. The idea of knowledge-based synergy is highlighted when BMW discusses design lead-times. It’s difficult to accurately judge the speed of development within an F1 team, but the common rule of thumb is that only 20 per cent of a car’s design starting the season in March will remain when the season ends in November. One team estimates it averages a design change every half-hour during the year, translating to a gain of between two and three seconds over the season, often in thousandths-of-a-second increments; essentially the design is reinvented for every race.
Speed is of the essence
“Given the relentless rhythms of F1, it is only possible to make progress and solve problems if you have fast response times,” says Theissen. “To shorten our lead-times, we use the skills of the rapid prototyping/tooling technology department at BMW’s Research and Innovation Centre. As soon as the necessary parts have been designed using a CAD-CAM system, computer-guided machines use lasers or three-dimensional pressure engineering to create scale models in resin, plastic powder, starch or wax. That allows installation situations and interactions to be simulated without delays so that any necessary modifications can be done before the final manufacturing process is set in motion.”
Theissen says that ultimately, BMW has “turned the vision of a seamless process chain into reality – from conception to design, casting, component manufacture, setup and test phase, all the way to the race track and back, to innovative solutions for road cars”. This system eliminates transport routes, and all the knowledge acquired can flow into volume production. “We have managed to achieve this for the engines [prior to buying into Sauber]. As we have taken over responsibility for the entire package, the benefit for BMW has certainly increased.” The entire powertrain is designed, developed and manufactured in Munich, and further synergies in both directions, from F1 to volume production and vice-versa, will be generated in new areas. He says that a further synergy is likely to be the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS).
“The FIA made it very clear when they initially came up with the KERS idea that they would not limit this to a specific solution. They set a wide technology framework, inviting us to investigate electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems. For F1 as a whole it would make sense to have a common KERS, but if we want to pioneer future road car technologies, we should take the chance to have individual solutions, and to allow for an interaction between the motorsport departments and the road car development of individual manufacturers. Only then can we rightly claim that this will speed up R&D of future road cars.
“I think we have a good chance of that because we operate under much more pressure than road car development does. We’re speeding up solutions and it’s absolutely clear that what we’ll have on the car in 2009 is not available today, so it will make a difference, and I think this is a real transfer for F1 – to become a pioneer.”
The breeding ground for leading technology
Theissen paints a picture of F1 as a fully integrated component of the carmakers’ ongoing automotive development process. It is a view held in common with competitor Mercedes-Benz, however the German luxury brand most closely associated with motor sport – Audi – is conspicuous in its absence from open-wheel racing. This is entirely by design, rather than chance, says Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, who heads Audi Motorsport.
“Our participation in the German DTM touring car series is marketing; we want to promote our highestvolume model, the A4, in straight racing competition with one of our closest market competitors, Mercedes- Benz’s C-Class, but this is totally different to what we do in sportscar racing. Our goal racing at Le Mans, in the LMS (Le Mans Series), and the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) is strongly linked to our philosophy of creating leading technology through racing.”
For the past eight years, Audi has enjoyed unprecedented success at Le Mans, winning initially with the conventional R8 and more recently with a diesel-powered R10 [its most recent success was beating rival Peugeot on 16 June, 2008 in the 24-hour race]. Only once has the team been beaten during that period, by Bentley, racing an Audi R8 painted British Racing Green! While Audi was not the first carmaker to create a diesel racing car, today it is the most prominent.
The diesel-powered R10, although not the fastest car at the Le Mans 24-hour race, won by being more economical and making fewer stops, though arguably winning Le Mans was not Audi’s primary motivation for creating the car. The company has slated 2008 as the year when it launches its diesel range into the US market, made more favourable by the recent introduction of low-sulphur, European-standard diesel fuel in the region.
Audi has been successful in the ALMS, with a none-toosubtle message that diesel is economical, powerful and fast. “There’s a good reason the R10 has TDI written on the side in large letters,” says triple-ALMS champion Allan McNish. Unlike in F1, the correlation between what Audi does on the track and what it does on the road is very direct.
The endurance aspect is something that makes Le Mans interesting for us,” says Ullrich. “We are not developing something highly specialised for ninety minutes of racing, optimised to fall apart after two hours. In endurance racing, we need to develop an engine with the highest level of performance, but with longevity and economy as well – because this is what wins at Le Mans. “It brings racing so much closer to what you need for road car development – which was the motivation for Audi’s decision to enter endurance racing, rather than F1, where the technology is far removed from anything you can use to benefit customers,” he tells AMS.
“The idea of taking a diesel to Le Mans was aimed at benefiting customers from the very beginning. The philosophy was that if we were to develop a modern diesel engine to the specifications needed to be competitive in international racing, we were certainly going to learn a lot that we could bring back and use in the next generation of diesel road car engines. Inevitably, if you are doing it right, you are going to develop a design with more power, more torque and lower fuel consumption, and therefore, better economy. “That engine might not translate directly to the road, but perhaps the technology will allow you to offer customers the same level of power and torque they enjoy now, but from a smaller, more economical displacement. This is what pushed us in the direction of the R10 TDI diesel programme,” he adds.
Putting learning experiences into practise
While the R10 is now forming Audi’s next generation of automotive diesel designs, the racing engine was originally a product of then current diesel engine designs. “At the inception, the pre-tests were all done with existing road car engines,” he continues. “We learned what we could from that, understood the potential and came up with new ideas. Then we started on a clean sheet and designed a completely new engine, geared towards race performance. Everything we learned about injection concepts, combustion, steering, and anything else of relevance, we shared with our partners in the road car development division.
Ulrich reveals, “For example, the high-pressure common rail system involved a lot of research and development into the effects of running at more than 2000bar. Eighteen months later, it went into road car development for the V12 TDI engine, available in the Q7 road car. This isn’t an isolated example. There are several aspects we have developed in common for racing and use on the road. We also used many of the same supplier partners in the racing programme that we use for road cars – for example Bosch was our injection partners – this was essential to make sure we optimise the cooperation.”
“This is not a change of direction for us. The R10 has obvious road car links, but no more so than the R8 it replaced. You could say that the R8 was a successor of the Audi Quattro rally car from the early 1980s: much of what we know about four-wheel drive originally came from that.
“We used the R8 to trial Audi’s first development of direct injection for petrol engines. Everything we did there was very helpful for the development of our FSI engines; today they account for 85 per cent of the group’s petrol engine output and were basically developed on the race track between 2000 and 2005.”
Mention of the Quattro system raises an interesting point. While Ullrich and Theissen occupy different positions, the common ground covering technology transfer appears to be more strongly linked with issues previously considered secondary: design and production knowledge rather than the direct transfer of whole systems, such as the four-wheel drive Quattro. At a time when road carmakers are keen to manufacture lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles, the development of better manufacturing processes and shorter lead times is possibly of greater value than uncovering a modern-day equivalent of the Quattro.