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Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

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Experiences

Top Secret

Text — Boris Schneider Date — 11 June, 2013

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—One of the most crucial areas in FORMULA 1 design is aerodynamics. According to Ross Brawn, Team Principal of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, it is the single most important parameter for performance. For that very reason, the wind tunnel is at the heart of the development program.

Anyone who visits the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team factory in the small town of Brackley, Northamptonshire, could reasonably expect to see Nico Rosberg’s Silver Arrow. But the car is nowhere to be found, at least not in one piece. On a Grand Prix weekend, the car is assembled at the circuit and dismantled immediately after the race. It takes ten mechanics about two hours to complete the job. Back in England, many components are bathed in a fluorescent liquid and checked under ultraviolet light for even the tiniest flaws.

Away from the track, FORMULA 1 cars are never really finished, but remain a work in progress. Around 70 percent of the car is modified in the course of a season. Last year, for instance, the team’s engineers changed the shape of the front wing alone around 35 times. “The aim is to start out with a good car in March and cut two seconds off lap times by November,” says Team Principal Ross Brawn, describing the challenge. There’s very little to separate the top teams in motorsport, and for that reason secrecy is a top priority. There are parts of the factory we can view only from a safe distance.

The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS factory complex extends over 40,000 square meters. The seven buildings house over 500 people, around 250 of whom are highly qualified engineers. With the exception of the engine and tires, all the parts are developed and produced here, including the transmission and suspension. Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in nearby Brixworth makes the engines and the team gets its tires from Pirelli, FORMULA 1’s official supplier.

Several departments liaise closely on the design, development and construction of the Silver Arrow. The teams have to stick closely to strict regulations dictated by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), which evolve every season. At the same time, they are continuously looking out for ways of improving performance within the rules using innovative new ideas. One of the most crucial areas in FORMULA 1 design is aerodynamics. In fact, as far as Ross Brawn is concerned, it is the single most important parameter for performance. And for that reason, the wind tunnel is at the very heart of the development program. In Brackley, around 100 aerodynamics specialists spend their time at the computer designing new parts, such as the sides or the rear wing. The testing of original-size parts is limited to four days per year by the Resource Restriction Agreement of the FORMULA ONE TEAMS’ ASSOCIATION (FOTA), so the engineers work with 60-percent scale models. These are mostly produced using rapid protoyping on a 3D printer. The wind tunnel is in action around the clock, and about 100 new parts are tested every week. Visitors aren’t permitted to take a look at this: the entire area is strictly off limits.

AERODYNAMICS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PARAMETER FOR PERFORMANCE

—Ross Brawn

But the engineers are just as likely to be found working with computational fluid dynamics (CFD). This enables them to simulate a part’s aerodynamics on a computer screen without having to build a model first. This saves time and money.

When a model part delivers promising test results, the team will set to work refining and producing it. About a hundred more specialists are at home in the drawing office where they are responsible for the exact technical specifications. Eighty percent of the parts produced in Brackley are made of carbon fiber, the remaining 20 percent of metals like titanium, aluminum and steel.

The exact dimensions of a metal part are sent directly from the computer to a CNC machine. These computer-controlled machines tools mill parts fully automatically to hairbreadth precision from a block. Like the wind tunnel, they operate 24 hours a day. The impressive thing is the speed at which all this happens. The time taken from the original idea to finished part is usually around just 20 hours.

—Constant challenge: A FORMULA 1 car is never really finished, but always remains a work in progress.
—The monocoque constitutes the core of every FORMULA 1 car. It is the driver’s work - place and survival cell in one. Manufactured with up to sixty layers of carbon fiber, it has to conform to strict regulations dictated by the FIA.
—The engines are manufactured by Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in nearby Brixworth.

The manufacturing process for carbon fiber components, such as the rear wing, is different. To start off, the team makes a model in epoxy resin, which serves as the basis for a mold. After this, several layers of carbon fiber webbing are laid one on top of another in the mold, placed in a vacuum and then baked at a temperature of 180° Celsius in an oven. Parts with thin walls have about ten layers of fiber, but the outer parts of the chassis will have as many as 60 layers of webbing.

The decision as to which material to use for a certain part is based on a whole raft of calculations. As a rule, the main criterion is the ratio between the material’s weight and its resilience. Steel may be very heavy but it’s also unusually tough. That’s the reason why it is used for the cogs in the transmission. They are not particularly big but they have to bear enormous stresses and strains. For bigger components, the designers opt for titanium or aluminum wherever possible.

The aim is to start out with a good car in March and cut two seconds off lap times by November

—Ross Brawn

Carbon fiber, too, leaves lots of room for flexbility when it comes to design. Around 20 basic types are used, each with its own specific qualities. Uni cloth, for example, which has fiber tows all running in the same direction, is very light and has extremely high tensile strength. Other carbon fiber weaves are unusually heat-resistant and will survive temperatures up to 1,000° Celsius. A typical use for these is the outer cladding on exhausts.

The simulation section at Brackley is also strictly secret. There are currently three simulators in operation and they are used to test the way the car behaves on specific tracks. The drivers can prepare themselves for the race on these virtual tracks: while doing so, they sit in a real car with an exact replica of the cockpit, a steering wheel in their hands and their feet operating the pedals. The simulator makes it possible to check out the effects of future changes to the regulations, and for some time now, the team has been testing the behavior of the cars to be used in 2014. This is when the new 1.6-liter V6 engine combined with a much more efficient kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) heralds the advent of a hybrid drive in motorsport’s premier competition. And that should really shake things up between the individual teams.

Explore More Articles
Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

Grande Complication Dial Explained
Small World

Time moves the world. The IWC Portuguese Grande Complication is an understated, beautifully designed way of summarizing time as the motor of all change: a time machine that shows a tilted globe on the dial.

89800 Calibre Movement
Eternity in Digits

The IWC-manufactured 89800 caliber, which made its debut in 2009, redefined the digital date display. The triple-disc mechanism in the perpetual calendar features large-format displays for the date and month and, slightly more discreetly, the leap year cycle. All are ingeniously synchronized.

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

When the Ingenieur from Schaffhausen was launched in 1955 it created a storm. But its actual history goes back much further: to 1888.

Movements Come to Life

All mechanical watches can be fascinating because of their intricate movements. Even simple watches, ones that only tell time, are extraordinarily complex mechanisms that have hundreds of miniscule parts that work harmoniously together. A complicated watch, one that performs additional functions, is by definition even more complicated.

From Atomic Physics
to Quality Management

A doctor with a degree in atomic and molecular physics plays a surprising and important role at IWC.

Flying high with big date and month displays

A fabulous combination of sportiness and elegance, the Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month is the high-flyer of the IWC Pilot's Watch collection. The date and month could not be easier to read and the mechanics inside the case are an endless source of fascination.