As aerodynamics have become crucially important to success in motorsports, aerodynamic development responsibilities have become increasingly specialized, leading to potential confusion regarding job titles and their associated responsibilities.
the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team has provided some clarity thanks to its engineering staff, who have discussed their work through social media.
This is particularly relevant to Formula 1 this year due to significant rule changes that have affected teams’ understanding of the aerodynamics of their cars.
“The aerodynamic changes are so big that they completely influence the design of the car and where you want to put certain components,” said Mercedes-AMG F1 Technical Director Mike Elliot. “The way airfoils are defined in the regulations is also completely different – this year you are given a CAD surface and a tolerance for it.”
“That means designers have to think differently and the process of making sure the geometry is legal is much more difficult,” Elliot said. “In the past, we had a lot of little details on the car that added up to a lot of aerodynamic performance, but now, the component details are not that complex. So the gains you’re making are fundamental shape changes and bigger components than before.”
Consider the difference between the work the team aerodynamicist does in designing these components versus that of the aerodynamic engineer. “The aerodynamicist will develop aerodynamic concepts by creating surface models in CAD, meshing them and executing them in CFD,” explained aerodynamic design engineer Calum Armstrong in a twitter thread about the topic. “Then they do the CFD post-processing and analyze the results.”
Another specialization is airfoil design engineer, which focuses only on surface model design. “These surface models give us a visual representation of the exterior of the car, but they have zero thickness and zero mass,” Armstrong said. “So the aerodynamicists are providing us with the shape of the body, the wings, the floor, etc.”
This is when the aerodynamicist performs the important CFD analysis of these surface designs. “Once the aerodynamicist has analyzed the CFD results, he will decide whether or not to execute the concept in the wind tunnel. Whatever concept they choose to run in the tunnel, it is passed on to the aerodynamic design engineers.”
As the aerodynamic design engineer, the design is now in the hands of Armstrong. “It’s the aerodynamic design engineer’s job to take the surface models and effectively turn them into CAD solid models, which are then used to fabricate various components,” he said. “These components are for the 60 per cent scale wind tunnel model of the actual F1 car.” While F1 teams have full-scale moving ground plane wind tunnels, recent cost-saving measures prevent them from building and testing models larger than 60 per cent scale.
“We decide what materials and what manufacturing processes we should make each part with,” Armstrong continued. “We can use FEA to help us decide what material is required, or to make sure our designs give us the strength, stiffness, deflection, etc. required”.
Another specialty is the aerodynamic performance engineer, who works with the final product. “We are responsible for analyzing the aerodynamic performance of the car on the track,” explained aerodynamic performance engineer Emma Corfield in a YouTube video posted by the team. “Then we also correlated that with the data in the wind tunnel and in CFD simulations,” connecting with early work in the other disciplines.
Aerodynamic performance engineers have two very different sets of job responsibilities: one during race weekends and the other in the office the rest of the time. “My main responsibility is the processing and quality of the data during the race weekend,” said Corfield. “That helps deliver performance to the team, ensuring that the data that the race engineers and the other engineers in the racing support room (yet another discipline!) are looking at is of high quality and they can trust the analysis they are looking at. making. So they know that any configuration change they make will have the desired effect.”
Racing puts pressure on everyone in the team, not just the drivers we see in the cockpit, trying to get the most out of the cars. The engineers are desperate to help them. “Race weekends are a high-pressure situation,” observes Corfield. “You have a limited amount of time during practice sessions, and also between practice sessions, to go through all the data, make sure you understand what the car is doing at the moment and any changes you make. you want to be sure that they are going to make the car faster and not slower.”
Race weekends are the highlight of the job, but most of the engineers’ time is spent at headquarters. “Between race weekends, I have a slightly different role,” Corfield explained. “I help put together a manual for all the aerodynamic parts of the car and that is used by the race engineers and mechanics during the race weekend.
There are still plenty of other types of engineers who contribute to the design, build and operation of the race car, but thanks to Mercedes-AMG F1 for the inside look at the work done by various parts of the aero team.