Got Speed? GE Labs Help F1 Team with Radical Car Redesign

March 16, 2014

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The 2014 FIA Formula One season gets underway this weekend in Melbourne, Australia. It will be one for the history books.

New design restrictions will bring the most radical F1 car makeover in decades. A smaller 1.6-liter V6 engine will replace last year’s 2.4-liter V8 design. A drastic fuel limit will cut the amount of gasoline each vehicle can carry by a third to 100 kilograms (about 36 gallons). “This is one of the biggest changes I can remember,” says Elliot Dason-Barber, head of R&D at Caterham F1 Team, “We basically had to throw away the old car and start over. We’ve had a lot of engineering unknowns.”

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The Anglo-Malaysian racing team reached out to scientists working at GE Global Research (GRC) for help. (GE is a Caterham sponsor.) They worked together on making the new engine more efficient by capturing the heat it generates, replacing metal parts with lighter composites, and gathering and analyzing aerodynamic data to improve design. “It’s a win-win partnership for both of us,” says Matt Nielsen, GRC’s principal scientist for controls, electronics and signal processing. “They are on a very short technology development cycle, often only two weeks between races. We learn how to apply our technology in that time-scale.”

Dason-Barber says that the partnership with GE allowed his team to design parts for the new car more efficiently, and use software to solve complex geometries that can make the car go faster.

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One of the F1 pilots testing the new car is Caterham’s reserve driver Alexander Rossi. Rossi, 22, is the only American with a “superlicense,” the document that allows him to drive Formula 1 cars during race weekends. “There is no past experience to fall back on,” Rossi told GE Reports  about the redesign. “Everybody is starting with a blank slate.”

Dason-Barber believes that the new engine and the fuel limit will change how teams race. “You’ll have to manage your energy release and recovery,” he says. “It will be all about pacing and optimization.”

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