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I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity for a tour around Oxford Brookes University recently, specifically looking at their motor sport faulty.  The university has been running courses in motor sport for several decades and it was a useful opportunity to talk to the teaching staff and see the facilities that are available to the students.

I have certainly commented on this blog before about the lack of training opportunity for engineers wishing to progress to F1, due to virtually all the feeder single seater series being one make championships.  After hearing that the university (just one of several in the UK running motor sport engineering courses: BSc, BEng, MSc, MEng, Phd) had an employability record of over 90%, with graduates in every F1 team and over 50 ex students working at Enstone alone, I wondered how the training of the students compared with that of their predecessors who went through junior series rather than formal education.

A large part of the learning seemed to be available through the voluntary participation in the Formula Student team.  This is a competition entered by over 600 teams worldwide, where the teams have to design and construct their own racing car, before competing in a series of events.  There are a series of static and dynamic challenges that the team are assessed against:

Static events:

  • Design, Cost and Sustainability, and Business Presentation Judging;
  • Technical and Safety Scrutineering;
  • Tilt Test;
  • Brake and Noise Test.

Dynamic Events:

  • Skid Pan (Figure of 8);
  • Sprint;
  • Acceleration;
  • Endurance;
  • Fuel Economy.

With the team getting as much prestige for winning the static events as the dynamic events, this seems a really good way of developing the next generation of motor sport engineers.  It was pointed out that some of the better funded European teams have budgets of over €1Million, and as a result sub-contracted a lot of their component manufacture out to local suppliers.  At Oxford Brookes, they have considerably less funding available, so the students have to not only design the components, but build them as well.  As an example the uprights on last year’s car cost a total of £4.37 in materials (the student’s time and use of the machine shop is not factored in), where the top German team spent tens of thousands getting their uprights manufactured.  As a result the students not only learn how to design the components, but how easy their designs are to manufacture and maintain when in use.  Valuable lessons when parts need to be changed during a race weekend.

Impressively the students had access to several F1 cars (2003 BAR, 2001 Williams, 2009 Force India), a 1996 IndyCar(Reynard), a 1988 F3 Ralt and a recent F4 car.  These they could examine for ideas to help them understand the decisions their designers had made.

The students have access to a 3D printer and a small wind tunnel to develop the aerodynamics, a four post rig for suspension dynamics, and engine dynamometers for the engine design.  They have yet to invest in any hybrid engines, but have looked at all electric drive, and are working with Dallara to develop a feeder series for Formula E.  Formula Student competitions are held all over the world, as standalone events, the biggest in Europe is held in Germany, and their organisers have stated that from 2020 they will not be accepting any car with an internal combustion engine, so alternative power sources will need to be found.

If you get the chance, find out when the nearest Formula Student event is happening in your country and go along (20-23 July 2013 at Silverstone).  You may be impressed by the level of design put into these cars, and be able to talk to the star designers of the future.

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A long time fan of Formula 1 and grass roots motorsport, I am interested in the engineering aspects not only of F1 but the 'men in sheds' who develop homemade specials to take on the products of the big racing car manufacturers.
  • jakobusvdl

    Excellent article Dave,
    Formula Student is a fantastic competition and some of the uni’s have come up with some incredible cars.
    Our local Uni has been involved for the last four years, and I’ve been lucky to have some of the students who are on the formula student squad work with me over the summer breaks. F.S gives them some very marketable skills beyond the academic training.
    Canterbury Uni took the plunge and built an E.V last year, see the article below;
    http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/news-archive/archive-2016/main-news/uc-motorsport-team-in-electric-race-car-first.html
    Some of these kids could be the next Bruce McLaren!! ;-)

  • Salvu Borg

    I have followed formula SAE from around the world with interest for quite some time, but not the electric powered stuff.
    Although it is permitted formula SAE very rarely do teams make/build their own engines from scratch.
    The only two I know of and which I followed with interest (because the subject is part of my hobby) are the Western Washington university’s 554cc V8 entry in 2001 and the less elaborate Auckland’s university V twin of 2011.

  • A_Rae

    Engineers are becoming a thing of the past. We are glorified mathematicians, the only thing we do is know where to apply the appropriate mathematical principles and how to evaluate if the answer a computer provides is reasonable or not.

    It is only a matter of time until F1 goes the moneyball route that most sports are trending towards. Bean counting and statistical analysis are the keys to success.

    If a team developed algorithms to cross analyze projected weather and historical trends a probable temperature range could be surmised. Albedo and cloud cover could be analyzed to project track temperature. They could take the projected range and whack it up into certain temperature increments of both air and track temperature. Teams with resources, the top tier, could have a computer aerodynamically calculate the optimum front wing configuration for a certain temperature band and track temperature to give the optimum brake cooling, tire temperature and down force for a given track. They could produce 5-6 front wings and have 5-6 tire combinations/run sequences. The day of the race they plug in the actual track temperature, air temperature and wind speed/direction and a computer tells you to select front wing 5 and tire configuration 3, boom, done.

    The equations exist, combining them is not overly difficult.