Discussions to ban F1 wind tunnels
By Mat Coch
Friday 28th May, 2021 - 2:47pm
Formula 1 could outlaw the use of wind tunnels in the coming seasons as it looks to further reduce costs.
Discussions among teams have centred on banning wind tunnels from 2030 in favour of computational fluid dynamics (CFD).
Teams are already limited in terms of the time they’re allowed to spend in the wind tunnel, where they’re restricted to 60 percent scale models.
But while once a fundamental part of car development, these days they comprise just one aspect and are used as much for validation as development.
Workflows now include CFD, wind tunnel time, testing in the simulator, and real-world testing.
The correlation between those aspects is critical to teams’ understanding and is often cited as the reason for certain struggles.
That development cycle is, however, expensive, especially with regards to the wind tunnel.
There are also environmental considerations as F1 looks to become more sustainable – wind tunnels require a significant amount of power to drive them.
As such, they’re currently on the chopping block.
“Banning the wind tunnel has been discussed for 2030,” confirmed Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto.
“I think that all the teams somehow are open to the discussion or open somehow to accept it eventually, because it’s a long time from now.
“But are we today ready to ban wind tunnels? Not at all.
“In terms of cost reductions, we are already reducing at the moment the hours at the wind tunnel, which is a step in the right direction,” he added.
“Banning it completely, if you would do it today, the testing would be on track and that will be even more expensive rather than doing it at the wind tunnel.”
Alpine is also supportive of the idea from a cost perspective.
“If it helps curbing the cost usually it’s a good measure,” said the French manufacturer’s CEO, Laurent Rossi.
“It remains to be seen what the CFD to track reliability is and I think we’re not there yet, to the point that we can just get rid of the wind tunnel altogether.
“At some point, we might phase it out with progressive simulations and all but in the meantime, we will probably rely on the measures that are in place.”
The notion of banning wind tunnels is one that was raised by Red Bull’s Christian Horner, whose team in the short term looks set to increase costs with the addition of the Red Bull Powertrains operation.
“It was a topic I pulled up a few months ago to, say, take a longer term view,” Horner explained.
“A wind tunnel isn’t particularly efficient. It’s not very environmentally friendly.
“With the world evolving in simulation, the tools, the way that CFD is evolving so rapidly…
“For example, the [Aston Martin] Valkyrie was developed, and never went in a wind tunnel once during its whole development phase.
“I think that if you take a 10-year view on it, so it’s far enough out, that these effectively dinosaurs of machinery, the heavily consuming electricity and power, become a thing of the past.
“Formula 1 should be the cutting edge of technology, we’re seeing more and more investment from the tech sector, so why not be the showcase for that tech?”
McLaren is onboard with the move, despite work currently underway to bring a brand-new wind tunnel online.
“I fully agree with Christian,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl.
“It’s sort of something we supported, it’s just important to have a good medium- to long-term timeline there in place with a glide path of introducing this.”
While fundamentally in favour of the idea, Williams’ Jost Capito suggests there’s far more work that needs to go in if the ban is to have the desired effect.
“We have to look forward. Sustainability for sure is very important for all of us, but it’s more than just wind tunnels,” he reasoned.
“Computing needs a lot of energy as well, so we have to look at all the details and then come up with a well thought [out] and agreeable position on that.
“In the moment, I think we all use wind tunnels, and it’s all still a very important tool.
“We also run more efficient because the wind tunnel time is reduced.
“For us, I can say we run very efficient, but the future will be definitely different, but how the future looks like I think it’s too early to say.”
Red Bull and AlphaTauri share a wind tunnel, while Ferrari has its own unit.
Sauber’s (Alfa Romeo) is widely regarded as one of the better tunnels in F1, while Alpine had issues with its over the winter, contributing to its slow start to 2021.
Other teams lease time in facilities, Toyota’s tunnel in Cologne particularly popular.