By Edward Green, principle digital architect, McLaren Racing
No sport in the world is more technologically advanced or technologically dependent than Formula 1 car racing. The lightweight carbon fiber cars that our McLaren Racing team run on boast powerful engines that can generate more than 1,000 horsepower, pushing them at speeds up to 223 mph (359 kph) in the straights.
At such high speeds, the aerodynamics of our race cars are the most critical factors to race performance. That’s why it’s so important to optimize our cars and minimize turbulence wherever we can through innovative design. Our most important tool for doing so is our high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure from Dell Technologies.
“At McLaren Racing, we believe that if we’re not innovating, we’re going backwards.”
–Edward Green, principle digital architect, McLaren Racing
We use HPC to conduct complex computational fluid dynamics (CFD) studies on the airflows around the digital twin of a proposed part before deciding whether to test it with rapid prototyping with 3D printers ready for wind-tunnel testing. In other words, we have the ability to test a part under widely variable conditions before it actually exists, which saves valuable time and expense.
Gaining the Edge at the Edge
Our McLaren Racing drivers—Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo for 2021—have much in common with aircraft test pilots. Strapped in their cars’ cockpits and facing a track with 6.5 g’s in turns (astronauts experience only 3 g’s at takeoff), they can sense how small aerodynamic improvements can add up to big competitive advantages.
Our drivers know that with these innovative design improvements, they can potentially gain a split-second advantage when racing wheel-to-wheel against other teams’ drivers. That edge can translate into a podium finish and points toward the Formula 1 World Championship.
During racing season, each of our car’s 75,000-plus components are so often changed to improve overall car performance that the cars are effectively in a state of continuous rapid prototyping. In fact, to keep McLaren Racing competitive throughout each year’s Formula 1 race series, we upgrade about 80 percent of the parts in each of our two race cars by the end of the season.
“We upgrade about 80 percent of the parts in each of our two race cars by the end of the season.”
This continuous improvement requires us to use real-time, historical data from our cars, which are fast-moving edge devices that generate thousands of data points per second when running on a track. We also employ many digital twin simulation technologies – virtual representations of real-life processes – most of which operate on secure Dell Technologies hardware. We’re strategic partners, with our engineering and IT teams working closely on many different levels and, more importantly, learning from each other.
Meeting Challenges With Speed and Efficiency
For McLaren Racing, the new limits on spending and wind-tunnel testing, which Formula 1’s governing body enacted this year, has focused our attention on two things: One, we have to wring as much innovation value from our budget as possible; two, we must be extremely fast and efficient in using our time and resources. This is especially true regarding the expertise of our engineers, who we consider to be among the world’s most talented. It’s why we want to be sure they have the latest, most powerful tools available.
With the 2021 season on the horizon, we knew that to help our team of engineers, we had to upgrade our HPC infrastructure for CFD aerodynamics testing and stress analysis as well as redevelop our trackside IT infrastructure. But setting up a next-generation HPC system isn’t a simple task of swapping out old servers for new ones. In Formula 1 racing, it’s often said that the off-track race is every bit as intense as the race on the track and that was the case with our HPC upgrade.
With a great deal of ingenuity and a big hand from Dell Technologies, we staged, stood up and fully commissioned our new HPC infrastructures plus a new and secure mobile trackside IT package in just three weeks. Normally, building just one HPC system can take six to nine months. And we saved millions to invest in other data-driven innovation efforts.
At McLaren Racing, we believe that if we’re not innovating, we’re going backwards. Together with Dell Technologies, we’re clearly moving forward and doing all we can to do so faster than our competition.