Dream team

Williams wants access to more technologies in a bid to regain the F1 driver’s championship, and Qinetiq is keen to see its systems perform in Grands Prix.

It could almost have started with a lonely hearts ad. ‘Ambitious UK Formula One team WLTM heavyweight partner to share technology. Must have own centrifuge. Can offer plenty of excitement at glamorous international events in return.’

The recently-signed technology partnership between UK research giant Qinetiq and the Williams F1 team may not amount to a full-blown romance, but there is no doubt that both sides are serious about making it work.

The presence of legendary team boss Sir Frank Williams, his engineering director Patrick Head and Qinetiq’s chief executive Sir John Chisholm, to brief The Engineer on the arrangement, is proof of how serious both sides are.

Both parties expect to benefit, with Williams gaining access to a wider pool of technology and research facilities in its bid to win the driver’s championship for the first time since 1997. Qinetiq will be able to see its systems perform in the demanding arena of the Grand Prix circuit.

The agreement covers three core areas — materials science, predictive aerodynamic disciplines and GPS technology for data acquisition.

Access to Qinetiq’s facilities could also help Williams in less obvious areas such as driver physiology. More F1 races are being held in hot countries, such as Bahrain and Istanbul. The ambient temperature at the former reached 43ºC, while the track registered 60ºC. Add to that three layers of flameproof underwear and a heart rate that hits 140 for the duration of the race, and the old adage that racing drivers have more in common with fighter pilots than the average motorist makes sense.

Qinetiq has an established centre for training military pilots for the pressure of working under intense physical and mental stress, and Williams confirmed that its drivers will be paying a visit soon.

This could involve being thrown around in Qinetiq’s human centrifuge, or experiencing temperature extremes in the company’s thermal chambers, which prepared Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud for their trip to the Arctic.

According to Head, such details can matter enormously in giving a racing team an extra edge. ‘We recognise that just as much as applying technology to make our cars quicker, if we can do something which has the driver operating closer to his potential for the length of the race that will bring benefit,’ he said.

On Qinetiq’s side, Chisholm said the high stakes, fast-paced nature of F1 could bring unique opportunities.

‘Everything we currently do spins out of defence and aerospace technology, where you are solving very difficult problems, but for application over a long period of time,’ he said.

‘One of the attractions of motor racing is that it gives you a chance to pull that technology through very rapidly, test it and get some quick feedback. The great thing about Grand Prix teams is they learn whether they are successful — every week.’

The chance to integrate new technologies such as materials more associated with the aerospace industry into an industry that is well used to implementing new ideas rapidly is clearly important to Chisholm, who has often bemoaned the lack of early technology adopters in the UK. He contrasted this with the situation in the US.

‘The great thing that benefits US companies is a more vigorous environment of early adopters. People to whom you can go that are prepared to pick up technology early,’ said Chisholm, who pointed to the US government’s role via programmes with the likes of NASA and the Department of Defence.

But does the link with F1 take Qinetiq into new areas beyond its defence and aerospace heartlands?

‘It wouldn’t be right for us to say we are looking more towards the automotive industry,’ said Chisholm.

‘This partnership with Williams has very specific characteristics for stimulating our engineers and scientists to try out technologies and come up with interesting new ideas and get rapid feedback as to whether they are going to work. But the core of our business will be the areas where technology is most relevant and important — aerospace and defence security.’

For Williams, access to Qinetiq’s extensive portfolio of technologies is hopefully another step towards its ultimate goal — victory on the track. Head explained that Williams does not have the breadth of resources available to carry out research in-house at the level it needs.

‘Essentially we are an applications company, but because our application is very specific we have to support that with a certain amount of research and development,’ he said.

‘And let’s say the development is very strong, with the research side being weaker. To strengthen that research we have to go out and look for supporting technologies and preferably work with companies to help those technologies become an application to make our car faster and more reliable.’

The team cemented its relationship with another key partner last month when it signed an engine deal with the UK’s Cosworth.

For a motor racing team, technical success is a matter not just of pride, but of survival. If your car is not performing on the track you risk losing more than just your position on the table. It is imperative that you are seen to be competing with your rivals, otherwise financial backing can easily disappear.

‘Williams is solely a racing company, and our raison d’être is to win races and championships,’ said Head. ‘We need to do that because we are independent, and if we suddenly don’t do very well and people are not willing to invest in us thinking they will not get good exposure for their products, it can be difficult to come back.

‘Even though we have won many points and races, we haven’t won a championship since 1997, and for us that is too long. We have got to work out how to put that right, and the Qinetiq association is part of that process.’

But such is the nature of F1, success can be achieved rapidly if the right buttons are pressed. Head highlighted McLaren, a team Williams has beaten in the last three championships, but which has turned things around this season. At the time of writing, McLaren was second in the constructors’ championship, just nine points behind leader Renault and 35 points ahead of Ferrari. Williams meanwhile, languished in fifth, with its two drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber, placed ninth and tenth in the drivers’ championship.

McLaren is a particularly interesting example for the Williams man to offer. That team has a technology partner of its own, BAE Systems, in what could be seen as a precedent for the Williams/Qinetiq link-up.

But would Williams be seeking out this partnership with Qinetiq if it was already competing successfully with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Renault?

Head was emphatic in his reply. ‘I think it is always necessary. When you are winning is actually the time when you want to be looking closest at whether you are investing in new ideas, and the time when you should be most nervous.’

Materials

The Williams/Qinetiq link in materials technology will cover areas including metals, ceramics, polymeric materials and composites. A key area identified by Qinetiq will be related to aircraft structural components, where it believes its work in investigating failure and defects will have real benefits in an F1 environment.

Dr Andrew Treen, Qinetiq’s materials and energy business development director, explained that failure analysis was a major component of the group’s work with the MoD, and said predictive failure would be a more beneficial approach for Williams than an inflexible maintenance schedule.

According to Treen, the rapid requirements of the military closely mirror the demands of an F1 season. ‘In military work we often receive very short notice for a single order, which can develop into a significantly larger one,’ he said. ‘Find out any problem in design or technology, and get maybe an hour’s turnaround. That kind of immediacy is a good thing for F1. If something goes wrong in one race, it can be rectified for the next one.’

Composite fabrication is another facet of Qinetiq’s materials work which has applications in F1. Treen said there was the possibility of embedding sensors and actuators into the structure, which would serve to act as a sensor network. ‘While previous efforts have incorporated wires, a system embedded into the car’s structure is far more practical,’ he claimed.

From a commercial perspective, Treen added that advertisers have shown interest in this for the application of lighting up their logos from the inside of the car.

Qinetiq has also been working on transparent composites. F1 engineers looking to extract more speed from the car are aiming to increase the number of wing blades. Although placing more wings on the vehicle would block advertiser’s messages, the problem could be eliminated by using transparent composites.

And in the light of races in Bahrain and Istanbul, materials which improve thermal management would benefit Williams. With Qinetiq’s heat-resistant coating, the temperature of the car could be 10–15 º C less than under conventional coatings.

GPS

GPS FOR DATA acquisition technology could provide Williams with an advantage over conventional satellite positioning, according to Qinetiq. The research group has developed through its military and aerospace work a system that is accurate to within 10cm and an attitude accuracy of 0.05 º.

Mark Westwood, group leader of commercial telematics at Qinetiq, said its GPS technology has grown out of work with the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the MoD in radar and tracking systems. The technology was most recently seen during the world’s first automatic landing of the STOVL aircraft.

Williams needs to measure where its car is and how it is performing during testing. It also needs to be able to assess and understand why one driver is quicker through a particular corner than another. While the team could use a camera on a bend to compare racing lines of particular drivers, this is retrospective. The key is to access the information immediately.

With conventional systems, urban areas are problematic in obtaining a good GPS fix. The technology works well for fast jets and helicopters, but the challenge in F1 is the visibility for the satellite. Bridges, grandstands and the dynamics created as a result of the high G-forces encountered all impact on its performance.

To counter this, Qinetiq will supply Williams with a combination of GPS with inertial sensors, as used in an aerospace environment. ‘Inertial sensors give you a fantastic ability to bridge outages,’ said Westwood. ‘So if your GPS drops out for a few seconds, you can use the accelerometers and gyroscopes, so it can propagate a solution on to a point in time when the GPS comes back.’

Clearly Williams would not want a system on its car that works only 75 per cent of the time. And there is potential to use this technology during the race itself, which Westwood acknowledged had created a buzz among Qinetiq engineers.

‘People are excited that their technology is going to be put on a Williams F1 car,’ he said.

Located on the car will be an inertial measuring unit which combines accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS receiver and antenna. This leads into software posted into an in-car processor, which is able to output to whatever data logging system Williams is using.

Westwood explained that while this might seem an obvious technique, it only works if GPS and inertial sensors can be successfully integrated. ‘It is a fairly specialist application and few people have either experience of, or done it,’ he said.

As well as materials science and GPS, Qinetiq will offer Williams predictive aerodynamic disciplines, which will take work carried out for aircraft design — such as multi-disciplinary design optimisation (MDO) processes — and provide the team with aerodynamic research. A car’s profile, for example, could be digitised and run through a software package called CODAS, (constrained optimisation design and aerodynamic shapes). This is linked to a CFD package to ensure the car is at its aerodynamic peak.