RF1 makes swift calculations

THE RenaultFormula One (RF1) team has revealed details of how it will use one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in a bid to give its car designers a winning edge for the 2009 season.

The Renault Formula One (RF1) team has revealed details of how it will use one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in a bid to give its car designers a winning edge for the 2009 season.

Set up with support from industrial partners Appro and Boeing, RF1 unveiled its Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) capability at its UK base in Enstone, Oxfordshire.

The £10m centre (pictured below and throughout)  is one of the most advanced CFD facilities in Formula One (F1) and is expected to provide major spin-off benefits to industries including aerospace and defence.

CFD is a modelling approach that uses numerical methods to analyse fluid flow around an object, typically one that is required to be aerodynamic. The equations needed to model the flow around an F1 car are complex and require the use of a supercomputer, provided by US high-performance computing specialist Appro.

In keeping with the company’s French roots, the RF1 team named the Xtreme-X2 supercomputer Mistral, after the strong wind that sweeps across France.

Mistral is one of the most powerful systems dedicated to a single application anywhere in the world, according to RF1. Mistral effectively creates a virtual wind tunnel in which the team can test aerodynamic designs.

The system embodies over 500 computer nodes that hold dual socket AMD Quad-core processors. Each node provides eight processing cores and 16GBytes of memory. The entire system has in excess of 4,000 cores and 8TBytes of memory. Stretching to 52m, Mistral has the same power as 1,000 high-performance PCs and can perform 38 trillion calculations per second.

The supercomputer is housed in RF1’s new 1025m2 underground CFD facility in rural Oxfordshire. The unconventional subterranean location is beneficial to Mistral’s performance. Graeme Hackland, IT manager for RF1, said: ‘The major problems that most of the supercomputers in the world have are power and cooling, so we really focused on that. Putting the building underground helps us with cooling as it’s a fairly constant temperature.’

In its early outings, Mistral has already proved significant in the late stages of brake duct development for the R28 model and will play an even more crucial role in creating the R29 in accordance to F1 technical regulation changes for 2009. These changes will include the most stringent set of aerodynamic regulations in F1 history. Nearly everything, from the front and rear wings, the diffuser, floor and bodywork, will be affected.

The technology can also prove beneficial to teams investigating a competitor’s aerodynamic developments. An example of this is the forward chassis winglet design that appeared on a number of F1 cars throughout the 2008 season. Renault used CFD to investigate its benefits before testing it in the wind tunnel, providing huge benefits to R28. In the development of R29, RF1 hopes Mistral’s increased capacity will allow its engineers to perform a larger number of full and half-car simulations in preparation for 2009’s technical challenges.

Dirk de Beer, head of aerodynamics at RF1, said: ‘The cars have become more interactive front to back, which is an extremely difficult process to do via a simple experiment. If you change something from the front it will have an impact on the rear. The only way to make that effective is to understand what the impact might be.

‘The wind tunnel is very good at running through a significant number of different configurations very quickly. The problem is that, although you find out whether a product has worked, it is very difficult to get an understanding of why it is better or why it is worse than the other part.

‘This is where CFD helps a lot. Previously, development aid came from experience we had on what worked on the old regulations. We’ve had to start from afresh and it helps if you can visualise and get an understanding of the flow field. It’s a huge advantage over teams who don’t have CFD and we’ve certainly seen the benefits.’

Mistral is expected to increase the CFD capability of the group at one-quarter of the cost of a wind tunnel. The Renault F1 team have reduced full car simulation turnaround time by a factor of three, and increased CFD computational output by a factor of 20.

Bob Bell, technical director of the team, said: ‘This is a facility that allows our partners to work with us and develop techniques and methodologies that will be of benefit to the broader technical community. That ranges from the Renault-Nissan Alliance, right the way through to working with Boeing to improve the quality of its simulation tools, which will feed directly into its aircraft programs.’

Boeing and RF1 are working together in developing a CFD code that will benefit both industries. Pete Hoffman, director of Boeing’s Phantom Works Research and Development division, believes that F1 represents a highly effective platform to drive forward advances in this field.

Hoffman said: ‘The joint Boeing/RF1 team has improved the efficiency of Boeing’s CFD software in large part due to the massive size of the RF1 full car model. The size of these car models required refinement of the Boeing CFD software that has resulted in faster run times on Boeing projects. Faster run times allow more iterations and improved designs.

‘There are many similarities in the technologies required to develop world-class racing cars and aerospace products. Boeing and RF1 are keen to learn from our respective industry experience so that we can incorporate this knowledge into our overall company efforts to become more lean and efficient.’

Ellie Zolfagharifard