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Formula 1 & FIA use Additive Manufacturing to build 50% scaled models to test their 2021 Car Regulations

Additive Manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing
Above: Formula One wind tunnel testing of 2021 car/Image Credit: Formula 1

Formula One (F1), the highest class of single-seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), are using additive manufacturing technologies to complete an unprecedented amount of research and development to make their vision for 2021 cars a reality. 

Every year the FIA issues updated regulations for the vehicles which the teams have to follow to compete in the global championship. The new rules for 2021 are now being tested and recently Formula one used prototype sports car models to test these regulations.

Additive Manufacturing
Above: 2021 car wind tunnel testing used 50% scaled models/Image Credit: Formula 1

The tests used 50% scaled models made through modern manufacturing methods like additive manufacturing. The wind tunnel tests were performed by an independent consultancy group from Sauber, a Swiss motorsport engineering company, under strict conditions of secrecy, for extensive testing. It was made sure that Sauber did not gained unfair advantage for their F1 team (Alfa Romeo Racing).

One of the main reasons to use Saubers wind tunnel is that it has a very good automatic rake system. The rake can measure the direction, the pressure and the velocity of the flow and so on, mainly the velocity components and the pressure”.

Above: First Look of F1 2021 car wind tunnel tests/Video Credit: Formula 1/YouTube

Formula one also released a video of the wind tunnel testing with the 50% scaled model installed with 18-inch tyres.

According to Pat Symonds, F1’s Chief Technical Officer, “50% is a good compromise in that we can still get a good level of detail on the model but we still have distance behind. It’s true teams have tended to go more to 60% these days.” 

Speaking about the tests, Symonds explained, “The wind tunnel testing we are doing is slightly different to what the teams might do. The teams concentrate solely on the forces on the car, through a variety of attitudes as they move the car around. While we naturally have an interest in what those forces are and particularly how those forces change as the car moves, we’re even more interested in what is happening to the turbulent air behind the car.”

“For that reason, although we are doing most of our development in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and that CFD is using some pretty advanced techniques which aren’t commonly used by the teams, we want to back up the virtual simulations with a physical simulation. We also chose to use a 50% model rather than a 60% model and we chose to run that model quite a long way forward in the wind tunnel, so this gave us the opportunity to best inspect the wake of the car.”

Since the 100% scaled cars were banned from testing few years ago, teams are using 60% scaled models but F1 & FIA opts to carry out tests with 50% scaled models.

According to Symonds, “It takes up less room in the tunnel and therefore it allows us to look, in terms of car lengths, further behind. If you imagine you have a full size car in there, you could only look at a tenth of a car when it is behind so 50% is a good compromise in that we can still get a good level of detail on the model but we still have distance behind. There are advantages to that, in modelling, but modern manufacturing techniques, particularly additive manufacturing and stuff like that allows you to make very accurate 50% models these days.”

One of the chief targets of the 2021 rules is to see more overtaking. To do this, there is a push to find a way to allow the cars to follow each other more closely, which is why there has been so much research into reducing the wake.

Additive Manufacturing in Formula One (F1)

Metal Additive Manufacturing
Above: Scuderia Ferrari F1 SF71H Race Car/Image Credit: Ferrari

In the recent past a lot of Formula one teams have partnered with 3D printing system manufacturers and service providers to bring on the expertise to build their new cars and to gain a technological advantage or to reduce the supply lead times, incorporate modifications faster in their cars, etc.

Some of such partnerships and collaborations were when Renault F1 team signed agreement with Jabil, a manufacturing solutions provider, to speed up the development and delivery of 3D printed racecar parts for the Renault R.S.19 competing in the 2019 Formula One World Championship.

SLA 3D printers
Above: Alfa Romeo F1 Race Car by Sauber Motorsport AG for which 3D Systems will be a promotional partner/Image Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

Sauber Motorsport AG also expanded its association with 3D Systems, one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world, to set the highest standards of innovation in the manufacture of race car parts by using the 3D printing technology.

Apart from this, McLaren has signed a four-year partnership with Stratasys in 2017, Ferrari announced that it uses Renishaw metal AM systems, and other similar collaborations are made by Williams & Sauber and other teams.


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