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The value of innovation

The first organised motorsport event was a 126km Reliability Trial that was run from Paris to Rouen in 1894. It was organised by Le Petite Journal, a French newspaper, and the winning ‘horse-less carriage’ had to be ‘safe, easily controllable and reasonably economical to run.’ Twenty-one entries left Paris on 22 July, and the first home was Count de Dion in a steam driven De Dion tractor. Unfortunately for him, the jury decided that his car was not a practical road vehicle and instead awarded the prize jointly to the next two leading cars, a Panhard-Levassor and a Peugeot. The average speed of the winning car was just 16km/h. The story of motor racing over the next 100 years is a great example of the sequential development of technology for a single purpose. From the first ever purpose built racing cars of the early 1900s, through the development of engines, chassis, tyres, aerodynamics and control systems, engineers have been at the heart of technological advancements throughout. By comparison with the Paris to Rouen race, a modern F1 racing car reaches speeds of up to 360 km/h, more than 20 times that of this first ever run. Modern aerodynamics have been tuned to provide a downforce of 2.5 times the weight of the car at full speed and provided that the car is travelling faster than 160km/h, it will theoretically carry its own weight upside-down. Engines weigh only 90kg, they can generate 900bhp at 19 000rpm and at full throttle, an F1 fuel pump delivers petrol faster than water flows out of your kitchen tap. Each car carries about 1.5km of wiring that pulls data from approximately 120 sensors that are located around the body of the car, each providing essential information about performance, orientation or load that is communicated back to the pit crew by on-board telemetry. The software that manages the on-board systems is contained in about half a million lines of code, it manages around 3000 gear changes in an average Monaco Grand Prix and if it mis-times a single gear change by only a fraction of a second then the gear box will disintegrate. There can be no doubting the speed of development that is forced upon a Formula 1 team. Fierce competition and numerous and changing regulations necessitate new design approaches in order to gain the few milliseconds that can separate winners from losers. With top teams such as McLaren-Mercedes budgeting around $500 million for a single season, the stakes are high and in this same period, a group of engineers will be expected to make significant step-changes in technology, set-up and strategy in order to find and maintain some form of ongoing competitive advantage. Ron Dennis, Chairman and CEO of TAG McLaren Group, summarises ‘F1 is all about speed,: not just speed on the track but also speed of development. That, in turn, mostly equates to speed of calculation. The faster the engineers can get their calculations done, especially with regard to the complexities involved in 3D v

Author(s): Westbury, Paul S

Keywords: innovations;business;structural engineering;case studies