Traditionally, High Performance Computing (HPC) has been found in quiet academic institutions where engineers use supercomputers to research and help find new discoveries. But over the past few years, the hot and noisy world of Formula One has also recognized the benefits of HPC.

Formula One (F1) cars are the fastest circuit-racing cars in the world. At speeds of up to 220mph, the engineers’ mission is to continually innovate around ideas that maximize downforce while minimizing drag. Downforce is critical as it pushes the tires down onto the track, which enables control of the vehicle and speed while taking turns. Drag is the aerodynamic force slowing the car down on the straightaways.

Each year, the F1 regulatory body launches new rules designed to slow the cars down, thus challenging the engineers to find new ways to speed the cars up. With heavy regulations around engines and tires, the key variable for performance improvement in the car becomes aerodynamics.

Just a few years ago, F1 teams relied exclusively on physical testing of scale models in wind tunnels to evaluate new ideas. These physical tests are expensive and time consuming, so only a small number of ideas could be evaluated. Today, each team in F1 runs virtual testing as well as physical wind tunnel testing. Teams such as Team Lotus, who uses Dell HPC solutions, run Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) as a “wind tunnel in a computer.” The car is covered with ‘mesh’ – imagine a fishing net with thousands of tiny triangles covering every surface of the vehicle that is exposed to airflow. When testing parts in this way, CFD allows the team to monitor every aspect of the airflow within every single one of these triangles, thus constructing a picture of how effective various parts are and how they can be improved. The high performance computer will produce several billion calculations on any area of the car the team wants to test in order to help them identify potential problems and solutions.

HPC technology enables F1 engineers to test hundreds of ideas virtually, and select those that perform well for physical testing, saving F1 teams both time and money. Its importance has been recognized with new regulations that limit F1 teams to 20 teraflops of compute power.

HPC solutions have transformed the competitive landscape of Formula One racing. Which industry is next?

NOTE: Images taken from video: Team Lotus Taps Into Dell HPC for High Performance Racing