We chatted with Matteo Lombardi, a young Scuderia AlphaTauri engineer and CFD Methodology Team Leader, within the Aerodynamics Department. Matteo joined our team in 2012 after a short stint at Renault F1, following on from completing a Doctorate in CFD research on sailing boats, with the America’s Cup Alinghi Team.
Matteo, please explain what your team does?
It deals with optimising the car’s aerodynamics, that being one of most important aspects of a modern Formula 1 car’s performance. Our aim is mainly in developing new geometries so as to constantly improve the car’s aerodynamics. Once the design phase is completed with CAD, the aero engineer has two choices to validate the effectiveness of a suggested solution: he can ask for the part to be tested in the wind tunnel or carry out a simulation using CFD, Computational Fluid Dynamics, sometimes jokingly referred to as Coloured Fluid Dynamics, because of the beautiful coloured images it creates. Through mathematical models it’s possible to model the aerodynamic flow around the car and therefore predict the performance of the new geometry. CFD is therefore a tool that is constantly evolving. With increasingly complex models and ever more powerful computing clusters, accuracy and efficiency has increased exponentially in recent years. Despite this and it will probably be the case for many years to come, CFD is not yet a complete substitute for wind tunnel analysis and one must consider the strengths and shortcomings of both these methods.
My team manages all the CFD workflow, trying to always be at the cutting edge of this technology. More accurate simulations that correlate better with the track mean aerodynamicists can get a better understanding of the flow around the car and can then design parts that increase downforce with a minimum of drag.
Maximum downforce, minimum drag, please explain?
Downforce is what pushes the car into the ground and the higher this force, the higher the speed at which a car can take a corner up to the moment of losing grip. Whereas drag is the force that operates against forward motion: for a given amount of throttle application, the lower the drag, the greater the car’s acceleration. The aim with every race car is to maximise aerodynamic downforce and at the same time, minimise the resistance to forward motion or drag.
Therefore, it’s important to understand how drag and downforce are correlated. In general, it’s easy to increase both, but our job is to increase one and reduce the other. Circuits can have different aerodynamic requirements, for example Monaco needs maximum downforce and Monza the minimum, but the golden rule is always the same: maximum downforce/minimum drag. When a car is in another’s slipstream its drag is reduced and the following car can reach a greater top speed. However, at the same time, its downforce is reduced, so that while one can get close to another car down the straight, it is hard to stick with it through the corners. The 2022 rules have been drawn up specifically to manage this problem and thus lead to closer battles.
How will Formula 1 aerodynamics change with the introduction of the 2022 regulations?
As from next year, the FIA regulations completely change the aero shape of the car. The aim is to reduce as much as possible the loss of aerodynamic downforce when it is slipstreaming another car. This will allow the following car to get closer to the one in front and stay there even in the twistier parts of a race track, which will make overtaking easier and allow for closer battles.
To achieve this, the rules looked at two areas:
1) ensuring that the wake from an F1 car is pushed upwards more quickly, so that it can “jump” the following car, thus reducing the loss of downforce.
2) Increasing the percentage of downforce generated by the car’s floor so as to be less affected by the slipstream.
The boxes (the design constraints established by the FIA) have been completely changed compared to the current ones, so every team has been able to start practically from a clean sheet of paper and it will be very interesting to see the different solutions that each team has come up with when we get to the pre-season testing for 2022.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? And what is the most satisfying thing about it?
As one can expect with a Formula 1 team, everything has to be done extremely quickly and the deadlines are very tight, definitely more so than in normal automotive or aeronautic companies. Apart from the deadlines, the biggest challenge for my group is to constantly improve the correlation between the CFD models and the results from the wind tunnel and track. To reach our goals one must have a clear understanding of the limitations of the wind tunnel and the race track. The wind tunnel uses a scale model which produces structural deformation different to that of the real car, especially the wheels. Furthermore, it cannot simulate a car’s behaviour through the corners. On the other hand, it has the advantage of offering a controlled and repeatable test environment. Then, on the track, only certain parameters can be measured and measurement errors can be far from negligible. CFD is based on a simplified modelling of reality, from a purely geometric point of view, if you consider the deformation of various elements that cannot be reproduced exactly and mathematically, such as modelling turbulence. So this calls for continuous research and development, always trying to optimise this tool as much as possible.
As for the most satisfying aspect, it’s knowing that every improvement introduced contributes to the aerodynamic development of the car and therefore to better results on track.
Take us through a typical day’s work for your group.
Each day can be quite different, but they generally comprise these three elements:
- a quick chat with the various members of the group to be updated on the progress of the various projects and to discuss any critical issues or direction in which to work.
- reading emails to know what’s going on in the rest of the team
- Development of the projects assigned to us.
We have a series of weekly meetings when we plan the various objectives and projects, but I have to say we often get urgent last-minute requests and so we have to be flexible and try and prioritise everything in the right way.
You are one of the keenest players in the company’s 5-a-side football games and you are also a motorcyclist. How important is team building and sharing your hobbies with your colleagues? One of the big advantages of working for Scuderia AlphaTauri is that it has a young and enthusiastic working environment. And apart from operating at a very high technical level, we usually share hobbies and passions, often linked to motor sport. There’s an impressive group of motorcyclists and we often ride the beautiful roads between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany and, at least once year, we have a company karting race. Unfortunately for me, there are quite a few ex-kart racers among us so the podium is out of reach, but there’s a nice fight in the midfield, because we are all very competitive. That’s also the case in the company football games where, even if the level isn’t very high, the competitive spirit is always there. All these activities help everyone to get to know colleagues with whom you are not directly linked for work and it creates a nice working environment and strengthens the sense of belonging to a team.