How to build an F1 car Toyota style
28 June, 2009
The birth of the Panasonic Toyota TF109 F1 car began in October 2007, when the 2009 Formula 1 regulations were confirmed by the FIA. Those regulations marked a significant change, so Panasonic Toyota Racing wasted no time in getting to work on the TF109 – before the TF108 had even been built.
Senior General Manager Chassis Pascal Vasselon explains: “When you have a big regulation change as with this year, then there is little to learn from the previous car because the next one will be very different. The simulation work, to estimate all the consequences of the regulation change, has to start as soon as you know about the new rules.”
The first task is relatively straightforward – establish exactly what the new regulations allow – then engineers study the implications of the rules on various performance factors to build a picture of what is required from the new car.
Pascal adds: “You initiate the concept of a new car by first questioning the car concept in terms of tyre usage and aerodynamic potential. You enter the other phases of car design as soon as you are clear about what you want to achieve in these two main performance domains. That’s what allows you to set design targets for the suspension lay-out, then the gearbox lay-out, then the monocoque.”
The first design target is to establish the basic dimensions of the new car, particularly the wheelbase. Then, finalising the monocoque design is a fundamental step. The monocoque is the foundation stone upon which the rest of the car is built and layout is determined by factors such as engine and gearbox position, with these elements positioned to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
In the past, chassis and engine teams had to work closely to ensure specific deadlines for the new car were met. Now, with an engine development freeze, the power plant dimensions are already defined, freeing the engine department from time constraints
After the monocoque design is finalised, the challenge switches to establishing initial aerodynamic and mechanical concepts, then rapidly developing and expanding these ideas, aiming to get the maximum performance available within the regulations.
Head of Aerodynamics Mark Gillan explains: “The monocoque base design is fixed several months prior to the first track running of the new car, which allows for continuous development of all the other aerodynamic areas for bolt-on assemblies throughout the year. The monocoque is the longest lead time item for the complete car so it really is quite frozen.”
Panasonic Toyota Racing’s computational fluid dynamics systems and the wind tunnel are used to test, verify and fine-tune developments, constantly making gains. Pascal reveals: “Simulation helps to prioritise different concepts according to their impact on objective performance criteria.”
Such development also requires a clear vision to ensure each team member’s work compliments that of their colleagues. Mark says: “The aero department and chassis design department liaise on a daily basis discussing forthcoming aero releases, recent test results, parts priority for future events and then any operational issues.”
This process can be as long or as short as a team chooses, but if more time and energy can be committed, car performance will improve. That was a key motivation behind the team’s decision to begin the TF109 at such an early stage and the results have been rewarding, as Pascal says: “When you work on a new concept like this the steps you make at the beginning are inevitably quite big, so you reach the end of every day having found something significant.”
As the new car design reaches its final stages, manufacturing begins, with monocoque construction the first task. As the biggest single chassis element and a crucial safety device, this is a lengthy process. Director Supply and Support Malcolm Boote explains: “The busiest time for the people who make the parts which go into our cars begins as the race season draws to a close. The fastest we’ve ever made a brand new monocoque from scratch was 35 days in 2004. Could we do it now? Probably not as the current monocoque is now more complicated.”
At this stage, the aerodynamics and chassis department are working closely with the various testing departments and fabrication experts to ensure the latest parts are verified and produced in time for the first test; after all, the most effective designs are those which are actually on the car. The aim is to start pre-season testing with at least one complete new car, incorporating the latest proven developments; then a new journey begins.
“From roll-out configuration to round one the car is, apart from the monocoque, almost wholly different,” says Mark. “That changes throughout the season on a race by race basis.”
So, when the TF109 was unveiled to the world on 15 January, it represented the end of a 15-month odyssey for the committed and ambitious Panasonic Toyota Racing designers, engineers, fabricators and mechanics. But as that TF109 chapter closes, so another begins; one which will see the car developed relentlessly and one which will only end on 1 November when the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix brings the curtain down on the 2009 season.