Saudi researchers partner with McLaren Racing to power F1 car

JEDDAH: As the second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix kicks off from the starting line under the skies of Jeddah on Sunday night, a select group of local students will have their eyes firmly on the orange McLaren cars of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

The duo may not have gotten off to the best of starts at last week’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but as they look to return to the form that saw them finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship last year, they will be able to count on with the support of students from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah.

Since 2018, KAUST and McLaren Racing have partnered to develop research and development projects with a long-term focus on improving on-track performance and, more importantly, developing and promoting team sustainability and diversity through STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. .

“It’s a partnership focused on science and technology, because that’s what KAUST is all about,” said the university’s vice president for research, Professor Donal Bradley. “This is an opportunity on the KAUST side, to work in an extreme environment.”

“Formula One racing takes things to the extreme, takes the engineering challenges to the extreme,” he said. “So as a research-focused university, having access to extreme environments is exciting and provides a great opportunity to do new things to really challenge yourself as to whether you’re able to provide useful information and understanding.

“We work in other extreme environments, so (there are) extreme environments in the Red Sea, for example. So, you know, the heat and the salinity and the depths of the ocean produce some very interesting problems to look at, in the context of the Red Sea.”

While the professor modestly downplays the role he and his research team have played in McLaren’s successes on the track, his work has certainly improved every aspect of the racing car.

“Partnering with McLaren gives us very interesting challenges to look at, from the perspective of engines, powertrains, aerodynamics and understanding what limits a car’s performance,” said Bradley, who joined KAUST in April 2019. “We have several areas where we collaborate and the initial collaboration focused on fuel formulations.”

Currently, Formula 1 regulations predetermine the fuel teams can use in their cars, although Bradley says different “formulations” are possible in the future.

“If you want to optimize fuel economy, you have to be able to measure things inside a Formula One engine, you have to be able to measure what’s going on in that environment, and what are the key components, the key parameters that do that. the engine runs efficiently,” he said.

“So one of the things that we have (at) KAUST is what we call our Clean Combustion Research Center, (which is) focused on many different aspects of combustion engines, fuels, flames and the like. And so working with McLaren provides an environment and opportunity to look at some very different parameter spaces to really test our knowledge of fuels, engines and how they all work.”

In addition to fuel efficiency, KAUST’s collaboration with McLaren focuses on two other main areas, one of which is aerodynamics.

“Look at computational fluid dynamics simulations of the whole car, but also of the different elements of the car. And so we have very strong facilities to do those studies,” Bradley said. “We have a supercomputer, we also have great teachers working in that area.”

Bradley points out that Formula 1’s rule changes this year have seen a lot of innovation in the car’s aerodynamics, particularly around the wing mirrors and the side pods that support those wing mirror systems.

“And then the third area, there are extreme forces exerted on the car when it hurtles around a Formula 1 track,” he added. “Being able to feel and measure those forces, without adding a lot of weight or complexity to the car, is another important component of car design and design verification. So we’ve also worked with McLaren, on some of the sensing technologies, sensor elements, on particular parts of the car that can help you understand how it’s performing.”

McLaren Racing engineer and spokesman Emel Cankaya says research into computational fluid dynamics (the analysis of fluid flows using numerical solution methods) and other parameters and conditions can develop capabilities to measure and simulate extreme conditions. of Formula 1.

“Even in the formative stages of our relationship, researchers at the KAUST Clean Combustion Research Center were developing fundamental experimental and numerical capabilities that can be easily applied to Formula 1 cars.”

The results can also be applied in other fields and industries.

“This type of work inspires innovation that can be used in many other important applications for Saudi Arabia and also internationally,” said Cankaya. “The Clean Combustion Research Center creates sustainable mobility solutions for the future. And this is aligned with our values ​​in creating a more sustainable society.”

“Sustainability is a big topic now, not just at McLaren, but in Formula 1 in general,” he added. “The partnership also opens the doors to talent development for graduate students in research, internships, engineering, forums and other opportunities to further knowledge by collaborating with our team.”

As part of the partnership, McLaren has hosted KAUST students on Formula 1 circuits, trips designed to inspire them to forge their own careers.

“We are also connected to KAUST through our Extreme E gateway,” Cankaya said, referring to the all-electric SUV rally series that took place twice in Saudi Arabia. “Extreme E has expanded its scientific committee with the appointment of KAUST Distinguished Professor Carlos Duarte, one of the world’s foremost minds on marine ecosystems. That is very important to us. And Extreme E raises awareness of the climate issues we face.”

Ahead of the Saudi Grand Prix, KAUST students and faculty were invited to meet Ricciardo, and the McLaren Racing driver wanted to know the background of the partnership and inquired about their ongoing research and development projects, one of which focuses on the development of biofuels. Meanwhile, KAUST visitors took a tour of the garage and paddock.

Cankaya also highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion that have been part of the partnership with KAUST from the beginning.

“I think it’s important to know that we’re really working on diversity,” she said. “We have a program called McLaren Engage, which is focused on attracting people, not just white men, for example, because it is a male-dominated (industry) as you know, interested in sports and trying to hire such a diverse certified workforce. That’s what we already do, and we’re doing it with KAUST as well. We are very happy to be able to do this because I think personally it is very important to have different people from different backgrounds, because that only enriches the company.”

Bradley also believes that it is vital to forge ties in communities to increase interest in STEM, and Formula 1, and KAUST has established programs that engage students in local communities.

“In terms of widening the appeal of Formula 1 in the world, these kinds of opportunities, for people to see it first-hand, are very important,” he said. “I guess every elite sport, because it’s elite, sometimes it means a lot of people never get (a) chance to have that interaction.”

“You know, not everyone is going to the race track, not everyone is going to be glued to their TV on a Sunday to watch Formula One,” Bradley said. “But if you’re around when McLaren comes to visit, and your school takes you to an event and you see people and you can talk to them and ask them questions, I’m sure it helps broaden the appeal. and bring different new people to an appreciation of that as an exciting sport.”

As the sport strives to become more sustainable, Bradley says Formula 1’s search for solutions, through partnerships such as McLaren’s with KAUST, provides “a good message” for the future.

“The whole area of ​​sustainability, the whole need that we collectively have to change the way we do things to ensure that the planet remains a friendly place to live for future generations, permeates all the things that we are really trying to do. . ,” he said. “And you know, that’s a very clear message from McLaren that they’re also looking at green ways to continue the sport. Obviously, you want it to remain exciting, you want it to be challenging, you want it to be something that people are excited about and want to get involved in.”

“And I think, you know, there are a lot of ways that you can push that agenda forward,” he said. “It is very good for us as an institution to face some of those challenges. We are working on many different aspects of climate change, the circular carbon economy, sustainability issues, in general terms. The challenge of Formula 1 also pushes us to generate new ideas”.