Midland upgrading its wind tunnel facilities


MF1 Racing is embarking on a major project to upgrade its wind tunnel facilities in order to ensure that the team is ready for the build-up to 2008, when rule changes will put a premium on aerodynamic development.

The current tunnel was state-of-the-art when originally commissioned by Jordan Grand Prix, but such is the pace of progress in F1 that the time has come to take a step forward. Updating aero facilities is something that all teams have to undergo eventually, and while modifying an existing facility is not as difficult (or as expensive) as building a new tunnel from scratch, it's still a complex process.

That means careful planning and scheduling, because work on the 2007 car has to be dovetailed with ongoing development on the M16.

"We've been putting a plan together for a while, and we're now pushing ahead with it," says MF1 Technical Director James Key. "The wind tunnel we've got now has served us very well, certainly over the seven or eight years that I've been here. While the track reflects the current tunnel very well with its numbers, there's more that we can do with a better facility.

"For example, at 40%, the current scale is a little smaller than what most other teams are running. So we're going to 50% scale, with the capability of probably going larger than that There are many advantages of going up to 50%, and not just the size of the model, but the fact is that you can do certain other things with larger models that we can't currently do at 40%.

"We're also going to increase the speed of the tunnel as well, to a much faster level, which will be more representative of track running. We typically run around 40 m/sec, and in the future we'll be able to go beyond 60 m/sec. It takes us much closer to what the opposition has.

"We're also going to allow it to adapt better to the shape of the car. With 2008 coming up, it's very important to have a tunnel which can cope with that shape change, so it's an obvious thing to do. There are other implications as well, with the way the CDG rear wing [proposed by the FIA] works, and we want to better model the real life situation as best we can. There will also be better options of moving the car around - ride heights and that sort of thing - and we can extend that to allow us to get more out of it."

The problem with such major work already underway is that at some point the tunnel will be out of action. The team has had to choose a schedule that will have the least effect on ongoing development, while also securing temporary access to an outside tunnel to ensure a seamless transition.

"We've got a week-by-week plan of how we're going to go about it, and we've got a lot of the companies involved lined up ready to go. We know this is a critical time, so we need to act now in order to reap the rewards with next year's car and especially for the 2008 car. It goes without saying that will be a large aero project.

"So we'll start the process now, and the way we've planned it is to minimise downtime, so we hope to commission it later this year. We'll hire another facility to cover us while it's out of action, probably around July/August. We hope to be running again in September."

Of course, like any other tool, a wind tunnel is only as good as the people who operate it. MF1 has a proven aero department, and when the upgrade is complete, the guys will be busier than ever.

"Our development rate has been very strong recently, and we run 18 hours a day for six days a week. With the tunnel upgrade, we're hoping to go to 24 hours."

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Published: 18/04/2006
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