At Renault's Enstone base nearly 20 people work on the preparation and assembly of the 50% models that run 24 hours a day in the wind tunnel. Here's what they do...
It is a high-precision workshop. The technicians work quietly, focused intently on their job. The workload is heavy, but the atmosphere remains calm, focused, and meticulous. Could it be a watch factory, an electronics factory or a surgery? No. This is the Enstone model shop.
This may be an electronic age, but even now, nothing can yet replace a practical confirmation of theoretical ideas. At Enstone, the developments found by the aero designers are tested in the wind tunnel, on a model that replicates perfectly the finished race car. The dimensions are half scale, but this model allows the team to test the effectiveness of its aerodynamic package, and to approve every new update before it is made for the race car.
A Formula 1 car first exists as a half-scale model. Constructed from carbon fibre, metal and resin parts, it reproduces the shapes of the race car and evolves day by day. Dave Moore is in charge of the workshop in which it is produced. This is a specialist sector that he has been working in for more than twenty years, where the word 'precision' is measured in tenths of a millimetre.
"We always need to remember that any mistakes on the model, will be twice as big on the real car," he explains. In this quest for perfect accuracy, Enstone relies on 50 specialists who are dedicated to the model-making programme, twenty of whom work on building the models. Designing, producing and fitting the parts requires a veritable army of specialists.
Their primary asset is Advanced Digital Manufacturing. This ultra-modern technology allows the team to test over 10,000 parts per year on the models. As the relationship between the number of solutions tested in the wind-tunnel and the gains made on track is almost proportional, gains flowed quickly as soon as the team at Enstone began using this technology.
"In the space of 20 years, this technology has made by far the biggest difference to our job," confirms Dave Moore. "Previously, we needed two weeks to produce three different sets of brake ducts. Now, that only takes a few hours." Quality has also been improved: prior to the arrival of stereolithography, the margin for error on a model was 0.5%. It has now fallen to 0.1%.
The team produces three models per season. Roughly six weeks are required for producing a complete model. While one is in the wind tunnel, the workshops work on fitting new parts to the second. Meanwhile, a third -- which is the first to be produced -- is used as a 'master; to check the fit of new components.
Once a particular season's car has completed its testing cycle, the electronic skeleton is kept and re-used, while the bodywork parts are stored for several years. Once they have become obsolete, they are destroyed. "It is a shame," smiles Dave. "Each model is like a little work of art. But you can't afford to get sentimental about it -- as soon as one part has been tested, we are already thinking of the next..."