How to Lose F1 Races with a Wind Tunnel and CFD
I recently came across a blog post "How to lose races with CFD" [source: Another Fine Mesh] related to the CFD-only strategy pursued by the Marussia Formula 1 Team (formerly Virgin Racing) during the 2010 and 2011 F1 seasons. It seems such an easy conclusion to make, right? During its first 2 F1 seasons the Marussia team garnered a lot of publicity thanks to their CFD-only (no wind tunnel testing) strategy and during that period they didn't win a race, therefore CFD must lose races, right? Not so fast.
The fact is during the 2010 and 2011 F1 seasons only 3 teams out of 12 won any races - those teams being Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferarri. So 75% (9/12), the vast majority, of F1 teams consistently lost races and of those teams 89% (8/9) used a combination of a wind tunnel (WT) and CFD to develop their cars. Therefore, correcting for the faulty logic of the headline writers, we could say that WT + CFD loses F1 races - the correlation is much higher at 89% for WT + CFD, compared to 11% (1/9) for CFD only.
I think the headline writers are really trying to highlight the fact that Marussia didn't only lose races (plenty of teams do that), but the team's performance was particularly poor in that it hadn't scored any constructors points since entering F1 in 2010. But this was also true for 2 other teams, Team Lotus and HRT. It's interesting to note that Lotus and HRT both entered F1 in 2010 at the same time as Marussia. Turning to statistics again, we arrive at a 67% (2/3) correlation between WT + CFD to score zero constructors points compared with a 33% (1/3) correlation with CFD only. Still not a favorable correlation between CFD only and poor race results.
I think the correlation between results and WT + CFD compared to the correlation between results and CFD-only is dwarfed by the correlation between results and team funding. I don't think the Marussia CFD-only strategy can be judged in isolation from the fact that Marussia, along with Lotus and HRT, were all poorly funded teams in F1 terms. This means they can't attract the best aerodynamicists. Until a top (i.e., well funded) team like Red Bull, McLaren, or Ferarri with proven race winning aerodynamicists tries a CFD-only strategy then I don't think we can pass judgment on whether CFD only loses races. However, this is unlikely to happen any time soon, in the same way no F1 team would consider a WT-only strategy, because WT + CFD together are such a formidable combination.
In my opinion, the Marussia CFD-only experiment proves nothing other than under-funded teams struggle in F1.
The great thing about racing is that the results will speak for themselves. It will be interesting to watch Marussia in the new 2012 F1 season and see if there is a marked improvement in their results now they have adopted a WT + CFD strategy while still appearing to suffer from restricted funding.