CFD Is Not Enough

Although most Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software vendors would have you believe otherwise, a CFD tool alone does not a successful product make. Consider that Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) tools, such as CFD, are widely available yet some engineering organizations succeed and others fail. An excellent example is Formula 1, where all the teams use the latest state-of-the-art CFD tools, but some teams routinely win while others struggle. Clearly the governing factor is not the CFD tool they are using. The difference is the overall design and development process that encompasses CFD and, in no small part, the ingenuity of the engineers driving the process.

CFD Simulation of an Open Wheel RacecarCFD Simulation of an Open Wheel Racecar

As with any tool CFD has its strengths and weaknesses. The best practitioners know how and when to apply CFD within the overall design process.

Returning to F1, it is dominated by aerodynamic considerations and is, rightly so, a heavy user of CFD. However, there are many other aspects beyond successful CFD usage in order to produce a race-winning car. A racecar design is constrained by regulations that engineers interpret using ingenious thinking to try to get a lead on competing teams of engineers. The process starts with brainstorming and progresses through a series of steps that reduce the number of ideas to the most promising. Given that many of the innovations in F1 relate to aerodynamics (the primary factor governing F1 success), CFD plays a major role in the comparison of aerodynamic ideas. However, there are many other aspects to F1 that encompass areas such as structures, electronics, electrical, etc. Each requires the same innovation process and then the results from these disciplines have to integrate well to form the final racecar.

The process and the people that engineer products (racecars included) are the key differentiators to success. The CAE tools deployed by engineers in a design endeavor play a crucial but secondary role.


Let the engineers have free reign

I wish F1 would abandon all of those silly rules and restrictions, maybe it would mean the team with the most money would win then...but that's the case now as well. And maybe the cars would become so fast it would be boring to watch...but that's the case now as well!