Mark Smith talks 2012 chassis builds and crash testing
Last week we were predominately finishing off the first chassis. The chassis itself is a two part moulding, but there are lots of smaller parts that get bonded onto it. So even when the two main chassis components are out of the mould and bonded together, there's still quite a way to go in terms of finishing the whole piece – brackets for holding various bits and pieces, for example. Last week was really all about that, and finishing the chassis off to a high standard before sending it off to be painted.
CT01-#1 went into the build shop on Saturday morning and then last weekend two fairly separate things were done. Number one was the fuel cell being fitted into the car, pressure tested and capacity checked. Number two was fitting the front suspension to the car – we don't have all the parts yet, but we've fitted what we can, as well as a number of smaller items around the car.
So that's where we are. We have the engine and gearbox here, and we have fitted them up to check the basic assembly, but then we took them off until Renault and Red Bull come in next week. By fitting them up, we're able to mock up a number of other items around the car – the brake lines for example, and our suppliers can come in and sort that, so as parts come in we'll keep adding them on until fire up next week.
CT01-#2 is also nearing completion. It'll probably go into the race bays on Monday morning and then the mechanics can start working on that car. In the meantime, we can do some smaller jobs – for instance you may have seen the photo of the reflective gold material that gets fitted to the rear of the chassis to deflect heat from the engine – this is something that can be done without compromising what the guys in the composite shop are doing.
Nice! Tell us about the crash tests and homologation. We've passed them, but what does that actually mean?
Over a number of years, there have been significant improvements in the safety-related design of F1 cars, and incidents in the early 90s have really pushed how we collectively regard the requirements from a safety perspective. The tests since then have, quite rightly, become more demanding. We have a number of static tests where the loads are applied to the chassis while it is static, and impact tests where loads are applied dynamically. One of the key impact tests is the frontal impact test – this is where the nose is mounted to the front of the chassis, the chassis is loaded with the required weight and is then fired into a steel wall at a given speed. There's also one without the nose where a plate is mounted to the front of the chassis and fired into an array of six crush tubes. That's really to test other parts of the structure of the chassis, for example the seat back bulkhead with a fuel cell full of water. There's also a rear impact test and a side impact test, so the whole car is tested extremely thoroughly, and that's what's helping us save lives in our sport in the modern era.
In terms of the static tests, the big one is the rear roll hoop test – looking at the structure behind the driver's helmet. There's also a forward roll hoop test, which looks at the section of chassis immediately in front of the cockpit opening. There are also load tests from the side and underneath of the chassis. All the impact structures, front, rear and side, are tested with static push-off loads to ensure they remain in place in the event of an impact. Finally there's an impact test on the steering column, so everything is checked.
When these tests are completed successfully, the chassis is homologated. They are very demanding and there is a huge amount of work that goes into making sure we pass, so that's why we were very happy that they were done and dusted before Christmas. So passing the tests before Christmas is obviously positive, and that presumably means our crash test simulations were all accurate. Does that give you more confidence that the numbers the computers are generating will translate into track performance across other areas of the car's development?
Over time the various simulation tools that teams have access to have increased the level of confidence that when the assembly of the car is made, it will most likely perform as we predict. We do predict them reasonably well, but there's a very fine line between success and failure. For example, if the deceleration can't be above an average of 20G, if you are 20.1G you will fail. We are obviously trying to design structures that are as light as possible – we need to try to create something that passes the tests, but also gives us the performance we require for the car.
What happens to the chassis after the crash tests?
Well, the chassis is still a usable chassis. Obviously if it's damaged then the team can work on the composite structures, which are usually fairly repairable. If you had a disaster, then the chassis would be a write-off. But in this day and age most of the small damage is repairable.
If damage did occur during an impact test – and it didn't happen to us this time – then the repairs would have to be tested again. Once passed, all the future chassis must have the same components as the repaired and passed chassis, so that it is exactly the same spec.
Our car is being revealed in F1 Racing magazine next week... Excited?
Hopefully I'll feel the same as everyone here, as there has been a lot of hard work from everybody in the team to get to this point. I think fully-clothed, so to speak, it looks good. So we're excited and proud to see the car in its final form – fully-assembled, painted and looking ready for launch. I'm sure we'll all be proud to see the car, absolutely, but also slightly apprehensive ahead of the first test, in terms of its outright performance, to see where we are against our competitors.
That first test. It's looming...
It is! We will see.