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Sun kit souped up Grand Prix McLaren car

F1 skidmark benchmarks

Champagne corks were popped over the weekend as Grand Prix team West McLaren Mercedes and technology partner Sun Microsystems celebrated a return to winning form at Silverstone.

Technology plays a key role in a sport where innovation is institutionalised and tiny design changes can shave the fractions of a second off laps times that make the difference between success and failure.

McLaren has finished behind arch-rivals Ferrari and Williams in recent Grand Prix and the win by Mika Hakkinen on Sunday is due in no small part to the constant testing and development work of McLaren's back-room boys.

Mark Jenkins, a systems analyst at McLaren, said that over the course of a season 70 per cent of the components on a car will be completely redesigned, and the Formula One team's car is 95 per cent different from last season's model.

Jenkins obviously loves his work, which despite its pressure if something like a launch control system malfunctions (cars won't even start without a computer), must be the ultimate job for a techie, especially since the cost of kit is strictly secondary.

In the quest to get an edge over their rivals F1 teams often pioneer use of the latest technology, said Jenkins, who said that McLaren technology was shared with developers of Mercedes road vehicles and British Aerospace.

To reduce the design cycle in testing the aerodynamics of its cars, McLaren has installed two computing farms, which are based on enterprise servers, computing engines, and storage arrays, as well as networking equipment and resource management software from Sun.

McLaren took delivery of its first Sun Technical Computer Farm (TCF) system, which allows designers to test and refine virtual designs before building a model for wind tunnel tests, earlier this season. It will complete installation of the second unit shortly.

West McLaren Mercedes Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) team leader Kevin Colburn, said: "Historically we looked exhaustively at 10 to 15 wing configurations before selecting the best of them to be dropped into the wind tunnel."

The West McLaren Mercedes team is using the desktop Sun Blade 1000, which is based on an UltraSPARC III processor, in conjunction with the number-crunching capabilities of the computing farm, to speed up this design cycle.

"The TCF has made an immediate impact by helping to speed up and enhance the design process as a whole," said Colburn.

At the 2001 Austrian GP the West McLaren Mercedes MP4-16 Formula One car featured a specially re-designed front wing based on data resulting from
simulations run on the Sun TCF system only the previous Sunday.

IT is also important to Formula One teams during the course of a race.

Over 120 sensors are located on a F1 car with up to 190 parameters, which can be anything from wheel spin to component temperatures, being logged by the on board electronics.

According to Jenkins, about 3MB of telemetry data are recovered from the car per lap. This information is sent to the pit over a wireless link, with data encrypted using customised encryption technology from Tag Electronics, and also stored on the car so that it can be uploaded for analysis after a race. ®

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