Jonny Williamson travelled to Milton Keynes for an exclusive pre-season tour of the Red Bull Racing factory.
With were mere weeks to go before the first race of the 2016 Formula One season, there was a surprising sense of calm pervading the home of Red Bull Racing.
Come race day, watching the cars fly around the circuit at average speeds well in excess of 100mph, it’s all too easy to consider an F1 team as being just two drivers, a pit crew and a handful of support staff.
In reality, that just scratches the surface. The Red Bull Racing team – for example, employs more than 600 people to design; engineer; test; manufacture; assemble, and maintain the 30,000 components used in each of its cars.
Having only entered in 2005, the proceeding decade has seen Red Bull secure an impressive amount of podiums; victories; driver awards, and constructor world championships – as its two-storey trophy cabinet attests.
Located in the reception, the cabinet is where our tour started – and it was certainly an awe-inspiring experience gazing up at the row upon row of awards.
Drawing on a legend
The factory is split across several buildings, encompassing six departments responsible for designing and building a new car every season – design; R&D; manufacturing; assembly; operations, and racing.
As chief technical officer, F1 icon Adrian Newey directs the design philosophy for every aspect of the car. The world of F1 may be increasingly dominated by technology, yet Newey can still be found with the simple, yet trusted combo of a pencil and paper.
These drawings form the basis of the car’s overall design, which alongside all the tooling, jigs, fixtures and pit equipment, is designed in 3D CAD modelling software, ready to be analysed and evaluated.
The resulting 3D geometry is placed in a virtual wind tunnel, with the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) team employing high-performance software from one of Red Bull Racing’s innovation partners, Ansys, to demonstrate how air will flow around the structures of the car – and crucially, whether the new design boosts the car’s performance.
From the virtual world to reality
Before committing anything in full size, a 60% model is first produced for physical wind tunnel testing. To ensure accurate readings, the scale model is identical in every way to the full-size car, including internal workings such as the engine; radiators; brakes; suspension, and tyres.
The R&D department increasingly employs additive manufacturing processes to rapidly create numerous different variations of parts to test.
Additive manufactured parts aren’t common in the final car, they are employed only in those situations where applied loads aren’t too high.
As you would expect, safety is of paramount importance; so every critical component undergoes rigorous testing, resulting in the factory carrying out upwards of 2,500 routine proof tests every year.
Manufacturing a winner
Taking into account the aerodynamic, simulation and safety testing data, the final design is green lit and full-scale production begins in earnest.
The factory’s manufacturing department operates 24/7, with more than 1,600 parts processed in Red Bull Racing’s advanced machine shop each week.
Containing 19 five-axis milling machines, three wire and spark erosion machines and six manual machines, the team makes use of more than 60 metallic materials – ranging from mild steel and aluminium, to titanium and metal matrix composite.
Red Bull’s typical lead time for a new part is five days, but in the ultrafast world of F1, it’s not uncommon for a metallic component to be designed in the morning, manufactured in the afternoon and sent to the track in the evening.
Like its starting grid rivals, Red Bull Racing employs carbon fibre where possible to provide structural strength without compromising on weight or aerodynamics. Choosing from more than 50 different types of carbon cloth, the highly skilled technicians use various combinations and orientations to achieve the desired design specifications.
To cure the carbon fibre, the factory’s four autoclaves operate at up to 180°C and 100psi (seven times atmospheric pressure), exerting more than 600 tonnes of pressure to produce the finished component.
Putting it all together
Drivers change gear up to 3,500 times during a race, so with current regulations stating that each gearbox has to complete five races (about 2,750km), the component is critical cog in the overall machine.
The gearbox shop build and maintains the team’s supply of gearboxes for the season and test sessions, completely rebuilding and replacing all of the internal components after five races.
The gearboxes have nine electronically synchronised gears, eight forward and one reverse, and the seven-strong shop team is also responsible for servicing the rear jacks, clutch and starter assemblies.
The engine is one of the few components not manufactured at the factory, being supplied by Renault Sport F1 in France – which it has done since 2007.
An essential part of the structure of the car, the engine carries both the transmission and rear suspension. Therefore it has to be both light, compact and incredibly strong – a true design challenge.
The last stop is the race bay area where the cars are finally assembled before the season begins – only to be taken to pieces again and reassembled at every Grand Prix.