JEDDAH: As the second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix rolls off the start line under the Jeddah skies on Sunday evening, a select group of local students will have their eyes on the orange McLaren cars of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
The duo may not have had the best start at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix last week, but as they look to regain the form that saw them finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship l last year, they will be able to count on the support of students from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah.
Since 2018, KAUST and McLaren Racing have partnered to develop long-term focused research and development projects to improve on-track performance and, most importantly, develop and promote team sustainability and diversity through STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. .
“This is a science and technology-driven partnership, because that’s what it’s all about,” said the university’s vice president for research, Professor Donald Bradley. “This is an opportunity for KAUST to work in an extreme environment.”
“Formula 1 racing takes things to extremes, they take engineering challenges to extremes,” he said. “And so, as a research-based university, having access to extreme environments is exciting and provides a great opportunity to do new things to really challenge yourself as to whether you are capable of providing useful information and understanding.
“We are working on other extreme environments, so (there are) extreme environments in the Red Sea, for example. So, you know, the heat and the salinity and the depths of the ocean create very interesting issues to look at, in the context of the Red Sea.
While the professor modestly downplays the role he and his research team played in McLaren’s successes on the track, their work has certainly improved every aspect of the racing car.
“Partnering with McLaren gives us some very interesting challenges to overcome, from an engine, propulsion systems, aerodynamics perspective, to understand what is limiting a car’s performance,” said Bradley, who has joined KAUST in April 2019. “We have a number of areas where we collaborate and the initial collaboration was focused on fuel formulations.”
Currently, Formula 1 regulations predetermine the fuel teams can use in their cars, although Bradley says different ‘formulations’ are possible in the future.
“If you want to optimize fuel performance, you have to be able to measure things in a Formula 1 engine, you have to be able to measure what’s going on in that environment – and what are the key components, the key parameters that make the engine run efficiently,” he said.
“And so one of the things that we have (at) KAUST is what we call our clean combustion research center, (which is) focused on many different aspects of combustion engines, fuels, flames, etc And so working with McLaren, it provides an environment and an opportunity to look at very different parameter spaces to really test our knowledge of fuels, engines and how they work.
Besides energy performance, KAUST’s collaboration with McLaren focuses on two other main areas, including aerodynamics.
“Looking at the computational fluid dynamics simulations of the whole car, but also of the different parts of the car. And so we have very strong facilities to do these studies,” Bradley said. “We have a supercomputer, we also have excellent professors working in this area.”
Bradley points out that the Formula 1 rule changes this year have seen a lot of innovation in the car’s aerodynamics, particularly around the exterior mirrors and side pods that support these exterior mirror systems.
“And then the third area, there are extreme forces exerted on the car as it hurtles down a Formula 1 track,” he added. “Being able to detect and measure these forces, without adding a lot of weight or complexity to the car, is another important part of designing and verifying the design of a car, so we also worked with McLaren , about some of the sensing technologies, sensor elements, especially parts of the car that can help you understand how it works.
Engineer and McLaren Racing spokesperson Emel Cankaya said research into computational fluid dynamics – the analysis of fluid flows using numerical resolution methods – and other parameters and conditions , can develop capabilities to measure and simulate extreme conditions in Formula 1.
“Even early in our relationship, researchers at KAUST’s Clean Combustion Research Center were developing fundamental experimental and numerical capabilities that can be easily applied to Formula 1 cars.”
The results can also be applied in other fields and industries.
“This type of work inspires innovation that can be used in many other important applications for Saudi Arabia, as well as internationally,” Cankaya said. “The Clean Combustion Research Center creates sustainable mobility solutions for the future. And this is in line with our values in creating a more sustainable society.
“Sustainability is an important topic now, not just at McLaren, but in Formula 1 in general,” she added. “The partnership also opens doors for talent development for postgraduate students in research, internships, engineering, forums and other opportunities to expand knowledge by collaborating with our team.”
As part of the partnership, McLaren has hosted KAUST students on Formula 1 circuits, with the trips designed to inspire them to forge their own career paths.
“We are also connected to KAUST through our Extreme E entry,” Cankaya said, referring to the series of all-electric SUV rallies that took place twice in Saudi Arabia. “Extreme E has expanded its scientific committee with the appointment of eminent Professor Carlos Duarte of KAUST, one of the world‘s greatest minds on marine ecosystems. So this is very important to us. And Extreme E raises awareness of climate issues that we were faced with.
Prior to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, KAUST students and faculty were invited to meet Ricciardo, the McLaren Racing driver wishing to learn more about the background of the partnership, inquiring about their ongoing research and development projects, one of which focuses on the development of biofuels. During this time, KAUST visitors were able to visit the garage and the paddock.
Cankaya also emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusiveness that has been part of the partnership with KAUST since the beginning.
“I think it’s important to know that we’re really working on diversity,” she said. “We have a program called McLaren Engage, which aims to attract people, not just white men, for example, because it’s a male-dominated (industry), as you know, interested in sports and trying to hire such a diverse certified workforce. . This is what we are already doing, and we are also doing it with KAUST. We’re really happy to be able to do this because I personally think it’s really important to have different people from different backgrounds because it just enriches the business.
Bradley also believes building connections in communities is key to sparking interest in STEM – and Formula 1 – and KAUST has programs in place that engage students from local communities.
“In terms of broadening the appeal of Formula 1 around the world, those kinds of opportunities, for people to see it first hand, are very important,” he said. “I guess any elite sport, because it’s elite, sometimes means a lot of people never (have) the chance to have that interaction.”
“You know, not everyone goes to the racetrack, not everyone is going to be glued to their TV on a Sunday watching Formula 1,” Bradley said. “But if you happen to be nearby when McLaren comes to visit, and your school takes you to an event and you see people and you can talk to them, and you can ask them questions, I am sure it helps to broaden the appeal and bring different new people to enjoy this as an exciting sport.
As the sport strives to be more sustainable, Bradley says Formula 1’s pursuit of solutions, through partnerships such as McLaren with KAUST, provides “a good message” for the future.
“The whole area of sustainability, the whole need that we collectively have to change the way we do things to ensure that the planet remains a friendly place for future generations to live, permeates all the things that we really try to do, ” he said. “And you know, it’s a very clear message from McLaren that they’re also looking for green ways to continue the sport. Obviously you want it to always be exciting, you want it to be a challenge, you want it to be it’s something people are passionate about and want to get involved in.
“And I think, you know, there are a lot of ways to move this agenda forward,” he said. “It is very good for us as an institution to be faced with some of these challenges. We work on many different aspects of climate change, circular carbon economy, sustainability issues, generally. The challenge of Formula 1 also pushes us to find new ideas.