F1 turns to AWS to develop ‘next-gen’ race car

It has opted for the cloud over on-premises high performance computing infrastructure to run simulations for the development of for the 2021 racing season.

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Formula One Group has announced the completion of a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) project that simulates the aerodynamics of cars while racing. 

The organisation partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to carry out simulations that it says has resulted in the car design for the 2021 racing season.  

The CFD project used over 1,150 compute cores to run detailed simulations comprised of over 550 million data points that model the impact of one car's aerodynamic wake on another.  

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Making the announcement at AWS re:Invent on Monday in Las Vegas, Formula 1 said it was able to reduce the average run time of simulations by 70% on the cloud giant's platform -- from 60 hours to 18. 

The project ran for six months and uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) c5n instances. The companies tout that the play has delivered performance equivalent to that of a supercomputer. 

"This project with AWS was one of the most revolutionary in the history of Formula 1 aerodynamics," F1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds said. 

"Nobody designs a car to come in second, but for this CFD project we were looking at how cars perform in the wake of another, as opposed to running in clean air. 

"We have been able to use AWS technologies to understand the incredible aerodynamic complexities associated with multi-car simulations, and are pleased that the results indicate we have made excellent progress towards our aims of closer racing." 

According to F1, the downforce generated by the aerodynamics of the car is the single largest performance differentiator -- helping a car travel faster through corners. 

The current generation of cars suffer a loss of downforce when they are running close to one another, reducing a drivers' ability to sustain close racing and increasing the difficulty of overtaking, Formula 1 explained. Currently, a car running one car length behind another loses up to 50% of its downforce.  

To reduce this downforce loss, F1 used AWS to look closely at how the aerodynamics of cars interact when racing in close proximity. These simulations looked at cars in common racing situations and the results have driven the changes to the proposed 2021 car design.  

Formula 1 said the insights gained from the simulations have allowed it to design a car with only 15% downforce loss at the same, one car length distance.  

"The resulting car will feature a brand new bodywork design with a new front wing shape, simplified suspension, new rear end layout, underfloor tunnels, wheel wake control devices, and will run on 18-inch wheels with low profile tyres for the first time," Symonds said. 

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AWS explained that the CFD simulates the impact of a liquid or gas on an object and requires extensive compute capacity to perform the kind of simulation Formula 1 is looking for. But rather than investing in on-premises high performance computing kit, the cloud giant touted that it opted for the current platform as it is sufficient in running HPC applications.  

"With virtually unlimited capacity, engineers and researchers can innovate beyond the limitations of on-premises HPC infrastructure," AWS said. 

"Customers are using AWS for CFD projects to design everything from aircraft to medical devices, so it is exciting to now be part of the design of the next generation of racing cars," AWS vice president of compute services Matt Garman added. 

"The work Formula 1 is doing with CFD is at the leading edge of cloud usage and we are always amazed at the fascinating way that they are utilising our technologies to increase the performance of their sport and the experience they give fans. As CFD work with Formula 1 continues, we look forward to seeing the resulting car and are excited to see it on the track in 2021." 

F1 used AWS ParallelCluster on Amazon EC2 to run the OpenFOAM CFD framework, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for data storage.  

F1 has plans to expand the application further, up to 2,300 cores, and to introduce AWS Machine Learning tools, such as Amazon SageMaker, as it looks to further optimise the performance of the car. 

Asha Barbaschow travelled to re:Invent as a guest of AWS. 

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