Mr. Alex Burns, Chief Executive Officer of Williams F-1 delivers a lecture on “The Technological Challenges of Formula 1” at Amity University Campus

Amity University in collaboration with The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK organized “Lord Austin Lecture 2011” by Mr. Alex Burns, Chief Executive Officer of Williams F-1 on the topic “The Technological Challenges of Formula 1” at Amity University Campus, Sector-125, Noida.

With the Formula 1 fever still to subside amongst the Delhiites, Mr. Alex Burns taking to Engineers, students and general F1 enthusiasts attending the lecture at Amity Campus, introduced himself as an intensely competitive individual who is passionate about advanced engineering and the ability of the engineering to make a difference in the world.

Apprising the audience with the organizational culture that exists in Williams F1(one of the senior F1 teams which has been around since 1977) and facilitates the quick changes and rapid rate of development of F1 cars, Mr. Burns said, “Decisions at Williams happen incredibly quickly, things move at a rapid and breathtaking pace not just the cars but the whole business behind the cars. The main driving force behind this speed of decision making, thought and excellence at Williams is not only the people and processes but the culture of the organization. Our business model is “Self Sponsorship on our cars” and to invest our share of TV revenues into the sport’s facilities and capabilities that allow us to design and develop Formula 1 cars. At present, we have more than 500 people involved fulltime in designing and developing Formula 1 cars and about another 100 in other parts of the business as well. We are growing very rapidly and have become a steady and substantial engineering organization. The capabilities we have developed are around the technologies that are necessary to be successful in Formula 1 because Formula 1 is dominated by a set of very tightly drawn regulations outlined by FIA, the Governing body of this sports which defines the shape of the car, size of the car, engine that goes into the cars and the way Grand Prix is conducted. We have the capabilities that allow us to design Formula 1 cars within these regulations. FW 33, the car we are currently racing, which even raced in the Buddha International Circuit, started its life as a concept in Aerodynamics Lab in April 2010 as per the FIA regulations of 2011. Between April 2010 and September 2010 we went through the process of defining this car aerodynamically through wind tunnels and very large computers that we use for computational road dynamics. In September, our engineers released the first shape that they wanted us to manufacture. Between September 2010 and middle of January 2011, we designed and released about 18, 000 pieces of drawing to our manufacturing unit. Then, we pulled all of those together to assemble the first car and we tested the car in February 2011. Finally in March, the car participated in the season’s first Grand Prix in Australia and after racing throughout the season by the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix, it will become a museum piece in UK as a record of what we did in 2011. In a span of 20 months, these cars complete their lifecycle from being a simple concept to obsolete. These cars constantly change during the season. This year, we have more than 100 improvements to the FW 33. We are refining this car constantly in the quest for more competitive performance on the track. When these cars are halfway through their lifecycle of 20 months, we have to start over rapid product development process again”.

Dwelling on the advanced technology used in F1 Cars with a special focus on aerodynamics, Mr. Burns averred, “These Formula 1 cars are very complex machines aerodynamically. Williams’ core capability is around aerodynamics. The air flow of the cars is very much dominated by large tyres and most of the structure of the car is there to duct air around, over and particularly, underneath the body of the car. We have wind tunnels, very large computers and 100 extremely intelligent aerodynamists who work out to find out how within the specified regulations they can design the aerodynamics of these machines to the most effect. These aerodynamic devices are in fact fighter aircrafts. The aerodynamics is there to push the car into the road, these cars generate down force which is several times the weight of the car itself and this allows the driver to corner very quickly in few seconds. Most of the drivers are keen to have very high top speed because overtaking is critical in the race and avoiding to be overtaken is critical in racing as well. So, we have to minimize the drag that the wings on these cars generate. The aerodynamic challenge is all about getting the maximum down force with minimum drag within the specified regulations.”

Sharing his views, further, on the features of F 1 cars and the expertise possessed by Williams F-1 in designing of F1 cars, Mr. Alex burns said, “Most of you would be surprised to know that modern Formula Cars are actually hybrids. Over the last few years we have developed our own technology in hybrids, we have actually developed our own Motor Generated Unit to connect to the front of the engine. Hybrid has been a big investment in terms of capability and technology in recent years at Williams. We also have an expertise in Control Systems that drive these Hybrid Systems. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to have too many active systems on the cars because of the regulations since active systems (like Active Suspension) aims to make it too easy for the drivers to drive the car. These cars have very sophisticated safety systems built into them as part of light weight carbon fibre structures in order to keep the drivers safe in case of accidents. Every team defines their own car within the specified regulations therefore, we have two championships- the Drivers Championship and the Constructors’ Championship. We at Williams, define ourselves as Constructors so we deploy all of the expertise, all the exceptionally talented engineers and support staff to design and develop these cars”.

Talking about motorsport in general and Formula 1 in particular, Mr. Burns said, “In UK, motorsport is one of the major industries with a turnover of more than 5 billion sterling per year and employing more than 50, 000 people. The major part of advanced engineering economy in UK is “ Formula 1” which is also the pinnacle of this industry. As you may have seen there were twelve teams that competed in Indian Grand Prix, each team had two cars in the grid and out of the twelve teams, eight of them were based in UK therefore, UK is the centre of genetical development of Formula 1. Essentially, Formula 1 is a business as much as it’s a sport. Formula 1 is the biggest single sporting event in the world which is an excellent platform for companies who want to communicate what they do to the broad audience across the world on a regular basis. All other major sports like Olympics are held after every four years but F1 happens every year from March to November. Sponsoring an International Cricket team in World Cup is effective only once in 4 years but sponsoring F1 team has same impact 19- 20 times a year across the globe. The typical audience of Formula 1 Race is about 250 million people watching the race live on television and TV feeds of the race reach across 187 countries. So, I congratulate India on joining the fraternity of countries that host Grand Prix. Everybody who was out in the Buddha Circuit over the last 3- 4 days was very much impressed with the organization and everything that went into the Grand Prix. We are always a little bit nervous when we go to a new venue for the first time. India does have a slight reputation of logistical challenges but I have to say we have none of those here. It was a very well organized event. Its a great success for India”.

Talking about the significance of time and speed in Formula 1, Mr. Burns further, highlighted, “in a Grand Prix even a fraction of a second differentiates the winner from the loser. It is our constant aim at Williams to bring quick changes n our car so that they become faster.” He further shared his insights as how Williams F1 is developing new businesses based on its F1 expertise and culture to bring F1-inspired products to market.

During the occasion, Maj Gen K.Jai. Singh- Vice Chancellor, Amity University, Dr. Sanjay Srivastava- Head, Amity Business School and Dr. Balvinder Shukla, Pro-VC (A), Amity University honored Mr. Alex Burns with Amity Leadership Award for Innovation.

Also present during the lecture were Mr. Shekhar Sanyal, Country Head, IET India, Mr. Tushar Chaudhary, Business Development Manager, IET India, Maj Gen K. Jai. Singh- Vice Chancellor, Amity University, Dr. Balvinder Shukla, Pro-VC (A), Amity University and other senior Directors, Head of the Departments and faculty members from Amity University.

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