After a 9th place finish at Interlagos, Felipe Nasr’s Brazilian Grand Prix points ‘taste like victory’ for Sauber. To get a better idea of how the F1 team functions, we investigate their Swiss HQ and wind tunnel in all it’s glory.
Coming from Zurich, you pass its eponymous lake on your right and drive southeast for half an hour before reaching Hinwil. This municipality of 10,000 at the foot of the 1,115-metre Bachtel mountain is a rural community. International visitors tend to be heading for one place: Sauber Motorsport AG, which is itself eminently international: the approximately 330 staff listed at the start of the 2015 season represent more than 25 different nationalities.
The attractive industrial complex consists of three sections, which were built in succession and, thanks to farsighted forward planning, were linked up in an ideal way. Located between the first factory and office building (completed in 1992) and the wind tunnel building (opened in 2004) is the most recent extension, which was occupied at the end of 2007. This increased the surface area for offices and production facilities to 15,600 square metres, not counting the wind tunnel.
Form follows function. Notwithstanding the architectural appeal of the buildings, the overall concept adhered to a strictly practical brief that ensured short distances and optimal work flows. Efficiency is a paramount aspect, as seen, for example, in an enclosed bridge that links the wind tunnel with the area housing the design office.
On the ground floor is the truck bay, with adjacent space for major production equipment, such as the portal milling machine. Also housed here are the mechanical production department and the autoclaves. The eroding machines, quality control and warehouse are located on the first floor.
The second floor has a particularly fascinating design. The central area is an atrium. This is where the Formula One racing cars are serviced and, thanks to its design, the cars can also be seen from the third floor. The second upper floor also houses the carbon-fibre, car body, hydraulics and rapid prototyping departments, with the administration, design office and electronics department on the level above.
Immediately adjacent to the latest building stands the state-of-the-art wind tunnel, which went on stream in spring 2004. The exterior view of this structure, which measures 65 metres long by 50 metres wide and 17 metres high, is arresting with its glazed façade. Inside it are the workplaces of highly qualified specialists. In addition to the aerodynamicists, these also include model designers and model builders, CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) engineers and other staff from the aerodynamics department.
The facility boasts cutting-edge technology for all the relevant aspects such as wind speed, size of the test section and of the models, dimensions of the rolling road, model motion system and data collection.
The wind tunnel is designed as a closed circuit, measuring 141 metres in length (without the test section) and with a maximum tube diameter of 9.4 metres. The overall weight of all the steel elements plus the fan housing comes to 480 tonnes. The single-stage axial fan with carbon rotor blades uses 3,000 kW at full load.
At the heart of any wind tunnel is the test section. Both its diameter and the length of the rolling road are generously sized to provide optimal conditions for precise results. Testing with the actual racing car is technically possible, but tends to be the exception due to the regulations. Work is carried out almost exclusively using 60-percent scale models.
To allow the test models to be exposed to the air stream not just frontally but at an angle of up to ten degrees as well, the entire measuring platform can be rotated. The platform features a rotating steel belt which simulates the relative motion between the vehicle and the road and which runs in sync with the flow of air. Load cells are mounted under the belt to measure wheel loads.
Externally, the elegant wind tunnel building appears as a homogeneous hall, whereas in fact it consists of clearly separate elements: the actual wind tunnel and a wing with work offices and an event platform where partners and sponsors can hold events in a unique setting. The first-floor gallery has room for 150 guests.
This area is divided from the technical section by a glass wall, which ensures that the visual link is preserved while insulating it against the noise from the wind tunnel.
Images and details via Sauber F1 Team