Formula One may be at its very core just a bunch of drivers going around in really fast cars, but behind the scenes there’s plenty of work needed to design and build some of the best racing cars in the world. Specifically, teams have a limited amount of time allowed to do computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to test aerodynamics and such. Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, who have won the last eight F1 World Constructors’ Championships, recently revealed how working with AMD gave them the edge over its rivals.
Mercedes and AMD first partnered up right before the start of the 2020 F1 season which saw the addition of the AMD logo on the Mercedes’ halo. This partnership also saw Mercedes piloting the use of AMD Epyc server processors, which they promptly deployed in their team to help give them the edge in computing power over their rivals. According to Simon Williams, the head of Aero Development Software at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team, the biggest challenge was actually the budget limits set by the FIA, the motorsport’s governing body. As such, it was beneficial for Mercedes to be able to get the best compute performance for cheap.
“We’re trying to make most of that, as well as just the raw compute. There’s also a regulation of how many geometries we can run in a certain period, which usually spans eight weeks. We’re trying to maximize everything we can do in that period to get the most out of our CFD,” – Simon Williams, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, Head of Aero Development Software
Williams found that with the way the regulations were set, AMD Epyc processors offered the best in terms of performance while also taking up quite literally the least space; finding room to store servers can get expensive really fast. By switching over to AMD Epyc processors, Mercedes estimates that they managed around a 20% improvement in efficiency over their old CFD systems, and allowed the team to focus on aerodynamic performance. Notably, Williams says that reliability has been great too, as even just a few hours of down time could lead to significant setbacks compared to other teams. It certainly seemed to have helped seeing as they did win both the 2020 and 2021 Constructor’s titles.
“It’s been great going to this new hardware. The performance has been delivered as we benchmarked. The servers have been very reliable. They have given us a platform delivering aerodynamic performance day after day at the highest possible level. AMD EPYC processors have been a critical part of giving us a competitive edge over the others on the grid. It has been essential for winning races and championships,” – Simon Williams, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, Head of Aero Development Software
This isn’t the first time AMD chips made an impact in F1. Sometime in the early 2010s, the regulations back then dictated that CFD work was to be limited based on the peak FLOPS of the CPU. However, CFD work was being bottlenecked by RAM leading to many CPUs having unused FLOPS that still counted towards the regulations. In response, AMD built a custom Opteron 6276 chip, dubbed ‘Fangio’, for the Ferrari F1 team that they were sponsoring back then. It was capped to just 2 FLOPS per cycle on each core, allowing Ferrari to run up to four times the CFD work of its rivals.
As for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team, the 2022 F1 season did not start particularly well for them. This season brings with it a completely redesigned car for all teams of course, including the introduction of ground effect again. Unfortunately, this brings with it issues such as porpoising that Mercedes are struggling to contain. With that being said though, they still sit second in the Constructors’ Championship, while driver George Russell is second in the Drivers’ standings.
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