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OCTOBER 19, 2004

Nature praises Formula 1

Formula 1 does not often get much coverage in scientific journals but the latest edition of Nature magazine, the world's foremost weekly scientific journal, which was launched in 1869, featured a lengthy article about Grand Prix racing, entitled "Science in the Fast Lane" which provided a very positive view of the sport.

The article suggests that "despite the secretive nature of the Formula 1 industry, the flow of information from aeronautics to racing is beginning to reverse. When Britain's Ministry of Defence began developing the current Harrier fighter jet, the GR.7, it drew on the expertise in composite materials accumulated by Formula 1 engineers" and quotes a Southampton University aeodynamicist Xin Zhang saying that Formula 1 has pushed the science and engineering expertise in some areas "to a level higher than that of aerospace engineering". In Zhang's view, understanding

the flow around the streamlined body of an aircraft is "straightforward by comparison".

Professor Peter Bearman, who holds a chair in Experimental Aerodynamics at Imperial College, London, says that his last three PhD students have all gone straight to Formula 1 and his department has now trained 40 Formula 1 engineers.

The attraction, it seems, is knowing that one can make a difference.

"Research in the aerospace sector is static in comparison," says a recent Ferrari recruit Barney Garrood, "with typical development times of 10 to 15 years. This is much more exciting, Being able to point to your own parts on a car - and then seeing that car win a race - is a real thrill."

McLaren's new Technology Centre in Woking comes in for special praise from Professor Bearman, who calls the building "a temple to technology" which was designed to inspire the engineers who work there.