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A winning Formula


by Ian Homer. Posted to category: Education

Part Three

We conclude Steve's story of his career path to date.        

Read Part One here:   Part Two here:  

Like our competitors, the windtunnel ran continuously to generate sufficient knowledge of new directions and specific parts, solving problems as they were seen. Also like our competitors, there were forks in the road that didn’t work out as intended. What was regarded as the next step to our exhaust blowing system was introduced relatively early in the season, but despite its prowess in our Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations and windtunnel, it clearly did not perform on track. It was not amusing in the slightest when (many races) later, an Italian team with red cars tried something very similar, with equally disappointing results.

Adrian Newey driving a Red Bull show car at Goodwood in 2011 (Steve Liddle).

The dominance of the previous season was reacted to for 2012 in the only way F1 knew how: outlawing of the floor exhaust position. In fact, the regulations were so keen to avoid exhaust blowing performance that an exclusion zone for bodywork was placed behind the tailpipes, which now had to be in the sidepods. Initially, this aspect of F1 can be intensely frustrating, as the evolutionary car that you are working on has been moved backwards. Still, there are solutions out there and they need to be found. The grid eventually converged (generally without seeing the competitors first) on a solution that was familiar to me from my university research days: using a coanda surface behind the exhaust to direct the high energy flow back into the rear corner region. Cunningly, the curved shape meant it could avoid the exclusion zone, but other regulations on the bodywork around it made the three dimensional definition difficult. While the direct effect was lessened compared to the previous season, F1 is a relative game and all (!) we needed to do, was to be better than the other teams.

The season started off bizarrely as Pirelli had altered their tyre compounds, with the result of bringing the teams together until they could better understand their thermal properties and resulting grip. The first seven races were consequently won by different drivers, while all the teams struggled to make headway with their cars. Ferrari started off extremely badly but managed to recover as a credible threat mid-season. Again through continuous development, by race eight in Valencia, a largely new bodywork and rear end managed finally to switch on RB8, with a pole position for Sebastian (Mark Webber qualified way down due to a problem with his DRS, in part because our new parts had been rushed through to make a vital improvement). When leading the race he suffered an alternator failure, which although crushing given where we had come from, was tempered by the knowledge that there had been a huge step forward.

We were now in with a chance of keeping our titles, but as in 2010 the season went down to the final race, where Sebastian managed to drag his damaged car home just high enough to beat Fernando Alonso, again.

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel overtaking team mate Mark Webber on 24 March 2013, Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia (Morio).

2013 was originally intended to be the year when the current hybrid power units were introduced, but they were delayed for one season and hence it continued under very similar regulations to the previous season. RB9 was therefore a slightly more refined and beautiful version of RB8, incorporating ideas that we might have done previously, had we known how the previous car would turn out. When I look now at images of the rear end of the mid-season car, it is definitely with an element of pride in how refined it appears; I can also think back to the element of team work and the individuals who developed the ideas for the other parts of the car. We were undoubtedly assisted by a McLaren having a disastrous year, but after Sebastian won R13 (Belgium) in August 2013, it would be the following season (March 2014) before another combination of car and driver were victorious. RB9 was an awesome project to be involved in and happily rounded out the V8 engine era in F1. The V6 hybrids are for another day.

Red Bull’s all-conquering RB9 in the hands of Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 Italian Grand Prix (Craig Dennis).

When XH558 was being restored to flight, I resolved that I would get involved if I could. I had some background in the combination of aerospace and charity governance, as from about 2004 I had been involved in the Royal Aeronautical Society and eventually became one of its council members. As a university researcher in my late twenties, being able to sit around a table as an equal board member with a former BA Concorde chief captain, a former C-in-C Strike Command, the MD of an aerospace OEM and many others of similar ilk was certainly a formative experience and I soaked up as much as I could from them.

The RAeS honoured Vulcan to the Sky for its work in bringing XH558 back to flight, and at a dinner where the award was presented I met Dr Pleming and gave him a small pitch. As it happened, the Trust was looking for new Trustees and my experience meant I had been recommended, so I was privileged to find myself in that role from the start of 2011.

The Trustee board is legally responsible for the functioning of the Trust, which does not mean simply that it is run properly and within the law, but that it pursues its objectives as fully as possible and exploits opportunities that present themselves. The board meets every few months in person, but more frequently by phone conference. Again, I am privileged to serve with some extremely eminent individuals, who have given their time and expertise to the cause, in exactly the same way that the hangar or airshow stand volunteers have. VTTST is nothing if not a very large team with many roles!

As a board, we have had to make some significant decisions along the way. One of these was the question of whether we could take the risk of performing the required leading edge modification in 2013 or to call time on flying then. We knew that the mod would be costly and there was a risk that in the extreme, a problem with the work could ground the aircraft prematurely. However, it was equally obvious that the supporters needed the final option, so we decided to launch an appeal (Operation 2015) to continue the aircraft’s career as far as possible. We were obviously delighted with the success of this!

I have been lucky in the experiences and opportunities that I have had in my career to date. Aerospace, engineering and dare I suggest, motor sport offer some fantastic roles and our intention is that XH558 continues to provide inspiration to young people, so that they can wonder just what they might be able to do themselves if they are involved in these sectors. It has been a huge privilege to be involved so far and I’m looking forward to the next phase.

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