Formula Student

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Germany leads the way in global competition

The 13th annual Formula Student event from July 15-18 was a great success for German students after the TU Munich and ETH Zurich universities were victorious in Classes 1 (600cc petrol) and 1A (low-carbon) respectively.

“The standard this year was excellent,” chief judge Richard Folkson told me afterwards. “It was a very exciting afternoon because we had a fantastic tussle between Stuttgart [who finished second overall] and Munich in Class 1. Munich had a fantastic car and a very good driver, and overtook Stuttgart on track in the endurance event and finished as overall winners.

“It was motor racing at its best, as we always run the winning cars from the sprint event in the endurance event first,” added Folkson. “The top two cars, from DHBW Ravensburg and Delft University of Technology, were really competitive. It was rather tragic because the Ravensburg car did one lap and the engine went, dropping them from a possible first place to 16th, and then Delft went out on track. It was a fantastic car and it did a great first stage. However, they had to do a compulsory driver change at the halfway mark and turn the engine off, and they couldn’t get it restarted [dropping them to 18th overall]. It was real Formula 1-type drama and upset, a ‘welcome to motor racing’ if you want.”

Although the British universities couldn’t trouble the European institutions on this occasion, Hertfordshire did manage to finish an admirable fifth in Class 1 and fourth in Class 1A, just ahead of the University of Central Lancashire. “Hertfordshire did a very good job,” said Folkson. “I’m really keen that we eventually get a UK winner, but you’ve got to acknowledge that Hertfordshire just didn’t have the resources and some of the access to technology that the German teams have.”

Much like in the real world, Folkson admits that the results also vary depending on what calibre of driver the teams have on board their machines. “There’s a big driver element and there’s a prize for the best driver. The driver from Monash University in Australia, Ashan Perera, was fantastic with a really aggressive, forceful style. They came third overall, and you’ve got to say a large chunk of that was down to the driving [the team finished first in the sprint event and the skid pan, and came a close second in the endurance event].

“It was a heavily-winged car because they had access to a wind tunnel, and although it added a bit of weight to the car it definitely proved that wings work at even the relatively slow speeds of Formula Student, because they won the skid pan event easily.”

Folkson is excited about the future as this year the Class 1A cars were fitted with data-logging, which will lead to an equivalency factor so they can compete against the petrol cars. Zurich, the first-placed 1A car, would have finished sixth overall in Class 1. However, they are still much heavier than those machines due to their electric motors and batteries. “It’s going to take another couple of years gathering data, but we’ll get there,” said Folkson. “What was also interesting was that there was a much higher attrition rate in Class 1A than Class 1, and most of the failures were down to basic car engineering like brakes rather than new technology – out of 11 starters we only had four finishers. They can’t put all their effort into the motors, batteries and technologies, as they’ll forget about the fundamentals.

“Another idea for the future is to try and get some of these cars up the Goodwood hillclimb at the Festival of Speed. We always have a stand, but it would be super to get them on the hill. They’re not toys – they’ll do the 0-70mph sprint in 3.5 seconds and they only weigh 200kg, so they’re seriously fast!

“One thing I love about Formula Student is the collaboration between the teams – if any of them have a problem, they will always help each other out. The detail is also astonishing. This is the next generation and it’s fantastic.”

Formula Student is worth going to watch as not only does it showcase some great innovations from the youngest and brightest engineering minds in Europe, but also these innovations are positively encouraged – something that isn’t always the case in professional racing…

Next year’s event will be held at Silverstone on July 15-18.