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Commitment to design helps Bath win Formula Student like no other

Joseph Flaig

The design philosophy aimed for a 'lightweight and reliable car whilst maximising handling performance'
The design philosophy aimed for a 'lightweight and reliable car whilst maximising handling performance'

When faced with months of remote home-working across six countries and three disparate time zones, designing an award-winning car from scratch sounds like an unattainable goal.

Team Bath Racing has shown it can be done, however, thanks to a strong commitment to an original design philosophy and a determination to work “from the ground up” to create an original and exciting car.

The concept class team from the University of Bath came out on top at this year’s Formula Student, held over the weekend. The 22nd annual edition was the first time the IMechE event was completely online, after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the competition’s track events at Silverstone.

Teams took part in over 400 presentations for the Business, Cost and Manufacturing, and Design events, while the traditional dynamic events also went online. Lap times were simulated using multi-body dynamics models, and teams competed in virtual races.

As a concept class team – they plan to build their design and return for dynamic events next year – Team Bath Racing were ineligible for the virtual track events but found success in the presentations. The penultimate year engineering students had “no expectation” of making the Cost and Design finals, let alone winning the event, says project manager and electronics lead Benjamin Jenkins to Professional Engineering.

Design work started in February. While other teams take an iterative approach, fine-tuning and honing previous designs, Bath made all the decisions themselves to create their perfect car.

“Every year we build and design from the ground up, a completely new design. It’s a blank sheet of paper,” says Jenkins. “Everything has been designed by a member of the team so we know why every single decision has been made… when the judges question us, we have the answer.”

The team’s design philosophy was for a ‘lightweight and reliable car whilst maximising handling performance’. Carbon fibre was a key material in achieving this, forming the monocoque, an aerodynamics package with front and rear wings, some side aerodynamics, an under tray, rear diffuser and an engine cover.

The suspension has carbon-fibre wishbones and hybrid wheels with carbon-fibre wheel rims and a machined metal wheel centre, saving more than 1kg across the car. The students worked with a sponsor to create additively manufactured suspension uprights, featuring an internal isotropic lattice structure to save several hundred grams.

The car has a single-cylinder KTM motorcycle engine with a custom turbocharger, and the ‘unusual’ inclusion of a rear-wheel steering system.

“Rear-wheel steering is very unusual, it’s something that only the top teams attempt,” says Jenkins.

“It’s something that is very challenging to get right, which is why it’s quite rare. It allows you to turn corners a lot tighter, it gives you much better handling… It’s electronically controlled, which at low speed gives better turning capability, but at high speed, rather than turning in the opposite direction, you can turn the same direction for more stability at the corner. It gives significant handling improvements.”

The team came second in Design, fourth in Costing and Manufacturing, and also did well in the Business category.

The pandemic made it a “very tough few months”, says Jenkins, with team members working long hours from their homes around the world. Accessing the required software was occasionally difficult, with some students even remotely accessing university computers to get the work done.

“No one has actually been able to see another team member face-to-face, we have all been at our homes,” says Jenkins. “We were working across six countries, three different time zones. We have team members in Singapore and China, as well as Eastern Europe and the UK. The whole team has been exceptionally dedicated to getting the work done in time to an exceptional standard.”

Other award winners included the University of Portsmouth, Cardiff University and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. The team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology came away with an award in their debut year.

“The event has been a huge success and has run almost seamlessly, which was far from assured,” says chief judge Dan Jones. “We have all been massively impressed by both the standard of entries and the versatility of the students in adapting to the new event formats.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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