Alistair Smith with Sam Michael, Sporting Director, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Alistair Smith is the most successful F1 in Schools car designer and race engineer in Australia. He is probably the most successful designer-engineer in this competition anywhere in the world. At the age of 15 he was a two times national champion and twice travelled overseas representing Australia. Both of those times his team was voted the second best in the world. Alistair worked nights mastering the hi-end CAD/CAM software package and developing their first car. He created a new type of car with split bodies. It was radically different from anything else that had been seen at an F1 in Schools event.
“I didn’t have any prior knowledge of Formula 1 racing or aerodynamics. I hadn’t followed any kind of motor racing before. I spoke to lecturers and Dr John Young from the Australian Defence Force Academy who mentored me.”
It is history now that Goshawk Racing went to Malaysia and was voted the second best team in the world. A new team Redline Racing was formed the following year and again Alistair focused on car design and engineering. He continued to evolve the shape,
“My goal was a minimal front cross section area. I pushed the design to its limits. I really wanted to raise the benchmark. That was how we came to incorporate wheel balancers and the accelerometer. In our tests we discovered a slight vibration and it was traced to the wheels. We met a clock maker who said it could be due to the balance of the wheels. He came up with the idea of using magnetics to cure the vibration, and it worked.”
“In our search for more data we met some engineers who designed a small accelerometer which fitted in front of the CO2 bulb inside the car. It was capable of recording up to two seconds of speed and lateral movement data. We downloaded the data through prongs which connected to a laptop. This gave me a better idea of how to improve the car.”
“We were always willing to share our discoveries. We sold the accelerometer to other teams because we wanted to see what other students would take from our design. When we were at the World Championships a judge, who was from the Brawn Formula 1 team, was very interested in our accelerometer. He wanted to use one to test the front wing of their car!”
Alistair also investigated alternate materials and this led him to designing a complex nose section which was rapid prototyped from lightweight nylon material. The combination of design, testing and innovation was enough for Redline Racing to win the ’08 national finals. Alistair felt flattered when he saw another team turn up to the National Finals with his design. Their split body car recorded a track time of 0.985 seconds which was the fastest by any team in the 20 nations which compete in the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge. And, it is a record which has not been broken since.