University team puts together car for Grand Prix

The Heriot-Watt car ready to go. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
The Heriot-Watt car ready to go. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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IT’S the Formula 1 inspired racer that was built on a budget yet can move at blistering speed – and now it’s set to make its international Grand Prix debut.

A team from Heriot-Watt University has designed and assembled a high-performance racing car to compete at Silverstone race track.

Where high-tech Formula 1 cars cost in excess of £3 million, this bargain basement speedster was cobbled together from Honda motorbike parts for a more modest £25,000.

The improvised car has been designed and built to compete in the 2013 Formula Student competition, which pits teams of would-be-engineers from all over the world against each other.

The 25-strong Edinburgh-based team is confident its zippy little brother to the carbon-fibre Ferraris and McLarens, designed for the drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, will more than stand up to scrutiny.

Project manager Lewis Crichton, who led Heriot-Watt’s design team with sponsorship from companies including Chevron and Shell, said: “We can’t go as fast as the pro vehicles. The competition speed is limited to 90mph but our car can get there really quickly. We can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in about three and a half seconds.”

That’s on a par with a £220,000 top-of-the-range Lamborghini sports car.

He added: “There’s a lot of excitement, and a little bit of nervousness, about the event. We’re just happy the car has come together in time.”

Lewis, 20, who is studying for a masters degree in mechanical engineering, said his team had to think out of the box to design a car that would hold its own at Silverstone.

While F1’s dedicated research and development squads are backed by multi-million pound budgets and work over years to perfect a car, the Heriot-Watt team had only months to get their vehicle ready.

Lewis said: “The competition at Silverstone will be stiff. Some of the student teams we’ll be up against are rumoured to have budgets of half a million euros and sponsorship from companies like Audi. So it will be tough for us but we’re aiming to place first among the Scottish universities.”

He added: “The thing we tried to focus on was making our car reliable. There have been issues with reliability in the past, when it would just break down.”

Ahead of the event on July 4-7, the students’ car has been praised by engineering experts.

Dr Peter Cumber, lecturer in mechanical engineering at the university, said: “Formula Student is a great event that continues to grow every year.

“It requires a lot of dedication from our students, who all work incredibly hard to ensure they produce a strong and high-performance race car.”

Formula 1’s drive for speed

FORMULA 1’s speed machines have come a long way since the first competitive models emerged in the mid-20th century.

In the first F1 Grand Prix race in 1950, racing cars had 4500cc engines, with no weight or other restrictions, and boasted top speeds of about 180mph.

Every year saw technical innovations, as cars, engines, tyres and other mechanics were improved.

The introduction of “wings”, or aerofoils, in the 1970s and 80s improved cornering ability, while the development of computer-aided devices in areas such as suspension and traction boosted speeds further. Today’s F1 vehicles can hit up to 220mph, with engines limited in performance to a maximum of 18,000 rpm.