Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
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King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the ‘MIT of Saudi Arabia, is seeing its technological expertise play out on the Grand Prix circuit. (Supplied)
Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
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King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the ‘MIT of Saudi Arabia, is seeing its technological expertise play out on the Grand Prix circuit. (Supplied)
Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
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King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the ‘MIT of Saudi Arabia, is seeing its technological expertise play out on the Grand Prix circuit. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 December 2021

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
  • Unique partnership with top racing team sees KAUST technological expertise play out on Grand Prix circuit, winners’ podium

JEDDAH: When McLaren Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished first and second in September’s Italian Grand Prix, the gap between them was just 1.747 seconds.

If either had run just a few seconds slower at Monza, Formula 1’s fastest track, they would have tumbled off the winner’s podium and into the middle of the pack.

That is why F1 teams spend tens of millions of dollars annually tweaking their cars’ aerodynamics, fuel combustion, and telemetry – all in pursuit of an edge worth hundredths of a second per lap.

But when all 10 teams line up on the grid in Jeddah on Dec. 5 for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – on the fastest street circuit ever, with estimated average speeds of 252 kmh (156 mph) – only McLaren will possess a home-grown advantage.

In 2018, the team signed a five-year research partnership deal with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – the Saudi equivalent of MIT – to treat its vehicles as living laboratories. In exchange, KAUST’s students and faculty would bring their expertise in software, sensors, and chemistry to bear on a unique challenge: Navigating the corners and straightaways of Jeddah’s corniche a few seconds faster than everyone else.

Matteo Parsani, assistant professor of applied mathematics and computational science at KAUST, said: “Why is an F1 car faster around the track than a Grand Prix motorcycle, which can also achieve speeds of 300 kmh? Aerodynamics. The manipulation of air around the vehicle is the single biggest differentiator in F1.”

Greater downforce, for example, enables drivers to corner turns at higher speeds, which comes in handy on a course with 27 turns.

Traditionally, teams turned to wind-tunnel testing, which was both costly and time-consuming. More recently, F1 has embraced computational fluid dynamics, which harnesses supercomputing-level processing power to massively simulate and optimize airflow over surfaces. Brute force will take teams only so far, however.

The sport’s voluminous regulations include strict caps on the number of central processing unit hours they can use, which means the most elegant algorithm wins the day. To that end, Parsani and his colleagues in KAUST’s Extreme Computing Research Center have licensed to McLaren the exclusive use of their state-of-the-art solver, which succeeds where off-the-shelf tools fail in accurately modeling turbulent air flow – the bane of drivers.

AN AMBITIOUS JOURNEY

Aerodynamics is only one arm of the partnership’s ambitious agenda, which has expanded in scope from on-track performance to assisting with McLaren’s decade-long commitment to carbon neutrality and support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Mark Barnett, director of research and innovation at McLaren Racing, said: “KAUST’s world-class research and development facilities, faculty leaders, and desire to combine emerging technologies with sustainability initiatives continues to help our team on our ambitious journey.”

But what originally drew the team to KAUST was a question of fuel. Just as F1 regulates how many teraflops teams can use, each car is allotted a maximum of 110 kilograms (29.06 gallons) of fuel. This means teams must strive to extract every joule from every drop, which, depending on the course and conditions, changes from race to race.

Mani Sarathy, associate director of KAUST’s Clean Combustion Research Center, said: “We help McLaren determine optimal fuel combustion by providing them with candidate formulations and the tools.”

Just as Parsani’s group has substituted simulation for wind tunnels, Sarathy’s team uses machine learning to identify candidates for field testing.

One area where KAUST has been able to contribute outside of the lab has been in sensors.

The advent of real-time telemetry in the 1980s transformed F1, as torrents of new data spurred on the optimization of nearly everything. Today’s cars are festooned with hundreds of sensors transmitting gigabytes of data about speed, airflow, engine temperature, braking, exhaust, and much, much more. The weight of those sensors quickly adds up, however, prompting teams to seek yet another infinitesimal edge in swapping them for ones made with ultra-lightweight materials.

As part of that effort, a team of KAUST students was dispatched to observe McLaren Racing in action at the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Watching the team meticulously prepare for its practice laps, Altynay Kaidarova, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, saw first-hand the incredible stresses placed on the car, including extreme G-forces and internal temperatures reaching several hundred degrees Celsius.

Upon returning to KAUST, under the watchful eye of her supervisor Prof. Jurgen Kosel, she set out to “develop customized sensors by exploiting our cutting-edge fabrication technologies.”

Kaidarova’s material of choice was graphene – atom-thick sheets of pure carbon 100-times stronger (and lighter) than steel, and nearly as difficult and expensive to forge.

Her solution was to 3-D-print them, creating a process that enabled her to adapt sensors designed by colleagues to measure strain, airflow, and inertia to survive the extreme environments faced by an F1 car, both inside and out.

She said: “Our aim is to incorporate graphene-enhanced wireless sensors to simultaneously obtain parameters such as force, pressure, and temperature from multiple points around the car.”

TECH BEYOND THE TRACK

These sensors have uses far beyond the track, too. Just as McLaren Racing spun out McLaren Applied to employ its research and development in other industries, the KAUST faculty is eager to see its work with the team pay dividends in the classroom and beyond.

Sarathy’s group is collaborating with Hyundai to design more fuel-efficient engines, while Parsani’s CFD solver is being put to work by NASA.

Kaidarova mounted graphene sensors on marine animals to deliver data both on behavior and an expanded suite of environmental conditions relevant to marine ecosystem health in Oceanographic of Valencia, the largest complex of its type in Europe.

But first, their contributions must prove themselves on the winding streets of Jeddah – and, McLaren hopes, might prove the margin of victory.

Parsani noted that F1 was the ultimate crucible for KAUST or any engineering university.

“Students are exposed to a real industrial project in a real setting. It’s a unique opportunity to watch our research start as pen-and-paper, see it evolve into algorithms, and finally apply it to one of the most complicated devices humanity has ever made,” he added.

No one could ask for a better classroom than a F1 track. The final exam is Sunday.


WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome
Updated 17 sec ago

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Elimination Chamber at Jeddah Superdome
  • Event will be first WWE bout since the second edition of Crown Jewel in Riyadh last October

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, in partnership with WWE, has announced that Elimination Chamber will be held at the Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest pillarless arena, on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

It will be the first WWE event in Saudi Arabia since the 2021 edition of Crown Jewel held on Oct. 21, 2021 at Mohammed Abdu Arena on the Boulevard as part of the Riyadh Season. 

More details of the event will be announced in coming weeks.


Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open
Updated 18 January 2022

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open

Simona Halep battles service demons to stay alive at Australian Open
  • Error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks
  • Both players struggled to hold serve in the opening set

MELBOURNE: Former world number one Simona Halep labored into the Australian Open second round Tuesday after an error-strewn clash with Poland’s Magdalena Frech which saw 11 service breaks.
The fit-again Romanian 14th seed came into the Grand Slam full of confidence after her first title in 16 months at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month.
But she struggled to find her groove against the 102nd-ranked Pole before banking the win 6-4, 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena to keep her dreams of a third major title alive.
“I found it so difficult today, I was unsure if I could play good tennis,” she said.
“But in the end I won and that makes me very happy. Hopefully this week I can play better and better.”
Halep, the runner-up in 2018 to Caroline Wozniacki and semifinalist two years later, is on her way back after a truncated 2021 season when she struggled with calf and knee injuries.
And it was a far from convincing performance, with both players struggling to hold serve in the opening set, with Frech broken three times and Halep twice.
Ultimately, the Romanian was stronger in the rallies and she finally sealed the set on serve with a trademark backhand down the line.
Neither player’s serve improved in the second set with Halep immediately breaking before Frech went on a three-game win streak as the error-count mounted.
Halep then reeled off five games in a row to ensure victory and a second round clash with either American qualifier Katie Volynets or Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia.


Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
Updated 17 January 2022

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
  • Osaka successfully opens title defense but Gauff an early big-name casualty

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating starts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga.

Naomi Osaka launched the defense of her women’s crown with victory but Coco Gauff was an early big-name casualty. The American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside 66th-ranked Marcos Giron, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

The draw has opened up for the Spanish great with defending champion Djokovic out of the picture and the other member of the “Big Three,”  Roger Federer, not at Melbourne Park because of injury.

But the 35-year-old Nadal said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated against COVID overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year right up until the last moment.

Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt at men’s tennis history, he said he would rather the world No. 1 from Serbia was playing.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court,” said Nadal, who plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

He may not be there, but Djokovic still looms over the tournament.

Nadal was all guns blazing at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with COVID in December.

“Today is one victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. One month ago situation had been different — looks very ugly in some way,” he said.

Other winners in the men’s draw on day one of the so-called “Happy Slam,” where crowds have been capped at 50 percent because of the pandemic, included seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.

The Italian defeated American Brandon Nakashima in four sets despite tummy trouble.

Also through was third seed Alexander Zverev in the night match, but 12th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie lost in three sets to Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

There was to be no fairytale run for “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso.

The Italian had earned a place in the main draw when Djokovic was deported but he fell at the first hurdle.

In the women’s draw, top seed and world No.1 Barty made a real statement of intent, crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in 54 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

The 25-year-old faces Lucia Bronzetti of Italy next as the pre-tournament favorite and home hope chases a maiden Australian Open title.

“There’s always something special about playing on a Monday night in the Australian Open,” said Barty, who will need to deal with high expectations from the home fans.

Japan’s former world No. 1 Osaka, the reigning champion, was also largely untroubled with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression,”  Osaka cruised through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle next.

Also through are French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari and reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

But there was heartbreak for Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur, who did not even make it onto court and withdrew because of injury before her match.

Also out was the 18th-seeded prodigy Gauff, surprisingly losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang.

“I think just everything disappointed me about today,” said Gauff.

“I feel like in the pre-season, I worked really hard, and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here.

“Today I just didn’t perform well.”


Two Saudi skiers make history by qualifying for Winter Olympics

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
Updated 17 January 2022

Two Saudi skiers make history by qualifying for Winter Olympics

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
  • Salman Al-Howaish qualified for the slalom and Fayik Abdi for the giant slalom, according to the international skiing federation (FIS) website

RIYADH: You might be forgiven for thinking the Beijing Winter Olympics next month might not be the kind of event at which to expect athletes from Saudi Arabia. But think again.

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games, according to Saudi Press Agency.

The giant slalom has attracted competitors from countries with no medal-winning record in the sport — such as violinist Vanessa Mae who competed for Thailand at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Al-Howaish qualified for the slalom and Abdi for the giant slalom, according to the international skiing federation (FIS) website.

Final places are yet to be assigned by the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, but Saudi Arabia, where temperatures can hit 52 degrees Celsius, has overcome the first hurdle in its quest to participated in its first Winter Olympics.

Other nations currently on the list to compete against Alpine skiers from countries such as Austria and Norway in Beijing include India, Brazil, Ghana, Haiti and the Philippines.

The Games run from Feb. 4-20.


Super Cup deal with Spain ‘will boost Saudi football’: Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales

Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
Updated 17 January 2022

Super Cup deal with Spain ‘will boost Saudi football’: Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales

Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
  • Spanish Super Cup deal underlines Kingdom’s footballing ambitions with plans to lift national team ‘to next level’

RIYADH: The deal between the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and its Spanish counterpart to host the Spanish Super Cup competition until 2029 will mean more to the country than just hosting games.

The exchange of knowledge, supporting initiatives and collaborations will open new horizons for the Kingdom’s national team and Saudi football as a whole.

“We have seen the Saudi football team and they have a good chance of qualifying for the World Cup. I think they are doing a good job, and it is not all due to the help they receive from federations such as the Spanish one, but also because they have people who are working very well in this country,” said Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

Rubiales supports efforts by Saudi footballing authorities to call on other federations around the world in order to maximize the benefits on all fronts, and acknowledges the commitment shown by the Saudi federation and its president, Yasser Al-Misehal.

Managers and coaches of both countries have been exchanging visits, developing powerful programs to create stronger homegrown players and agendas that will help lift the Saudi national team to the next level.

“We are collaborating in referee training and coach training,” said Rubiales.

The Saudi federation has also been sending players to Spain on one-year camps as part of a grassroots approach to the development of young players in the Kingdom.

A similar initiative in the 2017/2018 season followed an agreement between La Liga and SAFF, with nine Saudi players sent on loan having the opportunity to meet and train with players from La Liga.

Among those who took part were Salem Al-Dossary and Fahad Al-Muwallad, two of the key players in the Saudi national team.

Rubiales said that the two federations also have collaborated on the exchange of knowledge and development of Saudi female players in the national team.

Female players made an official visit to Spain where they met Spanish football players and federation members.

The agreement between the Saudi and Spanish federations highlights working with the latest infrastructure, including stadiums.

“It is very important to work with the best tools and best stadiums, and in that aspect there has been tremendous evolution,” Rubiales said.

King Fahd International Stadium has received an extensive upgrade, and the Saudi Ministry of Sports is committed to encouraging key investments in sports infrastructure and athletes’ development.

Rubiales said that a working formula implemented under the agreement will benefit both federations and players in the long term.

“There will be Saudi players who will go to the European league, I have no doubt,” he added.