But the marriage of high performance computing and the automotive industry goes far beyond design and development in Formula One. For years now, motorsport has been the testing ground for technology that would eventually filter its way down into mainstream road cars, and the same is true when it comes to computer simulation. Good aerodynamics are just as important for road cars, especially in these days of spiralling fuel costs, so CFD simulation testing is every bit as paramount when BMW is developing the latest 1-Series or the E92 M3 - although a bit more testing on the latter may have produced a better car, let's just hope the CSL restores the M3's good name.
Computer simulation also plays a huge role in the safety aspect of car design, a factor that's increasingly at the forefront of consumers' minds when considering a new car. Little has done more to improve automotive safety than crash testing, where manufacturers crash cars in a controlled environment and evaluate exactly how the chassis copes and reacts. Meanwhile crash test dummies in the cars give an indication of the injuries that the passengers are likely to sustain during impact. It's fair to say that the introduction of crash test dummies themselves in the 1950s was a big step forward in automotive research, since prior to this, human cadavers were used, and were, unsurprisingly less plentiful. But crash testing is expensive and time consuming, so once again computer simulation has enabled car manufacturers to glean vital information about the structural integrity of their designs, without having to manufacture and destroy a physical vehicle.
Bennie Vorster - Vice President, IT Solutions - said that computer simulation has reduced the development time for new vehicles from seven years, to three years, which sounds pretty impressive. However, the actual lifetime of most car models still tends to be between five and seven years, so I wonder where that extra time is going. One theory is that although the actually structural and aerodynamic development time has been reduced drastically, the development of the technology inside the car takes considerably longer, as cars become more and more complex. In fact BMW openly admitted that today the electrics are the most important part of a car. I'm sure that many engine designers would disagree with that, but it's a fact that a modern engine simply can't operate without an ECU telling it what to do.