From Hypercars to Racing Boats to Skateparks in the Sky | Red Bull Advanced Technologies Does It All | Part One

By Drew Wilson

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Welcome back to Part One of our first series for the Future Car Podcast in 2024. We’re delighted to be joined by Rob Gray of Red Bull Advanced Technologies. Rob has an extensive engineering background that ultimately led him to Technical Director. Keep reading to learn more about Rob Gray and the projects going on at Red Bull Advanced Technologies 👇

What to expect from this episode

How Red Bull Racing Influences Red Bull Advanced Technologies 🤔

Red Bull Advanced Technologies was established in 2014 to extend Formula One technology to broader applications. The team, with extensive experience in Formula One, utilizes the same methodologies and processes and applies them to more of the “real world” outside of Formula One. The transfer of technology from race cars to commercial vehicles is an essential part of this — the world of racing is to thank for many safety features that we take for granted today.

What Rob enjoys the most out of everything he does 🖥️

Through all the years and job titles in Formula One ranging from Structural Analyst to Chief Designer, Gray finds himself missing the engineering aspect in his new role of Technical Director.

Seeing a problem that needs solving and being able to get your teeth into it, that’s great. I love when we have a new project, and you’re in that kind of blue-sky thinking phase, and when you’re then maybe doing some quick calculations to try to work out whether you’re thinking is going in the right direction. That’s the really enjoyable part of it.

Rob Gray | Technical Director of Red Bull Advanced Technology

How the performance of the new RB17 hypercar will compare to an F1 car 🏎️

Rob Gray kept his cards close to him in his response to the RB17 comparisons, but the aim is to be very close to a Formula One car. With slightly more power and similar overall weight, Gray states that there will be no issues with speed.

How the safety of the RB17 is being ensured 👷

The safety of any customer looking to get into the RB17 is considered as they will be required first to drive the car in simulator before ever driving the real thing. This allows drivers to get a feel for handling and capabilities of this incredible piece of engineering. There are also more common safety features in the RB17, like frontal impact and rear impact as well as ABS braking — features that are not found in Formula One vehicles.

Balancing design with functionality 📐

It isn’t an easy task to design vehicles like the RB17 that include that amount of performance, while still looking aesthetically pleasing. The RBAT team has many designers that go through countless iterations of mending together the design side of the car with the mechanics to find the perfect balance.

Start your engines because we’re back with our first episode of the year! Today, we’re talking motorsports. More specifically, innovation derived from motorsports. And who better than the Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies (or RBAT), Rob Gray, to have this conversation with?

In this Part 1 Future Car episode, host Ed Bernardon and Rob discuss his 20+ years of experience at Red Bull, RBAT’s first hypercar project (How will it compare to F1 cars? How will design balance with creativity? What lessons learned are helping with the manufacturing process?), and RBAT’s foray into racing on water! Listen in to hear more…

Some Questions Asked

  • What is it exactly that RBAT does? (3:16)
  • How do you compare all those years working in Formula 1 to what you do now? (6:25)
  • What do you think were some of the biggest technological developments in Formula 1 [during your time at F1]? (9:51)
  • Did you learn anything about an F1 technology that you brought into an on-track car that you think could make an on-road car? (20:56)
  • What types of technologies from Formula 1 can you apply to a racing sailboat? (29:10)

In This Episode You Will Learn 

  • How Red Bull Racing influences RBAT (4:57)
  • What Rob enjoys the most out of everything he does (7:18)
  • How the performance of RBAT’S new hypercar, the RB17, will compare to an F1 car (17:08)
  • How the safety of the RB17 is being ensured (19:53)
  • How RBAT balance design with functionality (24:24)

Connect with Rob Gray


Connect with Ed Bernardon:

[00:00] Ed Bernardon: Hello and welcome to 2024’s Future Car Episode. It’s been a while, so we’re starting off with a bang and I’ll be sitting down with the Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Rob Gray. We talk a lot about racing on this podcast, and one recurring topic within the world of racing is the transfer of technology from race cars to commercial vehicles. From carbon fiber to antilock brakes and even the rearview mirror, we have the world of racing to thank for many aspects of our cars we ride in today. Red Bull Advanced Technologies is leading the charge when it comes to applying race car tech to commercial vehicles and even beyond. Rob brings 20 years of design experience from Formula 1 to his role as Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies, where they take the tech, the methods, and tools used to make a winning Formula 1 team, and apply those to engineering challenges on land, sea, and air. In Part 1 of 2, Rob and I discuss his past professional experience in F1, and how it compares to what he does now. We also talk about the biggest technological breakthroughs he witnessed while working in Formula 1, and finish our conversation on the RB17, Red Bull Advanced Technologies first hypercar project. We even throw in a bit on designing an America’s Cup racing boat. I know you’ll really enjoy my conversation with Rob Gray.


[1:33] [Intro music]


[01:42] Ed Bernardon: We’re all familiar with the Oracle Red Bull Racing Formula One team. They just won both the drivers’ and the constructors’ championship, something they’ve done many times before. But the Red Bull Technology Group has several different organizations within it. One of them is Red Bull Powertrains. They’re working together with Ford to develop a power unit that’s going to comply with the new regulations that are going to come in in 2026. And then there’s Red Bull Advanced Technologies; that’s what we’re going to focus on today. Red Bull Advanced Technologies takes the technology, methods, and tools that are used to make a winning Formula One team, and they apply those to engineering challenges that are in land, sea, and air. This could be anything from a commercial Hypercar to a hydrogen-powered racecar, or a bike, a balloon, submarine, a sailboat. To explain all this to us today, we have just the right person: the Technical Director for Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Rob Gray. Rob, welcome to our podcast.


[02:53] Rob Gray: Thank you very much.


[02:55] Ed Bernardon: I want to read the description of Red Bull Advanced Technologies. It says, “A company that brings exceptional engineering design and production capabilities to a diverse set of industries across land, sea, and air.” Now, that description opens up a world of possibilities. It could be almost anything. So, what is it exactly that Red Bull Advanced Technologies does?


[03:21] Rob Gray: Well, I thought your introduction kind of started to cover it quite well, to be honest. Red Bull Advanced Technologies is a smaller version of all the engineering and manufacturing side of the Formula One team. So, we take the technology that’s used to develop race-winning cars and apply it to a range of other industries, as you say. We’ve got two core aspects of the business: we’ve got the engineering side, and then we’ve got the supply chain side. The engineering side has all of the main departments that you’d recognize from the F1 team but on a smaller scale. So, we’ve got an aerodynamics department, we have a performance and simulation department, electronics, design, composites, and structures. All of the engineering that we use on the cars, we can apply to whatever other product we want. We then got the supply chain side, we’re building that up at the moment, and that’s focusing on how we actually deliver the physical components that we’ve designed into whichever project they’re needed in.


[04:11] Ed Bernardon: So, deliver to actually work in the commercial world, or could it be in racing outside of Formula One, of course?


[04:18] Rob Gray: Yeah, we don’t do masses within racing at the moment. Two main projects that are racing at the moment are the America’s Cup with Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team, and then MotoGP, where we’re looking at aerodynamics for the KTM MotoGP Team. And then a whole host of projects that aren’t racing-focused.


[04:36] Ed Bernardon: So that’s where land, sea, and air comes in. Obviously, sailboat racing on the sea. It’s also called a sister business to Red Bull Racing. So, there is an influence by Formula One into Red Bull Advanced Technology. So, how does what’s learned and done in Formula One impact what you do?


[04:56] Rob Gray: Red Bull Advanced Technologies was formed in 2014 when Dietrich Mateschitz, the founder of Red Bull, expressed the desire to see that wonderful Formula One technology being applied in the wider world. So that was the initial mission statement of the company. There’s a number of us who’ve worked in the Formula One team for a long time, and I’ve been there for quite a while. We bring a lot of knowledge of the methods and processes that are used in the Formula One team. Then we can apply them out into different projects. Really, it’s the methodologies that we use on the Formula One car that are most relevant to what we do. For example, in aerodynamics, we’re using the same CFD process to analyze the airflow around whatever the project happens to be, whether it be a push bike or a MotoGP motorbike. We’re using the same methodology that we use on the Formula One car to do that analysis. And it’s those tools that carry the technology over.


[05:46] Ed Bernardon: So, you mentioned computational fluid dynamics. If you’ve got a racing boat, a bicycle, or a race car, making sure it can flow through the air with the least amount of resistance, it’s common.


[06:00] Rob Gray: Minimizing drag is a fairly common target. So, yes, we use CFD extensively on pretty much all of the projects.


[06:08] Ed Bernardon: Now, you started in Formula One with Jaguar, and that was over 20 years ago now. 


[06:15] Rob Gray: Yeah, 2002. 


[06:17] Ed Bernardon: So, you went from a structural analyst at that point, to chief designer. How do you compare all those years working in Formula One to what you do now? 


[06:29] Rob Gray: So, I suppose some of the roles I had on the F1 team, I see, are absolutely directly paralleled. People within my team now have those same roles. So, the structural job that I started in, we’ve got guys working in Red Bull Advanced Technologies doing that exact job. On a personal level, I suppose as you progress through your career, the amount of engineering you do versus the amount of general managing you do — the balance shifts. While I still call myself an engineer, I know that the majority of my time is actually spent away on non-engineering topics.


[06:58] Ed Bernardon: Your title is in F1, Structural Analyst, Chief Designer, and now you said, Manager. Do you ever feel like, “Oh, I wish I was doing more engineering”?


[07:08] Rob Gray: All the time. I actively get involved in the projects as often as I can. But it’s just there are a few different things pulling me in different directions.


[07:15] Ed Bernardon: Of all the things that you do, what do you like the most? 


[07:18] Rob Gray: Probably the engineering. Actually, undoubtedly, the engineering. Seeing a problem that needs solving and being able to get your teeth into it, that’s great. I love when we have a new project, and you’re in that kind of blue-sky thinking phase, and when you’re then maybe doing some quick calculations to try to work out whether your thinking is going in the right direction. That’s the really enjoyable part of it.


[07:37] Ed Bernardon: And that’s one of the big differences actually, too, in Formula One. A Formula One car tends to be an evolution; it evolves. Somewhere you use the previous year. Now, if there’s a change in the regulations, that jump is bigger. But you don’t very often get that clean sheet of paper and say, “Oh, how are we going to make this race car?” So, if you’re on a new project, something no one’s ever done before, how do you get the people together in that brainstorming session to come up with ideas? How does that real creative part work? How do you manage that? 


[08:12] Rob Gray: We’ve got a good team of people. The people side of it is really quarter to that, where you throw a problem out to the guys and say, “So, we’ve been asked to look at,” whatever it might be, and get people’s input and their thoughts. Then, really just start kicking ideas around, and then firming up on things. And then it pretty quickly comes down to, “Well, we’ve got a bit of an idea of where we want this to go.” So now we need to actually run some numbers, start laying out some shapes on the CAD to actually work out what the thing might look like. And really build it out from that.


[08:40] Ed Bernardon: They say sometimes when you’re developing new concepts like that, it’s almost better, instead of having the super genius who has all the ideas, to have people with a lot of different experiences working together. And you mentioned when you’re listing the different types of capabilities you have, there’s mechanical, there’s electrical, there’s software. Is that a big part of it? Because sometimes a software person might come up with a neat mechanical idea. Who knows? Does that play into it?


[09:06] Rob Gray: Yeah, it does. I think it’s also very easy to forget some of the aspects of the engineering that you know are absolutely intrinsic to the project. So, it’s very easy to forget that “Okay, so you want to have a mechanism that does something. Well, you’re going to need electrical to supply power to it, and you’re gonna need software to actually control it.” And they all work together. These guys have got a lot of experience. Quite a few of the team have been in Formula One for as long as I have. So, yeah, they bring experience from all these past projects. And you apply that experience to whatever the new challenge is.


[09:36] Ed Bernardon: So, few people have 20 years of experience on the design side for Formula One. Like you said, from 2002, all the way through to 2020, you were working on the design side for racing. During that time period, what do you think were some of the biggest technological developments in Formula One that really drove the sport? 


[09:59] Rob Gray: The big projects I was involved in. So, first of all, we had a big project to do an instant shift gearbox. That was a long time ago, that must be about the third or fourth Red Bull Car that we were doing, and that was a really interesting project. The big one, obviously, was the hybridization of the power unit. So, first of all, KERS, which I think we added in 2009. So, Kinetic Energy Recovery System, and that was really putting a 60-kilowatt motor to about 80 horsepower, the associated battery and power electronics onto the car with the idea of saving energy in the braking, and then deploying it later on to give the driver a boost. And that was actually deployed by the driver pressing a button on the steering wheel at the time. And that then led on to the change in engines that came in 2014 when we went to the V6 turbo engine from the V8. The V6 turbo was a huge change for everyone because it was such a complicated beast in comparison to the relatively simple V8 that came before it. You got two hybrid systems on that turbo, one electric motor taking power out of the crankshaft. 


[10:58] Ed Bernardon: Which you didn’t have on the V8. 


[11:00] Rob Gray: KERS was there on the V8, but it was a very small part of it. And then the bigger change was that you had the turbocharger with the electric motor coupled to the turbocharger to recover waste heat from the exhaust. So, yeah, that was the biggest change, I think, on the car’s spec. And then from an engineering perspective, I think I’d have to say that the growth in simulation and simulation capabilities is the biggest thing that’s changed. And I remember when I started, CFD was a fairly sort of unproven technology, and there were maybe a couple of guys working on CFD. And now, you see that CFD is like an absolutely intrinsic part of the aerodynamic development process. Similarly, on the vehicle dynamics side, we’ve gone from having a small number of guys simulating the car and how the suspension setup works, how the car corners, to now we’ve built simulators and we test everything in the virtual world before we go to the track. Some of this has been driven by the FIA. So, the FIA have ratcheted down the amount of track testing we’ve been able to do. So, inevitably, that’s meant we’ve ratcheted up, first of all, what we do in the laboratory, so we do a lot of physical testing of the car away from the track. But then secondly, the actual simulation to go ahead of this physical testing.


[12:08] Ed Bernardon: You mentioned aerodynamic simulation. And really, any kind of simulation, anytime you can run something real quickly on a computer, rather than on the track, takes less time, not as expensive — moving all the equipment, the race cars, the drivers. But there are also limitations, I think the FIA also limits the amount of time you can actually do computations, because these simulations have actually gotten so good.


[12:30] Rob Gray: Yeah, on the aerodynamics side, they limit the amount of CFD run. 


[12:32] Ed Bernardon: But otherwise, you can do as much as you want to. 


[12:34] Rob Gray: Otherwise, you can do as much as you want to, yeah. Formula One is a development race, so the faster you can get through these iterations of a different component, or different system, different number of designs, and understand what is actually going to make the car go faster, then you win that development race. So you get those parts on the car, you go faster than the competition.


[12:53] Ed Bernardon: You mentioned when the new engine came in, you’re extracting energy, trying to recover energy from the turbo, you generate energy, I guess you could say, electrically with a generator, from braking. Most people think, “Oh, it’s a race car, just put a big motor in there and go as fast as you can.” And that is important. It’s not really about having a big motor, but it’s about getting the most power that you can. And I guess that was a big engineering challenge. I mean, looking back, you know how it was solved. But I would imagine when you first said, “Oh, we’re gonna have to take power from the turbocharger. We’re gonna have to have regenerative braking. We have got to figure out how all this works together. And then the driver is going to press a button.” I mean, that’s a very, very complex system, getting all that to work together.


[13:35] Rob Gray: Yeah, it’s an incredibly complex system.


[13:38] Ed Bernardon: Can’t explain it in two minutes, right?


[13:39] Rob Gray: Well, no. I think it’s fair to say that we struggled at the start of 2014. We were with Renault at the time. The system was not as well optimized as perhaps it could have been and perhaps others were. So, yeah, it’s a big challenge.


[13:52] Ed Bernardon: And that’s interesting because all the other teams are facing the same thing. A big part of racing, I would think, would be to take what you start off with, your best effort on the first one, and then evolve it as quickly as you can. And if you can evolve quickly, then I think that’s how you can get in front, stay in front, which Red Bull has been able to do.


[14:11] Rob Gray: Absolutely. I think Red Bull has always been very good at winning the development race. There have been a lot of years where we’ve maybe not come out with the fastest car for race one, but then it’s rapidly become the fastest car as you move through the season.


[14:23] Ed Bernardon: One last question about your career, because sometimes people, even in my role at Siemens, people come up to me and say, “Oh, what do I need to do to get a job like yours?” What do I need to do to become the Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technology? I’m sure you must get that question, even from new employees. You’ve been through so many positions, and over a nine-month period, you went from chief designer to technical director, quite a big move in nine months. What advice would you give? What do you gotta do, in nine months, to make a big career move like that? What’s the secret?


[14:58] Rob Gray: I’m not sure there’s any one secret. I think career paths in Formula One can be frustrating because there’s no well-defined ladder that you have to try to progress up. You see the opportunities, and if they’re right for you, you take them. I think I’ve been lucky in my career that I’ve always been offered good opportunities to progress. I enjoyed my role as chief designer, and then was asked, “Would you like to go and run the advanced technologies division?” And I thought, “Well, yeah.” I was thinking at the time, I was maybe–


[15:27] Ed Bernardon: A little apprehensive, maybe? 


[15:28] Rob Gray: No, I’ve been doing the previous job for about six years, so it was getting comfortable, maybe. So, a new challenge was a good thing.


[15:35] Ed Bernardon: I think you raise a good point, whenever there’s going to be a change, there has to be maybe a little bit of anxiety. And even this one, too, running Red Bull Advanced Technologies, isn’t that, “Oh, it’s gonna pull me away from engineering.” But I guess you have to be willing to accept those changes.


[15:51] Rob Gray: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the other thing I always say to people is that actually, a lot of the moves I’ve made career-wise have been sideways moves, where you think, “I’m gonna go do something different for interest rather than particularly worrying about my career.” 


[16:03] Ed Bernardon: And those add up, right? 


[16:04] Rob Gray: And they add up, and they typically result in a better job in the future.


[16:08] Ed Bernardon: Certainly one of the benefits of having moved over to Red Bull Advanced Technology is having the opportunity now to work on Red Bull’s first commercial hypercar, the RB17, which is said to be optimized for on-track driving experience. There’s a lot of influence from what was learned in Formula One into the RB17. I think one of the things that’s really interesting is Oracle Red Bull Racing names their Formula One cars like RB16, 18, and on and on. But from 2020 to 2021, during the pandemic, it was the RB16A and B, and then you jump to the 18, which then left 17 open. So, there’s a lot of heritage, even the name. You could ultimately buy a commercial car that is named like a Formula One car. So, the first question is, how does the performance of the RB17 compare to your Formula One cars?


[17:07] Rob Gray: It’s still in the design process. But at the moment, the aim is for it to be very, very close to the performance of the Formula One car. I’m hedging my bets, they’re slightly saying it’s going to be close, so I think it should be as fast as a Formula One car, but I don’t want to shout about that at the moment. It’s gonna have slightly more power than a Formula One car, so we’re looking at around 1200 horsepower overall from the engine and hybrid system. It’s not going to be a lot heavier than a Formula One car.


[17:30] Ed Bernardon: Even though it has additional bodywork and everything? 


[17:32] Rob Gray: Even though it has additional bodywork. It’s going to have more downforce than a Formula One car. The interesting thing about the RB17 is that it is not constrained by the regulations of Formula One, so we’re able to use things like active aerodynamics to really get as much out of it as we can. I think we’ve said before that it’s a bit of a Red Bull or Adrian Newey’s ‘greatest hits’ car, where all of the good technology that’s been used in Formula One in the past is getting put into the RB17.


[17:55] Ed Bernardon: Well, what’s interesting about what you just said is that we all think about Formula One cars as the fastest race cars in the world, of course, but it’s the fastest race car based on the regulations that it has to conform to. So, as soon as you change those regulations, they could be faster, or different, certainly different. But you’re making a commercial car that people can take onto a track. So when you were let loose, “Hey! No more regulations.” Is it mostly aerodynamics? 


[18:25] Rob Gray: I suppose the big difference on the aero side is that we’re able to focus on having a lot more aerodynamics down at low speed. And then we’re able to use active aerodynamics to limit how much that aerodynamic load increases as the speed goes up. We have to limit it because the tires simply could not take it– 


[18:40] Ed Bernardon: They would just wear out. 


[18:41] Rob Gray: Yeah, you usually have a tire load limit, and you cannot exceed that, so we have to limit the aero at higher speeds. It’s a bit like DRS on the Formula One car, except we have DRS on the front wing, the rear wing.


[18:52] Ed Bernardon: So, it’s actually active. 


[18:54] Rob Gray: Yes, there are active aerodynamic elements.


[18:55] Ed Bernardon: The driver doesn’t have to press a button?


[18:57] Rob Gray: The driver doesn’t have to do anything. Actually, there’s been a big focus for the driver with this car on making it easy to drive. While it’s supposed to have performance similar to a Formula One car, it should not need a Formula One driver to extract a good amount of performance from it.


[19:13] Ed Bernardon: Well, I was going to ask you exactly that: Is it going to have the performance of a Formula One car? You’re going to make it easier. But I would bet that if someone, your ordinary driver, maybe someone who has a little bit of skill, maybe he has taken a car on a track or something, sits in the RB17, they’re not going to be as fast as Max would be.


[19:33] Rob Gray: Well, if they are, we will give them a job.


[19:36] Ed Bernardon: It could be a good way to interview for your next driver. When you have all that power and all that capability, obviously, you consider safety during a crash and all that. Do you also consider safety from the standpoint of making sure that when somebody gets in that car, they don’t overdrive it and get themselves into trouble?


[19:53] Rob Gray: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, there’ll be a very much a program of simulator work. So, the customer is meant to come and drive the car in the simulator before they take delivery, so they’ll get to experience it in the virtual world before they go on track. So, that’s the first aspect of the driver training. And then there’ll be a number of organized events where the drivers can bring their cars along, and we have professional drivers on hand to help them start getting the most out of the cars. And then we will also have the passive safety systems that you mentioned. And yeah, it’s more like a Le Mans car in terms of its safety system—frontal impact, rear impact, that kind of thing—than a Formula One car, just because it’s a more similar geometry of car. But then we also have active safety systems. So, it does have ABS unlike the Formula One car, and it can use the other active systems to also help the driver out.


[20:40] Ed Bernardon: What did you learn in trying to do this that said, “Oh, wow, this is a great F1 technology, it’s going to really make this commercial car so much better.” And right now, we’re at the RB17 for taking it on tracks, at least for now. But ultimately, did you learn anything about an F1 technology that you brought into an on-track car that you think could even make an on-road car ultimately, someday maybe? Or maybe it’s even a different on-road car? 


[21:09] Rob Gray: There are quite a few things where we’re trying to make the RB17 far easier to live with than an F1 car. So, there’s technology that we’re developing. Taking the Formula One inspiration and then developing those technologies so that it makes it easier to run the car and requires less onerous servicing, and makes it a bit more robust for customers to live with. I can see that there is a pathway there, where you then end up with something that’s suitable for road.

[21:34] Ed Bernardon: After all, you still have to bring it in for an oil change.


[21:36] Rob Gray: A Formula One car, for example, at the end of every race, you’ve got a fairly long list of parts that you have to crack-check to make sure that they’re good to be used again. That’s after about 300 kilometers of race, plus maybe 500 kilometers in total. And obviously, you don’t want that on your track car.


[21:51] Ed Bernardon: Will the RB17 come with its own crew that you have at your fingertips here, if you want to…?


[21:58] Rob Gray: We’re not supplying a team. 


[22:00] Ed Bernardon: No crew. You’ve got to find your own crew. 


[22:02] Rob Gray: Really, the aim is for it to be able to be run with the absolute minimum of crew.


[22:06] Ed Bernardon: You mentioned some steps in the buying process: purchase the car, I’m going to get simulation training, probably a real and experienced driver to show me around the track. You’re only going to make 50 of these, and I believe the price is around 5 million pounds or so, is that right?


[22:23] Rob Gray: Five and a bit.


[22:25] Ed Bernardon: Why just 50?


[22:26] Rob Gray: Well, because we want to build the car in the way we know how to build cars. And by that, I mean, we want to use the same build process we use with the F1 car to build the RB17. So, the F1 car very much gets built in small chunks. Take a gearbox as an example: we’ll build an oil pump, we’ll sign that oil pump off on the rig, prove that it works, and we’ll do the same with the differential. We then put these parts together into the gearbox, and we sign off the whole gearbox. And then when you put that gearbox onto the car, and you go out on Friday practice, it just works and the car works. We’re using that same methodology for building the RB17. Also, we’re not going to build these cars down a production line, we’re going to have a team of mechanics, putting each car together in a build bay, like we do with the race car. So, in order to use that process that we know and understand, we really have to limit the number that we’re building. We’re looking at around two years to build the full quantity of 50. I suppose we could have extended that, but we want to keep it exclusive, and we want to do it the way we know. And I think two years is long enough for that to be the case.


[23:29] Ed Bernardon: Should they call you if somebody wants to get on that list? 


[23:32] Rob Gray: Yeah, absolutely. 


[23:33] Ed Bernardon: All right. Adrian Newey — he was the creative force behind this. One of the things that’s always fascinating about Adrian is he works on a drafting board. Few people still do that: pencil, paper, and a big board. I suppose that being able to work with a pencil and paper allows your creative juices, I would imagine, to come forward. But you’re responsible, not only to make a beautiful creative car but one that works from an engineering standpoint. So I would imagine there have to be times when design and creativity have to be balanced against making it work from an engineering standpoint. How do you work with Adrian? And really, how do you balance the creative, the design aspects of a beautiful car with the functionality? 


[24:23] Rob Gray: So, I’d say that Adrian’s design input is really on the actual functional aerodynamic side. 


[24:28] Ed Bernardon: Because that’s the shape.


[24:30] Rob Gray: That’s the basic shape. We do then have a guy on the styling side who tries to beautify the aerodynamic shapes and make them work more coherently. Adrian and this other guy work together very closely to come up with something that is both beautiful and works aerodynamically.


[24:46] Ed Bernardon: And then you have to package everything else inside.


[24:50] Rob Gray: Yeah, that’s another iterative process, though. So we go through I don’t know how many iterations of aerodynamic surfaces where we’re then doing the mechanics.


[24:57] Ed Bernardon: A need to bump it out here or there or whatever.


[25:00] Rob Gray: Yeah, that leads to sort of healthy conflict within the team where you’ve got the aero guy saying– 


[25:04] Ed Bernardon: I like that: “healthy conflicts.”


[25:05] Rob Gray: “We want this to look like this.” And the mechanical guy is saying, “But there’s no space for these parts.” They work together and work out a solution.

[25:12] Ed Bernardon: And I suppose then, simulation becomes the arbitrator of all this. 


[25:15] Rob Gray: To a large extent. Performance simulation leads a lot of what we do. So every aspect of the car gets put into the model and run around the track. And if it makes the car faster, then we keep it. If it doesn’t, then it goes. A good example is the hybrid system, where the hybrid system is on the car because it is making the car go faster. No question about it.


[25:36] Ed Bernardon: Designing a commercial car is something Adrian has always wanted to do. In fact, that was a key part way back, I think, when keeping him with Red Bull. He said, “You’re gonna get an opportunity to design a commercial car,” and he worked with Aston Martin on the Valkyrie, which is quite a machine. So, he had his dream, or at least his dream on the commercial side, to develop this car. What did he learn from that, that you’ve improved on in the RB17? What is it that he learned on that project that you’ve been able to take to the next level?


[26:08] Rob Gray: Adrian and the whole of Red Bull Advanced Technology were very involved in the Valkyrie, it wasn’t just Adrian. And I think the biggest lessons learned really were the value of the R&D side of the project. So, I think the Valkyrie maybe didn’t spend as long in the test lab as it could have. So, then the track development phase took a lot longer than was intended. We’re then trying to reverse that, so we are spending a lot more time in the lab, running on the test rigs so that when we hit the track–


[26:35] Ed Bernardon: That’s the full car or components? 


[26:38] Rob Gray: Everything — from a single component, all the way up to a full car. And we are really trying to mirror the F1 process where we test the car so extensively on the different test rigs that when you go to preseason testing in Bahrain when you get what three or four days on track, everyone runs around, you rarely see a car stopping in preseason testing these days. And then you go to the first race, and you go through the season with absolutely minimal issues. So, we’re trying to copy that process, and hopefully, then have a much easier run through the track validation process and deliver a fantastically reliable car to customers.


[27:10] Ed Bernardon: I think that’s really interesting what you just said about that first practice day, it’s a new car, it’s an evolution of a previous year, say—more so or less so depending if there are rule changes—but it is a new machine. Because of simulation, now, on that first practice day, you rarely see the cars perform fairly well. I mean, maybe they’re not at the ultimate speed and you have gotten every little 10th of a second out. How does that compare to what was going on, say in 2002 or 2003? Compare a practice day in 2002-2001 that we might see here in a few months when you start practicing.


[27:45] Rob Gray: I suppose, back then, there was very minimal testing of the car away from the track. 


[27:50] Ed Bernardon: From a simulation standpoint. 


[27:52] Rob Gray: And from physical testing of parts. We used to test the safety-critical parts, but that was about it. Yeah, you go to the track and there is an awful lot of calibration work to do on the car when you first hit the track, and it was a fairly painfully slow process. So, I think back then, I don’t know the exact numbers, but we’ve probably gone from expecting to do maybe a couple of hundred kilometers on the first track test day, to being disappointed if we don’t hit 500. It’s all because we’ve had to focus in on the value of track time because of the reduction of the track time that’s available.


[28:24] Ed Bernardon: And that simulation is not just on the design of the vehicle, but the driver themselves.


[28:29] Rob Gray: Yes, one of the really notable things is how infrequently we have to make a setup change when you go to track these days. So years ago, every time you went to track, the first thing you do after the first run would be to change an anti-roll bar or something else. 


[28:43] Ed Bernardon: The driver would come back and give you feedback. 


[28:45] Rob Gray: And that was a fairly standard process. And now, it’s fairly rare to hear that happening.


[28:49] Ed Bernardon: Well, let’s talk about other forms of racing. You’ve gotten together with Alinghi, and you’ve formed the America’s Cup and America’s Cup team with them: Alinghi Red Bull Racing team in America’s Cup. You’ve transferred knowledge that you’ve learned in Formula One—another great example—into racing sailboats. So, what types of technologies from Formula One can you apply to a racing sailboat?


[29:15] Rob Gray: With the Alinghi Red Bull Racing team, we very much took the approach that we’re not the experts in designing racing yachts; we’re perfectly open about that. So, what we did with them is we’ve put it very much as a partnership where we’ve said, “Look, this is the technology we’ve got, this is what we can do. These are the tools we have, these are the methods we can use.” And then we’ve let them pretty much pick and choose and say, “Well, we think it’d be really helpful if you can do this part for us or help with that.” And so we’ve ended up using the CFD process that we talked about to work on the hull design of the boats. And these boats, actually, you think it’s going to be a hydrodynamic problem, but it’s actually an aerodynamic problem because they spend–


[29:50] Ed Bernardon: Is that because of the speed of the boat? 


[29:52] Rob Gray: No, because they are the foiling boats. They spend so much time actually in the water.


[29:57] Ed Bernardon: Right. Only the foil is in the water. So, the whole body of the boat sails.


[30:00] Rob Gray: The whole hull is more of an aerodynamic problem these days. So, we’ve applied the same CFD process. We then ended up designing an awful lot of the electrical installations on the boat. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of applying the same rules that we use for Formula One design to make sure that the installation is reliable, robust, easy to service, easy to swap parts out. It sounds like fairly basic stuff, but I think it should be fairly useful. And then probably one of the biggest areas we’re involved in is on the control systems because the America’s Cup is actually fairly free in terms of regulations on the control system, certainly compared to Formula One.


[30:35] Ed Bernardon: I didn’t know that. So, you can have computers or…? 


[30:38] Rob Gray: You have control units. 


[30:40] Ed Bernardon: But you’re making decisions on the placement of the sails?


[30:42] Rob Gray: Not so much decisions, but a lot of the controls for the sailors are done via electronic control modules and human-machine interfaces. So, they’ll be pressing a button to make the sail move, and then it’s how you then go through the system to actually make that happen, and how you link some of these functions together.


[31:00] Ed Bernardon: I’m not an expert on America’s Cup sailing boats, but you see them with the cranks, and when you say “press the button,” are they still doing the cranking and all that? Or is it now all motorized when you’re making adjustments?


[31:11] Rob Gray: So, the cranking is to generate hydraulic pressure within the system. So, the guys crank, and they’re actually going to be cycling, while they’re allowed to be cycling again in the next America’s Cup. So the cranking is generating hydraulic pressure. And then the guy who’s trimming the sail, he presses the button, and that gives the command to actually use the hydraulic pressure to adjust the sail.


[31:29] Ed Bernardon: So, the humans are basically just creating a reserve of power. Is the control system making the decisions on how much to trim and do all those things?


[31:38] Rob Gray: I don’t think it’s making the decisions. That’s still down to the guy who’s actually doing the trimming. It’s how that function actually happens, how you actually make things move.


[31:46] Ed Bernardon: When you’re engineering something like the RB-17 or a Formula One car, safety is a big part, especially crash safety. On a racing sailboat, though, slower speeds, if you crash, you fall into the water. Now, I’m not trying to belittle it, but it’s certainly not the same as going 200 miles per hour on a track where you might hit a wall. Does that allow you to design with less safety factor, maybe closer to the edge where you’re eeking out. In other words, safety is, relatively speaking, maybe a little bit less of a concern so you can draw more performance out?


[32:22] Rob Gray: The problem there, though, is that a Formula One car is a very well-defined problem. In that, you’ve got the cars that, as you say, iterate slightly each year, and they go around the tracks that are fairly well known. It’s fairly well-constrained. So, you’ve got a pretty good idea of the loads we’re going to see on next year’s car before the car hits the track. Whereas the America’s Cup boat, the Alinghi Red Bull Racing guys are designing what they call ‘boat one,’ which is the first own design boat having ‘boat zero,’ using a hull from an existing design. So, there’s a lot more unknowns. So, rather than feeling like we’re able to push the envelope because of the lack of safety requirements, it’s more a question of being less certain over the loading that you’re going to see and having to account for that. And the loads are huge. We’ve designed some parts of the boat that we’re seeing more than 10 tons of load going into. So where we’ve then tested these parts in the lab, it becomes really quite challenging to actually get that load into the parts.


[33:16] Ed Bernardon: Carbon fiber and composites play a big role in racing sailboats, race cars, and all that. Composites are unique materials because you can tailor the strength and the stiffness in different directions. They always say, “Well, one of the greatest advantages of carbon fiber is you can do all that tailoring.” And then they say, “One of the worst things about carbon fiber and composites is we have so many options, how do we pick the right one?” And I would think with a racing sailboat, like you said, you got the hydrofoils, it’s lifting out of the water, you got these masts that are driving the thing forward, many meters up into the air. Is there a lot of tailoring that goes on to what the directions of the fibers are? Or how you’re placing the carbon fiber or the composites when you’re designing a sailboat like that?


[34:05] Rob Gray: Yeah, I think so. We’ve not been responsible for the hull design itself. But on the components, we have been doing. Yeah, it’s very tailored.


[34:11] Ed Bernardon: What components are Red Bull Technologies actually responsible for?


[34:14] Rob Gray: I can’t really go into too much detail. But there’s quite a selection where it’s really looking at the parts where we can see the application of Formula One technology being particularly relevant.


[34:24] Ed Bernardon: Do you ever have moments where the boat guys say, “Oh, there go those racing guys again,” or vice versa, “I can’t believe these boat guys won’t do that. Don’t they understand?” Did you ever have moments like that?


[34:36] Rob Gray: My colleague on the Alinghi Red Bull Racing side, and I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him, Sylvio, he likes to remind me every so often he says, “Rob, we’re lumberjacks, you’re watchmakers.”


[34:48] Ed Bernardon: Oh, so it’s a cross between a lumberjack, an axe, and a fine Swiss watch, or something like that. I’m not quite sure what that ends up being, but it makes sense. It doesn’t make sense.


[34:58] Rob Gray: I think it’s more just that occasionally, we’re used to working on very small components in intricate detail. And then you look at some of the America’s Cup parts, and just the scale of the thing is so much bigger. When you’re looking at a CAD screen, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually a 75–


[35:15] Ed Bernardon: You need to put them side by side. 


[35:16] Rob Gray: Yeah, exactly. 


[35:17] Ed Bernardon: Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.


[35:18] Rob Gray: Thanks for having me.


[35:20] Outro music

Rob Gray | Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies

Rob Gray | Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies

Rob Gray is Technical Director at Red Bull Advanced Technologies. He began his career trackside with the Jaguar Racing Formula 1 team in 2002 and quickly stepped up to the role of Project Engineer following the team’s acquisition by Red Bull in 2005. At Red Bull Racing Rob became Development Group Leader and Head of Drivetrain Engineering before rising to Head of R&D Projects in 2009. Rob was later appointed Deputy Chief Designer and eventually Chief Designer. In 2020, Rob moved to Red Bull Advanced Technologies to run the division and oversee all of its current projects.

Ed Bernardon

Ed Bernardon

Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011, he previously directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory.  Ed holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.

The Future Car Podcast Podcast

The Future Car Podcast

Transportation plays a big part in our everyday life and with autonomous and electric cars, micro-mobility and air taxis to name a few, mobility is changing at a rate never before seen. On the Siemens Future Car Podcast we interview industry leaders creating our transportation future to inform our listeners in an entertaining way about the evolving mobility landscape and the people that are helping us realize it. Guests range from C-Level OEM executives, mobility startup founders/CEO’s, pioneers in AI law, Formula 1 drivers and engineers, Smart Cities architects, government regulators and many more. Tune in to learn what will be in your mobility future.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/the-future-car/ed-bernardon/future-car-podcast-red-bull-advanced-technologies-does-it-all-part-1/