Red Bull’s Ian Handscombe revealed in an interview with the 3D Printing Industry how the company incorporates 3D printing in Formula One and how their utilization of advanced manufacturing gives the team, known as Oracle Red Bull Racing, a competitive edge. “Without embracing 3D printing, we cannot stay in the game,” he emphasized, stressing the significance of additive technology in their operations. Handscombe, who heads Quality Engineering at Red Bull Racing, has spent three decades in the automotive industry and offers captivating insights into both the sport and fastest-growing technology in F1.
Handcombe pointed out that central to Oracle Red Bull Racing’s success is the transformative impact of their technical collaborations, more specifically with companies like Hexagon. “Our partners’ expert support is essential for our operations,” he admitted. Collaborating with them, Red Bull has managed to incorporate advanced technologies into their operations, simultaneously pushing performance boundaries and ensuring their racing cars’ safety and reliability.
Handscombe depicted an intense picture of Formula One in 2023 – a grueling circuit comprising 22 races, five continents, and spanning nine months. The technical intricacies of adapting to varying racing conditions and the logistical hurdles of transporting an entire team globally make the challenges formidable.
No matter the challenges, it’s the relentless push for innovation and a hunger for victory that propels Oracle Red Bull Racing team. “Our common drive is to be the best and our thirst to win,” professed Handscombe. The team is always seeking perfection, may it be optimizing the car for the fastest track in the schedule or adjusting for the tight bends of Monaco where downforce is crucial, or even focusing on cooling mechanisms to outrun the hot and humid conditions in Singapore.
Handscombe revealed some interesting aspects about the sport’s global popularity. He pointed out that with a fan base of 530 million worldwide, F1 is more popular than the Champions League in the UK and the NFL. Only the World Cup and the Olympics garner more attention.
When speaking about the Red Bull Ford Powertrains program, Handscombe talked about Red Bull’s rapid advancements in technology and the company’s move into the esports realm, while also mentioning production of a £5 million two-seater sports car. He stated that the car would incorporate the latest technology from Formula One. It was announced that the RB17 would be manufactured at the Red Bull Technology Campus in Milton Keynes, UK in 2025. These cars would be produced in a limited quantity of just fifty, making each car a coveted asset.
In terms of development challenges and growth opportunities, Handscombe provided key insights that could apply to any high-performance team. He emphasized the difficulty in maintaining the team spirit and culture formed during the early stages of growth. His comments highlighted the dilemma faced by any growing team: how to preserve their innovative nature while adapting to new situations and challenges.
Red Bull’s grand ambitions were made more evident as Handscombe detailed a brave new venture: creating their own powertrain company. He stated, “In the end, we decided, why not? Why not take control of our own destiny and future.” The audacious project aims to handle all aspects of manufacturing and testing of the engines from 2026 onwards, with the objective of achieving more victories and championships. However, as Handscombe admitted, even for a company like Red Bull, this is an ambitious project. The team has made significant progress, having previously been powered by engines from Ferrari, Renault, and, since 2019, Honda.
Handscombe credits Hexagon with playing a pivotal role in informing Oracle Red Bull Racing about the equipment they need, supplying said equipment, aiding in its development, and providing the necessary training. Handscombe states, “Hexagon has been with us every step of the way in this endeavour.” This strategy, which involves utilising the expertise and innovative solutions of its partners to fuel its own progress, exemplifies Red Bull’s approach.
The manufacturing side of Red Bull’s racing venture is equally remarkable. “Every year, we manufacture around a quarter million parts,” Handscombe shares. The company not only fabricates parts for its own team, but also for the AlphaTauri team, as they’re currently known. This ongoing process of optimisation embodies Red Bull’s philosophy of iterative development, which is aided by exhaustive data collection and feedback. Handscombe elaborates, “We collect data from every race, generating about 400 gigabytes of data per race.” The collection and review of this data is critical in retaining their competitive advantage, as it enables them to respond faster than their rivals.
And the numbers certainly suggest that their strategy is working. The team emerged victorious in 21 out of the 22 races in the 2023 season, after winning 17 races in the preceding season.
Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing (L) and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing were photographed alongside trophies during Max & Checo’s Homecoming at Red Bull Racing Factory in Milton Keynes, England. Bob McCaffrey/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool captured the moment.
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Quality is key
Quality is fundamental to Red Bull’s ethos. Their representative mentioned that their motive is to “fabricate as much as practicable in-house.” This principle underlines the production of the 250,000+ custom parts for their F1 vehicles. However, as pointed out, this internal pledge comes with its difficulties in an environment limited by budget ceilings: “Undeniably, it’s an uphill struggle. But our position is what it is. And we have to follow the rules.” To achieve these expectations without compromising quality, the firm shifted its attention to quality assurance, transitioning from a responsive quality control model. This necessitated infusing rigorous inspections into every stage of the procedure, from initial thought to final product. “We have to guarantee every phase of the process is correct, and that includes all the way to the final point.”
The introduction of this in-depth quality assurance process ushered in novel technologies and strategies into their manufacturing and testing procedures. For example, Oracle Red Bull Racing has used tools from Hexagon’s catalogue to dramatically slash setup and operation time. They’ve also been investigating scanning technologies from other Hexagon subsidiaries, showcasing a readiness to explore innovative solutions to increase productivity.
Red Bull’s innovations extend beyond just the factory floor. They also make their way to the racing team. As stated by Handscombe, “In 2011, we became the first F1 team to bring a scanner to the track.” Originally utilized for diagnostic purposes, this technology has now become an integral part of Red Bull’s trackside operations.
In keeping with contemporary trends, the company now leverages Hexagon’s round-the-clock global technical support to manage its worldwide racing operations. A testament to this technological collaboration was when a Hexagon representative in the UK once sent replacement parts to the Oracle Red Bull Racing team amidst a race weekend in Australia.
Red Bull is, however, not the only one utilizing these advanced technological tools. The wider F1 community has similarly adopted this technology. They rely on Hexagon’s tools to check and ensure every component complies with the sport’s strict regulations.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 was seen performing a marvelous donut on the track during the F1 Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, held on November 26, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The spectacular photo was captured by Mark Thompson and sourced from Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool.
3D printing at Red Bull Racing
At the Red Bull Technology Campus, additive manufacturing, or industrial 3D printing, is a technology that’s quickly gaining traction, according to Handscombe. Even the Oracle Red Bull Racing team is on board with this cutting-edge tech. “It’s the fastest-growing technology within Formula One,” he said. Even though 3D printing is already in use, they’re looking to increase its utilization on a larger scale. That means going beyond using this technology for testing aerodynamics with scale models, and actually creating components for the race car. And it seems we could see 3D-printed mechanical parts on cars soon.”
Another revelation by Handscombe is the incredible speed of the design cycle in this field. We’re talking about the type of speed that allows them to design and incorporate new parts into the car between races. However, the recent budget cap implementation has required some compromises, including staff reductions, to meet financial guidelines.
Despite the immense attention given to the racing car and ways of improving it, Handscombe doesn’t undermine the value of drivers. “We need the best drivers, and they don’t come cheap,” he pointed out, reminding that success in racing is not only about the vehicle. A high-stakes race is as much about who is controlling the car. Besides the driver, another group that the company appreciates are its technology partners who provide invaluable help to cut costs and enhance performance.
Handscombe emphasized the importance of continuous improvement by providing an honest insight into the team’s cultural shift. He became part of the team in 2014, and along with his co-workers, initiated a program for continual advancement that efficiently transformed the team’s cultural fabric. It laid emphasis on preserving a stringent procedure of quality audits and control.
The substantial regulatory modifications on the horizon for Formula One was another major topic of conversation. Handscombe stated that the modifications could be fairly intense, especially considering the impending restrictions. His personal worries were that the proposed monetary limit might slow the pace of technological progress, despite the mushrooming popularity of the sport and the consequent financial inflow. He warned, “We’re allowed to spend less, it places us in a position where we need to make difficult decisions. It’s very important to tread cautiously as it could restrict and curb technology.”