Real-time data sets F1 apart

Real-time data sets F1 apart
PHOTO: Reuters

We are back in the zone where 200-300 kmh speeds on Singapore roads are legal, albeit for a select group of elite worldclass drivers behind the wheels of Formula One super cars.

State-of-the-art automotive technology are used to build these cars and the drivers are some of the best in the world. Yet super cars and super drivers are not the only two ingredients that make Formula One the exciting sports that it is. There is a technology backbone that helps to make the sport so competitive and exciting.

The communication grid which is a must at all Formula One races is the vital missing link that differentiates the sport from many others. Fans may not notice it but the difference between a podium finish and an also ran position could boil down to the difference in the amount of data a particular team could process to get actionable intelligence during the race.

Each of the Formula One cars have 100-150 sensors embedded in them. These send out streams of detailed information about the health of various subsystems of the car such as tyre pressure, tyre thread condition, fuel load, race and lap distance, car and driver weight and others. This information is relayed in real time to the team's pit crew from where it is re-routed to the factory or headquarters, usually situated in Europe.

A crack team of specialists go through the 60 to 80 gigabytes of data for each car produces during a race with sophisticated analytics programmes which help to predict behaviour of the different components based on the information they have in their databases even while the race is going on.

Using these programmes, experts can pinpoint, for example, if a particular component could malfunction soon. The actionable intelligence gleaned from the data crunching is relayed back to the pit crew and the team director then takes a decision on what advice he would give to the driver. The team that has the most efficient communications network and the best data analytics capability gains a massive advantage.

The companies that provide technology support to the Formula One teams play a vital role in a team's success and are as much key members of the team as are the engineers who design the cars and the drivers who sit behind the wheels.

Speaking to The Business Times, Stephan Scholl, president of Infor, an enterprise software solutions company, notes that in order to gain maximum speed and fuel efficiency, Formula One teams rely on big data analytics and predictive capabilities to enhance a car's performance in real-time. "That is why it is said that Formula One cars are like big data factories on wheels."

Infor has a long-term business collaboration with Ferrari, the most successful Formula One team, offering them data analytics solutions that continue to influence professional racing in terms of individual performances and efficiency.

Mr Scholl adds that the Formula One cockpit - the console in front of the driver - can be compared to the central nervous system, collecting data across every aspect of the car's performance. "Live race data is transferred in seconds from the cockpit to the team headquarters. Using the data, teams are able to predict outcomes even before the race starts, based on historical data over the season and predictive models."

Mehul Kapadia, Tata Communications MD for the company's formula one business, adds that the rapid transfer of rich data from the car's sensors on the track to the factory and vice versa, gives its Formula One partner team, Mercedes AMG Petronas, the time to distribute the data to the right engineers across the world. "We provide the ability to transfer live race data around the world in less than a quarter of a second," Mr Kapadia adds.

The technology partner of Williams Martini Racing, BT Global Services, provides the end-to-end global IP infrastructure that connects the racing team's headquarters at Grove, UK, to the team at race tracks around the world, facilitating secure and high speed communication as well as effective collaboration.

Seb Hills, BT Global Services' head of strategy for Asia, Middle East and Africa, notes that his company allows for the streaming of between 60 to 80 gigabytes of raw data from the track and pit stops at top speeds of 100 megabytes per second, running up to 1,000 race simulations per minute. It also enables higher-speed remote access to information sources and improves the performance and reliability of demanding computing processes, including applications relying on video, telemetry and voice.

"As a result," he says, "the team can now interrogate remote systems and export the required information at the racetrack, all in a matter of minutes, allowing for real-time analysis and decision making. This contributes towards race strategy optimisation and fine-tuning car performance, helping to narrow performance gaps."

Teams make predictions with acceptable margins of error on the race, such as where they will finish in the race before it even starts, the tweaks needed to propel their car to secure a hair's-breadth lead over another, all based on data from their competition and their own car that they have collected over the season.

The game-changer now lies in the speed at which this data is analysed and transformed into actionable insights for the race driver. The level of efficiency in the analysis process to shave off thousandths of a second from lap times can easily be all that stands between winning and losing a race.

Tata Communication's Mr Kapadia adds that the fastest pit stop of all time was recorded at 1.923 seconds in 2013. "However, with the 60 kmh speed limit of the pit lane, realistically, the average pit stop costs 15-20 seconds. The in-race changes you make to the car must claw that time back -- and preferably go even further - so it is vital that teams pit their drivers at the right time and make the right changes.

The state of the art communication grid also makes Formula One races a much better spectator sports.

Mr Hills notes that the different teams may race on the same track but their tactics differ from one another. "As such, spectators may not understand the tactics being employed by the race team, making it difficult for spectators to understand which team is in the lead.

"To solve this, race analytics create visualisations from collected data to help spectators and commentators follow the race. With the data, race commentators can communicate to their audience why the teams are executing a certain move," says Mr Hill.

Race analytics simplify complexities, enabling spectators to understand the nuances of the race. At the end, the entire race is user-end driven, and big data analytics helps bridge the gap.

Infor's Mr Scholl adds that advancement in data analytics have helped deliver a very engaging experience to Formula One fans. The official Formula One website has launched a live Race Performance Ratings system that takes in live race data and produces an indexed score out of 10.

Fans are then able to compare the inputs of different drivers in five areas - aggression, braking, cornering, steering and throttle. Being updated every five seconds, this gives fans an unrivalled insight into how data analytics in Formula One works.


This article was first published on September 19, 2015.
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