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Formula 1 In-Depth: Driving Forwards Through Data

Formula One is very much a data driven sport. How much has it changed over the years?

by  Jim Davis  | 

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Formula One is very much a data driven sport. How much has it changed over the years?

Data is a huge part of how modern Formula One cars are developed and run. Thirty years ago, when extracting data was in a pioneering stage, the first data logger had only eight channels and could record a single lap at a low data rate. As the cars passed the pit wall, teams would have to try to glean as much as they could from just a few seconds of data transfer. Today, thousands of channels of data are streamed from hundreds of sensors within the Power Unit, gearbox, suspension and bodywork, with complete coverage around a lap of most circuits on the calendar. The overall image the team receives from the car on track has increased a thousand fold. Put into context, the data rate a team can now extract from pressure tappings on a small area of the floor alone is ten times that used in the Apollo space missions.

With restrictions on track testing, how important is collecting data during a race weekend?

In the past, teams would test for two or three days between every race. Today, track testing is restricted to just eight days before and four days during a season – forcing teams to use race weekends as part of their R&D programme. Track time is now not only used to get the best out of a car for that event – but also for future development. Much of modern Formula One engineering is carried out by simulation, with teams modelling a car in the virtual world before producing physical parts or systems. However, to be effective, these tools have to be based on the most realistic models possible – and the only way to accurately calibrate those models is via real track data.

How does the team approach the challenge of gathering data for both purposes in such a limited time frame?

Some data is sent back in real time through a high frequency telemetry system, which transmits data from the moving car to the pits. However, there is far more data available than can be extracted via that route. The excess has traditionally been transferred using a wired connection once the car has stopped – but even that is problematic, as crucial track time is lost waiting for the download to complete. This is where Technical Partner Qualcomm has helped the team optimise track time. Engineers are now able to download that balance of data – which can be very bulky – in the time between when the car stops in front of the garage and is wheeled back into the garage via an extremely powerful wireless connection.

From where is the greatest benefit of this system derived?

The most noticeable benefit comes in understanding tyres via the infra-red camera system – and more specifically the speed at which information from that feed can be processed. In the past, the crew would plug in the cameras when the driver returned to the box and have just a few seconds to extract as much data as possible before the car returned to the track. There simply wasn’t enough time to extract the full data set until after a session, so the real-time nature of that data was lost. Qualcomm’s technology allows the team to extract that information much more quickly. By the time the car pulls back into the garage, the engineers have now received that information wirelessly.

How does this technology affect the driver out on track?

Aside from significantly faster data transfer in the pit box, the on-board SnapDragon processor can extract information and stream it live to the pit wall via the telemetry system – allowing the engineers to seeing what the driver is doing through each corner before he gets to the next one. With this information, the team is then better placed to fine-tune car setup and provide the driver with more information at the beginning of each run. This reduces the need for a driver to adjust the balance of the car around a lap, allowing him to focus on getting the most from the car.

How relevant is this to the everyday motorist?

Formula One is becoming increasingly road relevant. Technology developed within the paddock has been trickling down into consumer vehicles for a number of years – but has reached a whole new level under the Hybrid Power Unit era, where Formula One has set the benchmark in terms of efficiency potential from an internal combustion engine based power plant. Today, the sport is reliant on data to analyse performance and diagnose problems – something which will also feed down to the everyday motorist. Qualcomm are a big player in the automotive world – and the pioneering technology they are now applying to the Silver Arrows will undoubtedly support their work also in the consumer automotive arena.

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