Formula 1 racing and big data

The Formula 1 racing circuit is so competitive that everything a team does is cloaked in secrecy including the amount of data the race cars produce.

Alan Peasland, head of technical partnership for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, told CDN that he was unable to disclose how much data his team produces. Except to say “it’s a large amount.”

Increasingly data and more specific big data is becoming more of a factor in how well Formula 1 racers perform and in some case the actual outcome of the race can be decided.

Peasland said it’s hard to put a percentage on how many wins and losses are attributed to big data. But he did say that Infiniti Red Bull Racing knows big data impacts race positions and points in the standings.

Just this past week at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal Australian Mark Webber from the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team damaged the front wing of his car. Based on data collected from the car the operations room back in Milton Keyes, U.K. determined that overall health of the car was good and communicated that to the team back in Montreal. This split second decision was made thousands of kilometres away and saved Webber about 10 to 15 seconds of time. This decision based on data helped Webber move from 5th place to 4th place in the race. Instead of earning 10 points; Webber received 12. His teammate Sebastian Vettel won the race in Montreal.

“The people in the operations room are one step removed from the emotion of the race. Their calm and professional manner helped Mark. They saw that the behavior of the race car was OK. They saw the handling of the car was OK and chose not to pit him to change the front wing,” Peasland said.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing finishing 1st and 4th was a great showing for the team as it has never won in Canada and the Cirque Gilles Villeneuve track was determined through data not to be a track best suited for Vettel’s and Webber’s cars, Peasland added.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing accumulates data through more than 100 sensors on each car. That data is acquired and tracked on an AT&T network. AT&T is the official technical supplier to the team. AT&T provides Infiniti Red Bull Racing a high-speed network that can capture large amounts of data. This data is shared and communicated between race venues and the team’s headquarters in Milton Keynes.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing also has access to high definition video conferencing and remote access to graphically intensive technical applications most of which are made in-house, said Peasland.

This is not AT&T’s first foray in Motorsport. AT&T had a long partnership with Williams F1 Team.

Pia Jenson, who represents AT&T as a sports marketing agent said the split with Williams F1 was amicable and led to AT&T offering there services to a number of other Formula 1 teams.  “Red Bull was a customer and what we liked about them was that they were creative and inventive in how they used our network. It was very attractive to AT&T; partnering with a like-minded customer and it translated to great performance,” she said. The team won the Constructors and Drivers championship last year.

Peasland said that one of the challenges is managing the data captured on the AT&T network.  “With sensors doing multiple things we are swamped with data and the key is to get that bit of info that makes a different in the race. Equally we need to communicate that data to the track and take action on that data,” he said.

Typically most Formula 1 cars measure wind speed, body pressure, body work, down force, gear box temperature, break temperature, transmission health, aerodynamics and handling.  The data is sent to key people on the team and back in the operations room who are specialist.

Big data plans a major part Formula 1 racing, but the same cannot be said for cloud computing.

Peasland told CDN that while he is looking into cloud computing at this time the team is not interested in it because of security reasons.

“Cloud is not something we are using in all honesty. We are looking into it and there are always new products and technology from AT&T and that’s one of the reasons why we have this partnership so we can innovate together. But we are very protective of the data and the security element of the cloud is not something we willing to risk,” Peasland said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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