IT in Formula One
IT is now essential to Formula 1 success, from car design to performance fine-tuning
Computational Fluid Dynamics software is used during car design to identify the effects of downforce and windflow
Sauber-BMW IT engineers working on the grid execute final electronics checks before the start of the Malaysian GP
Formula One car designers and mechanics now rely on IT-based performance-analysis tools to give their cars a winning edge.
By the time the current Formula One season finishes in Sao Paulo at the end of November it will have witnessed competing teams generate, collect and analyse more information about the performance of their cars than ever before in the sport's history. To handle the considerable processing load, F1 engineering squads have beefed up their back-end IT systems to crunch the many terabytes of information as quickly and accurately as possible in the hope it can earn the vital split-second advantage that could win a single race, andeventhechampionship.
Competing teams have left no computing technology untouched, and no IT expense spared when it comes to forcing the last torque of out of their cars, while maximising driver safety. High-performance computing (HPC) clusters are used to process huge complex CAD (computer-aided design) images, while computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which some teams are using to augment (or completely replace) physical wind tunnel testing, requires massive number-crunching. Mini-mobile data centres can be flown to any circuit in the world to enable trackside telemetry and communications networks to convey real-time data to mechanics during races.
Bill Peters is head of IT at Team Lotus, formerly Lotus Racing, for whom drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli are this season battling it out on the track with rival Williams, Force India, Sauber and Scuderia Toro Rosso teams in T128 cars powered by Renault engines. 'There are essentially four phases to developing an F1 car: conception; design; construction; and running it,' says Peters. 'IT helps us across all areas, helping us meet FIA (Federation International de l'Automobile) requirements, then simulating and building virtual cars.'
Engineers use CAD software at the initial design phase, as well as finite-element (FE) stress analysis software, which puts artificial loads on virtual mechanical components with pre-defined properties to make sure they are sufficiently robust. Product lifecycle management tools also play their part in'managing the design and construction process, as do enterprise resource planning (ERP), and computer-aided manufacturing and inspection applications.
Computational fluid dynamics
It is the use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software, which builds computer simulated models of whole cars in order to improve their streamlining, that has attracted the most investment. Indeed, the FIA has introduced rules that limit the number of hours of CFD modelling each team can perform within its data centres to a maximum of 40 teraflops in any one eight week period, dependent on how many hours the car spends being tested in a physical wind tunnel.
Lesmana Djayapertape is head of CFD at Team Lotus, which recently equipped its Norfolk data centre with high-performance computing (HPC) equipment based on Dell rack and blade servers and 16TB of storage arrays.
'CFD will show you how fluid or air behaves when it flows around an object, and then tell you where the down-force is coming from,' Djayapertape explains. It also allows engineers to examine specific parts of the car from as many angles as are required, to see the effect on airflow of mounting a driver camera just before the cockpit. For example: 'You can also see the track situation with a 50 per cent model in CFD then take it to the wind tunnel to see how things change when you take a full-size car to the track.'
Other teams, like Virgin Marussia, use CFD exclusively but, Djayapertape says, the technology is not perfect; it struggles to predict accurately unsteadiness around the car caused by rear brakes or diffusers, for example. As such, Lotus prefers to deploy CFD as more of a filter that can help direct further aerodynamic and fault-testing in a physical wind tunnel.
'There was a different attitude in F1 last year, and we [Marussia Virgin] had a lot of people saying it is never going to work,' says Mark Davis, marketing services director at CSC, the IT services company that supplies the Marussia Virgin team with an HPC cluster consisting of around 10,000 compute nodes that runs its full 40Tflops of CFD modelling and testing allowance at a new Banbury data centre; 'but the team has made tangible improvements throughout the season, and we are beginning to see how CFD capabilities can transform what we are doing.'
Away from data-centre CFD processing, all F1 teams ship a variety of IT equipment to race locations around the world, including servers, workstations, network switches, storage appliances and all the security, monitoring, voice over IP (VoIP), messaging and collaboration applications that go with them, plus the other kit and caboodle that IT engineers need to have to hand. Team Lotus also keeps some services running in the cloud as a back-up in case the trackside IT infrastructure goes down for whatever reason, with pitwall electricity supplies notoriously unreliable in some locations.
'The trackside IT environment is like a travelling circus that has to be put up and taken down every race weekend,' says Team Lotus IT head Bill Peters. 'It is very important that if we lost power at the trackside we could continue operations autonomously.'
CSC also provides trackside IT services and data management to Marussia Virgin, deploying a core infrastructure in every race around the world, and assigning two IT engineers to the team with others working back at the research facility. Team members sitting in the pits use a variety of workstations and laptops to collect gigabytes (sometimes terabytes) of information each car generates in a single qualifying lap from the thousands of on-board sensors monitoring each component.
These include anything from oil, water, exhaust and tyre temperatures to speed, engine revs per minute (RPM), clutch fluid pressure and G-force, all recorded at multiple points on the circuit. All of that data is then analysed and digested by the mechanics so that they can make changes for the next day's racing. Data is also compared to historical information that is stored at trackside in storage arrays and storage area networks (SANs), such as those supplied to the Force India team by Infortrend. 'We are staggered to see how many hundreds of thousands of changes are made throughout the season,' admits Davis.
'Running the car is the exciting bit – by monitoring our cars throughout the season using analysis and simulation tools we can really make a difference in terms of competitive advantage,' adds Bill Peters. The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has taken this one step further by developing an application for 2010 called Race 1.0b Live Data Viewer that shows not only details collected by the car's sensors but also comments from the pitwall and mission control, and live GPS circuit map data to fans via the Internet.
All that data places inevitable strain on the network bandwidth available at each track, which due to their location can often be limited – one reason why the Williams F1 team signed a deal in April 2011 to use telco AT&T's wide area network (WAN) acceleration service to help handle the estimated 30GB per event it transmits back to base engineers during races.
How telemetry systems work
While the FIA has called for the standardisation of F1 telemetry systems, they remain a mixed bunch with lots of companies supplying the radio communication equipment which forms the telemetry networks. These can be based on a range of different wireless and wired technologies, ranging from Wi-Fi and mobile radio (PMR) technologies to gigabit Ethernet freespace optics and satellite links, with teams often reluctant to reveal exactly what they are using for competitive reasons.
Microsoft supplies the software that runs in the McLaren Electronic Systems (MES) engine control units (ECU) now used as standard in most F1 cars. This is the small box that controls car behaviour – like engine sequencing and spark-plug timing – but also connects the car's onboard wireless sensors to a receiving station back at the pit wall and the garage.
Some, but not all, F1 cars racing this year will be fitted with energy-recovery kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), and FIA has approved new energy-efficient small engine formula for 2013. The more popular version of KERS uses a super-capacitor battery (such as those used on Toyota Prius car) to store the energy created during breaking, then release that stored power to the driven wheels when required.
The KERS system uses an electronic control unit that manages the behaviour of the electrical motor and links to the main McLaren/Microsoft ECU, information about which is also relayed to the pit wall via telemetry. The data is transmitted to the receiving station using whichever frequency is permitted for use by the local authorities (allocation varies from one country to another), often the 1.5GHz waveband. The data is compressed in order to minimise the bandwidth used, and the transmitter antennae is usually housed in the nose of each car.
The cars also have an on-board storage system that improves performance by buffering the most recent data and resilience by storing the information for a short period if the wireless signal is unavailable for whatever reason (say, blind spots or tunnels).
Information from the car can also be downloaded whenever the car enters the pit lane. The receiving station, or box, connects to the engineer computers a trackside usually via Wi-Fi, and then onto the Internet through wired broadband connections, but depending on the resources available at individual circuits, in some cases teams use satellite links to additionally relay the information back to the team HQ datacentre where higher volumes of historical data on the car's performance are held. *
RFID tyre checks
One technology being assessed by the FIA for future use in F1 is an RFID-based system that ensures teams stay within rules when it comes to tyre-changes. F1 teams currently keep track of the tyres each car gets through using a handheld barcode scanner that records every change as well as each tyre's serial number and make when the car enters the pitlane.
In association with Dunlop, RFID specialist Datalinx has developed a specialised RFID chip containing the same information which is designed to withstand the 170° temperatures required during the vulcanisation process. Used in the British Touring Car Championship since 2010, the chip embedded in the tyre is read by a trackside reader which also scans a similar chip embedded in the side of the car itself.
The information is instantly passed from the reader to the race scrutineer's PC via 802.11g Wi-Fi and onto a back-end system that does real-time management and reporting and flashes up notifications of any infringements.
'The problem is that F1 wants the reader to span a wider pit lane which increases the read distance by about 20cm – and therefore the miss rate – and some form of active RFID tag [one which requires a small battery]. But how do you build that into the wall of the tire?' asks Datalinx director, Melvin Fletcher. 'The technology is also up against a longer signal-range and the fact that the cars are travelling at 140mph. We did look at doing it with optics and barcodes but trying to take a photo and compare images that that speed is problematic.'
How ICT is playing a part in accident reduction
Accident rates have decreased, but F1 is still one of the most dangerous sports. Use of IT has helped improve its safety considerably over the years, with the FIA introducing computer analysis following the deaths of drivers Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger at Imola in 1994.
The Circuit Safety Analysis System (CSAS) is used to determine how safe the run-off areas and barriers on individual circuits during different race situations without the need for crash testing. It integrates electronic circuit maps with lap data to make predictions on the severity of an accident and its likely outcome according to data fed to it from speed, racing line, deceleration properties and so on.
The same information is also utilised for circuit design and modification, with safety alterations to Stowe Corner at Silverstone, the chicane at Nurburgring, the pit exit lane at Magny Cours and the run-off zones in Budapest all a result of its use.
In 1997, the FIA made it obligatory for accident data recorders (ADRs), a type of black box, to be installed in all cars. This stores precise data about speed, throttle, steering, acceleration and yaw rate to help determine the performance of circuit safety features like run-off areas and barriers, which is passed to the CSAS system, with a computer aided accident risk-assessment system first introduced in 2001. Digital IP-CCTV systems cover every part of the circuit to provide stewards with video-analysis tools, while video streams from in-car cameras also help identify problems. These video systems are often combined with mobile radio and VoIP communications between race directors, safety cars, marshals, team members and medics into satellite master antenna television, a type of closed-broadband information system specific to the individual circuit to avoid interference with other broadcasters. The modern Bahrain race track has a Siemens network for race-control management, data exchange and communications that supports digital voice and video communications built on a 550km gigabit Ethernet fibre optic network, for example.
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