Lenovo powers up McLaren for F1

Since partnering Chinese PC maker, Formula One team McLaren has seen improvements of over 55 percent, helping its lead drivers gain top spots this season, Lenovo exec reveals, as preparations get underway for the Singapore night race.

SINGAPORE--Its partnership with Chinese PC maker Lenovo has helped Formula One (F1) team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (VMM) boost its performance by up to 55 percent in this season of the motor sport.

Daniel Kiernan, F1 product manager of Lenovo, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia that since the team's computer infrastructure overhaul in December 2008, engineers recorded a 20 percent increase in performance during last year's season, with another 35 percent climb this year.

IT revs for track

Social media platforms such as Twitter are also revving up as F1 teams return to the Singapore track this year.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB)@visitsingapore said it will provide timely updates on the race action, as well as contests where gifts and souvenirs are given out, via its official Twitter account.

STB had partnered German software maker SAP to build the online service, combining Twitter feeds and geo-tagging, on official Web site, YourSingapore.com. The tool allows tweets to be aggregated based on hash tags (#singaporeGP), Twitter accounts and keywords which will then be displayed in an interactive manner.

The official F1 Twitter accounts is @F1, but race fans can also follow tweets from race teams such as @virginracing, @mylotusracing, @williamsf1Team, @mclarenf1 and @redbullf1spy for more insider news.

The improvement is measured against a basket of factors, such as computer performance, reliability, cost savings in terms of energy and hardware shipping for each race, and the speed of technology deployment.

Race teams are in town again this week for the Singapore Grand Prix, currently in its third run and was the first night race in F1. The VMM team is led by drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button.

Kiernan explained: "It's not about just deploying new hardware. We assist the team with data migration and educating end-users on new functions as well."

Howie Lau, vice president and general manager of Lenovo Asean added that with new computing technology, the VMM team was able to run up to 5, 000 simulations and obtain results just two hours after qualifying races so tweaks can be done sooner. In comparison, Lau noted that the previous system required a whole night's work before results were generated.

The computing hardware overhaul saw Lenovo supply 2,100 pieces of equipment to Team VMM, with more than 600 workstations, ThinkPads and tablets for the garage and race track.

Kiernan said these computers were not created specifically for the VMM team, but comprised consumer products readily available in the market. "The hardware foundation is the same, but specs were tweaked to the requirements of the team," he said.

Heat and wet weather have also been a challenge for F1 racing teams in Singapore and Malaysia, but he noted that Lenovo is confident in the reliability of its high-end workstations and ThinkPads, as they were designed to withstand high impact drops and shocks, which in turn protect the data stored in hard-drive and motherboard. "This is a feature unique to Lenovo," said Kiernan.

Extra features were also added such as additional "holes" to clear water seepage, should the equipment come into contact with liquid, he said.

Kiernan explained that the PC maker's ThinkVantage system also helped to give the VMM team an edge over its competitors. The "power manager" function will automatically monitor how machines are used. For example, if certain features such as fluids dynamic or Wi-Fi is not needed, they will be turned off to reduce energy consumption. This helped yield energy savings of US$78, 000 last year, he said.

Another feature that is unique to the team is the consolidation of the Central Engineers Counter (CEC). Previously, VMM had two separate engineering teams for both lead drivers but since the start of this season, both teams have been merged and managed by a single racing head.

The engineers now employ the ThinkPad X200 tablet to communicate freely with trackside members and drivers.

Constant tweaks, changes
With the constant need for high power and new technologies, Kiernan revealed that new hardware equipment is deployed to the team typically every six to nine months, upon request of the engineers.

"Since the sponsorship started in December 2008, they introduced the ThinkPad W500 at the trackside. Right now, they are using the W510 so they've already transitioned into the new Intel multicore processors for better graphics," he said.

Sophisticated hardware allows engineers to constantly work on the design of the car, even as both cars are racing at top speed on the tracks.

Kiernan explained that typically 75 percent of an F1 race car is changed per season. Even if there are no technical upgrades to the car, engineers will tweak system settings, gear ratios and weight distribution--all in the pursuit of trimming even a second in laptime, as every single second can make or break a driver and team.

Lau added that the both Lenovo and the VMM team are pleased with the outcome of the partnership, noting that it will be long-term collaboration for the two organizations.

At the start of the Singapore leg of the F1 race, which starts with practice sessions on Friday, the McLaren team is ranked second with 329 points, just one short of leader RBR-Renault. Hamilton is the top driver with three wins at 182 points, and Button is at fourth with 147 points.

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