​Formula 1 racing: Sensors, data, speed, and the Internet of Things

The CIO of Williams Martini Racing explains how the famous team instruments both cars and drivers in the quest of win.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor
The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data from devices and sensors. And Formula 1 race cars are among the most interesting of those "things."
Williams Martini Racing

A quick look at the Formula 1 technology site presents the latest technical developments used in these race cars:

It's a highly technical sport and the technology constantly evolves.

The world of Formula 1 racing is fascinating and so I invited the Chief Information Officer of Williams Martini Racing to be a guest on CXOTalk. Williams is one of the foremost names in Grand Prix racing and its CIO, Graeme Hackland, has worked in the sport for many years.
Graeme Hackland, CIO of Williams Martini Racing (image courtesy of cxotalk.com)
Graeme Hackland, CIO of Williams Martini Racing (image courtesy of cxotalk.com)

During the CXOTalk conversation, Graeme discusses the technology and infrastructure Williams uses to conduct it's racing activities. Imagine a complete technology infrastructure that travels from track-to-track around the world, supporting the race cars and team.

Here is the entire video of that discussion:

In the following transcript taken from the video (edited for length and clarity), Hackland shares insight into how Formula 1 racing uses data:

We talk about connected cars now coming on to the streets all over the world. Formula 1 cars have been connected cars since I joined Formula 1 in 1997. They were already connected cars then. Data was being captured from the cars.

In our vehicle science group, we have data scientists and our chief strategist, who sits on the pit wall and makes real-time calls and gives advice to the race engineers. They have to make those decisions in a very short space of time.

Instrumenting the car

We've been doing this for a long time, instrumenting the car. We've got over 200 sensors, a 1000 channels of data, 30 to 40 people constantly reading that data over the course of the race weekend in order to improve performances and make sure that we are reliable and we get to the end of the race.

We have about 200 sensors on the car, and that's everything from brakes to tires, two fluid levels, fuel levels, heat, temperature in different parts of the car, engine sensors. All of which are capturing about 1000 channels of data.

On a Friday, we have two 90-minute practice sessions, that's probably where we generate the most data. We'll put more sensors in so that we can take that data back into the factory, run it in a simulator, run it in our vehicle science groups using the computer power that they've got.

Perhaps run it in the wind tunnel as well to calibrate the model. So we'll capture a lot more data.

At Silverstone, which was the British Grand Prix a couple of weeks ago, we generated about 20 GB of data just on that Friday from the car. Over the course of a whole race weekend, we'll probably generate about 120 to 150 GB of data. It depends on whether you get both cars to the finish, that's one of the things that determines how much data you have.

About half of that is actually video. We do a lot of video analysis of our cars, of our pit stops. Because you can gain half a second to a second if you can improve your pit stops. So we really practice relentlessly, but we video it so we can train the guys to do a better job during the pit stop.

There's the video analysis, there is also all of the telemetry data that's coming off of the car. You've got about 40 people at the track analyzing and however many engineers we can remotely so they can do more analysis away from the track as well.

I think that is an advantage that some of our competitors have had, where we were a little constrained by the technology to be frank. We weren't able to get the data to our engineers remotely from the track, which we can now.

Wearables and instrumenting the driver

From time to time we will instrument the driver and we will be looking at heart rate and things like that. One of the areas that I think that is really of interest to us as a Formula 1 team is wearables for the driver, but also for our pit crew, for the engineers, and for our staff who are producing that car, designing it, and race engineering it.

Our guys are really looking after themselves in terms of diet and fitness. But there is a lot more I think we can do with wearables, GPS positioning of the people during the pit stop, and also of the drivers. The driver health. I think, sometimes the driver will not perform at their optimum and they won't really understand why. If we had more instrumentation on the driver, we might know that perhaps they have been feeling a bit under the weather [but don't know why].

They lose a couple of kilos of weight during a race just from the heat is in the cockpit. They're a big part of the package. They are part of that performance package -- the engine, the tires, the chassis, but the driver is a big part of that performance. So I think in the future you'll see more of instrumenting of the driver happen.

Thanks to my consulting client Avanade for making the introduction to Williams Martini Racing.

CXOTalk brings together the world's top executives, authors, and industry analysts to discuss leadership, technology, and innovation. Join me and Vala Afshar for new episodes of CXOTalk every week.

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