Formula 1 team races on with Lenovo

PC maker's computing products played an integral role in optimizing the performance of the AT&T William F1 team at the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend.
Written by Lee Min Keong, Contributor
KUALA LUMPUR--Since sealing a sponsorship deal with the AT&T Williams team in February this year, PC maker Lenovo has been providing the hardware equipment needed to run the Formula 1 team.

Unlike most F1 sponsors, Lenovo is more than just a name on the race car because its technology is an essential part of how the AT&T Williams team now operates. Some 300 Lenovo desktops and 140 notebook computers have been deployed in all areas of the business ranging from engineering applications such as data processing, to test areas such as CAD data visualization.

At last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, about 30 Lenovo T60p notebook computers were used by the race team's data engineers and formed an essential part of the ignition process.

The PCs are also regularly used in vehicle dynamics and systems engineering, and to control fuel rigs and strategy communications from the pit wall to the garage.

For every Grand Prix, 25 tons of freight is required to get the team up and racing and of this total weight, IT equipment makes up an impressive three tons.

A typical race version of a Williams car has about 120 sensors, monitoring vehicle performance variables and driver behavior variables. This telemetry data--totaling about 1 gigabyte of data per hour--is transmitted using AT&T technology to the engineering team watching by the track, and is downloaded to Lenovo computers after the race has been completed.

The information is also transferred over the network to the engineering team at the Williams headquarters and factory in Grove, England. Williams has about 500 employees, 80 per cent of whom are involved in design, manufacturing and race operations.

As the year progresses, Lenovo will look forward to strengthening and diversifying its support of the team, said Dion Weisler, Lenovo's South Asia vice president and general manager. This will extend beyond providing not only the necessary hardware for the team to race, but also the backend network located at its base in England. Weisler said: "For now, the focus is very much on the important part [Lenovo's technology] will play in getting the cars on the track."

Patrick Head, director of engineering at Williams F1, noted that Lenovo would be providing a high-end computing system to support its virtual aerodynamics or computational fluid dynamics (CFD) program later this year. Part of fluid mechanics, CFD uses algorithms and numbers and analyze fluid flows.

Head explained that virtual aerodynamics and structural analysis programs in F1 required "lots of computing power and memory".

"We told Lenovo what we've been doing and they were very quick to come out with an equivalent or better system than what we already have," the Williams executive told reporters at the paddock during the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Acknowledging the highly sophisticated technology that goes into the development of F1 race cars, Head noted that "when the light [at the start of the race] goes green, the driver has to drive the car".

"Most successful drivers regard technology as a tool to help them and the engineers optimize the [performance of the] car," he explained. "Obviously, if he can get the car well set up with the engineers, he'll have an easier race."

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, AT&T Williams team driver Nico Rosberg talked about the importance of data and IT in "seeing the bigger picture". Check out what else Rosberg had to say during the interview.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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