Tech driving McLaren's hunt for F1 wins

How Lewis Hamilton's team is using IT to get back to the front of the grid...
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

How Lewis Hamilton's team is using IT to get back to the front of the grid...

McLaren Racing, the company behind current Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton's Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, is using IT to bring him back to the front of the grid.

After a difficult beginning to the 2009 F1 season, Jonathan Neale, MD of McLaren Racing told silicon.com IT will play a vital role in helping return the team to winning ways.

"Neither [ourselves or Ferrari] are where we want to be at the moment and a large part of that is because we were slugging it out right to the last lap - to the last corner - in Brazil last year," he said. As the team was putting most of its resources into developing its car right up to the final race of 2008, it meant efforts towards the 2009 car were compromised.

"So now we find ourselves in the position where unfortunately we're playing catch up. We understand exactly what we've got to do and there is a renewed effort in here to close that gap quickly," he added.

The emphasis will be to exploit the huge amounts of computing power at the team's disposal to develop its 2009 F1 car, the MP4-24, which has been off the pace in the first two Grand Prix of the season.

"It's very much about cycle-time reduction because not only do you have to invent the idea and test it but you want to get it very quickly to market, if you like," Neale said.

The team has more than 15 teraflops of computing power at its disposal for computational fluid dynamics - an advanced aerodynamics simulation technology to simulate how air flows across the cars' bodywork - and to process data gained from wind-tunnel and track testing.

The team's supercomputing technology is provided by SGI on the hardware side and CD-adapco for the CFD software. There are plans to upgrade the supercomputing capabilities over the next few months.

According to Neale, the scalability of computing power is an important requirement for the design and development team: "As the demands of the engineers go up and we become ever more dependent on simulation then as well as storage you've got this hunger for processors."

The greater emphasis on controlling costs in F1 has meant that the Formula One Teams Association has said that teams can only use 80 "units" of simulation per week. A unit is either one teraflop of CFD power or one hour of fan time in the wind tunnel.

But it's not just computer power that the team needs.

As well as being the team's title sponsor, Vodafone provides mobile and broadband connectivity to securely ship data to and from the garage and the team's HQ in Woking during testing and race weekends.

"Taking this complex, fast-moving environment and shipping the right data to the right people in the right format enables us to be operationally efficient and quick - and the one thing you need to be in F1 is to be quick in every sense of the word - quick on the circuit but also quick operationally - nothing stands still for very long."

Vodafone has also helped the team at several tracks where communicating telemetry data - speed, brake temperature, tyre pressure - from the cars has been made more difficult due to clutter and trees.

At Monza in Italy for example...

...the team found it wasn't receiving data from the cars for about 20 seconds per lap. Vodafone provided masts and repeater amplifiers to make sure the team could receive data for the whole way round.

"Running the race weekend requires high quality advanced engineering solutions and very good, very rapid provision of data," Neale said.

"[Vodafone is] very much on the team. They do much more than bankroll us - they're a key part of our technology," he added.

McLaren Racing has worked with SAP for 11 years and currently uses the automotive version of the company's Business All-in-One ERP at engine supplier and sister company, Mercedes High Performance Engines.

The team has also recently started to work with Lenovo to rebuild the computers - or "battle stations" - which engineers use in the pit garage to keep tabs on various systems in the cars.

Lenovo also provides desktop computers for the design and aerodynamics operations as well as the laptops required to actually start the car.

Other IT-related work that took place in the run-up to the 2009 season included rebuilding garage network infrastructure to make it more resilient and upgrading the racing simulator used by the drivers to learn circuits.

As for the future of the IT in Formula One, Neale predicts a move towards greater use of simulation technologies.

"I think long term, as we look to reduce costs in Formula One, the empirical testing on a circuit is going to be gradually replaced by tools that are more towards simulation."

"So I think that the simulation and modelling environment is going to become increasingly more important. It has been for the last 10 years and I only see it getting more than that in the next 10 years, so simulation is where the future's at," he concluded.

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