It's a showcase of cutting-edge tech in auto engineering, communications, analytics deployed under harsh conditions
F1: as much a technology race as a car race THIS weekend will be about celebrating speed as the tyres hit the Singapore tarmac in the only night race of the Formula One racing calendar - PHOTO: SPH

THIS weekend will be about celebrating speed as the tyres hit the Singapore tarmac in the only night race of the Formula One racing calendar. On the difficult street circuit, the human element, specifically driver skill and stamina, will determine the winner as it should in any sport.

Increasingly, however, F1 racing is also becoming a technology battle. All the teams on the circuit have a battery of top-notch technology providers helping them in their quest for that millisecond advantage that could spell the difference between a place on the podium or being an also-ran.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing's team principal Christian Horner notes that Formula One cars are far more complex this season due to the biggest regulation changes in 20 years.

"This is now as much a technology race as it's a car race. Fast and reliable communications are a game changer, playing a bigger part in helping our engineers at the track gather the right data to configure the cars. The ability to freely communicate and exchange information will accelerate this process."

Rick Scurfield, NetApp Asia Pacific's senior vice-president and general manager, adds that F1 is the result of combining extreme sports and the highest levels of technology.

"There is competition between the drivers and cars, with technology playing a huge role in the battle. Real-time data analysis can save a thousandth of a second for the driver which is sometimes all you need to win. In fact, sometimes, more than half of the cars are within one second of each other. A millisecond (0.001 second) can be the difference between winning and losing." NetApp is a partner of the Sauber F1 team.

F1 cars are state-of-the-art automotive engineering and there's a constant research and development effort undertaken by the teams to improve the vehicles. As a result, the car that starts the season ends the season as a totally different beast as constant improvements are made between each race.

But improvements can only be made by analysing the cars' performance and for that, data from the car is vital. For this reason, each F1 car is fitted with more than 100 sensors that produce live telemetry data which is transmitted via the track WiFi network to the pit wall where engineers analyse the same in real time. But the pit wall may not have all the expertise needed to make sense of the data and decide on remedial action, if any, so the whole data set is also transmitted in real time to the laboratories of these teams in Europe or the US. There, another set of engineers will analyse the data and send recommendations to team-mates at the pit wall. On average, around 200 gigabytes of data are transferred over each Grand Prix weekend.

Alan Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, notes that it's about having technology that's robust, resilient and reliable. "It clearly needs to be class leading - the latest cutting-edge technology. It also needs to be highly configurable. We're working in quite a unique sport with its own unique challenges in all areas, so the software, hardware, IT infrastructure - we must be able to configure them to our needs."

Jeremy Burton, EMC's global president for products and marketing, notes that performance, agility, and efficiency define F1 racing. "These same characteristics also define the IT infrastructure and technologies used to help teams become faster and smarter with each race." EMC works with the Lotus F1 team.

The firm is proud of the part it has played in the Lotus F1 team's improvements in trackside performance, he says. "Their trackside initiative uses EMC solutions that power the team's ability to innovate and iterate faster than before.

"It's all about better data transfer. With these technologies, the Lotus F1 Team can store and analyse more information in real time, leading to more competitive and predictive decision-making. The team's engineers analyse data in the pit, map the incoming results with race-day strategy, and make adjustments on-the-fly."

Suraj Pai, SAP's South-east Asia vice-president for platform solutions, agrees that data and analytics are the key. SAP partners the McLaren Mercedes team.

"What we all see on the track is the end result of months of hard work and elaborate testing. Big data and analytics play an important role in helping teams prepare. Running an in-memory computing platform (like SAP Hana) to process and analyse huge amounts of data quickly is critical for a good F1 team."

Being associated with the F1 teams is also good for vendors as they can test their technology in the harshest possible conditions. If it passes the F1 test, they can be confident it will work well in most conditions.

Bernard Yee, AT&T Asia Pacific regional vice-president, notes: "Our story is that a race weekend is like a business on steroids. We bring the clients we work with to the track and they are able to see what we do. What they are able to see in the span of the five-day set-up and race day period is almost a lifecycle of their business from competitive analysis to product development and product improvement and the final (race) day - using data throughout. So it's an incredible platform."