Formula One: Mercedes free practice cameras explained

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Throughout the 2016 season the Mercedes AMG Petronas W07 of Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg has sported additional camera mountings situated either side of the airbox above the drivers head. These additional units are seen only in Friday free practice sessions and test sessions, broadcast world feed does not include imagery from these locations leading many to ask what exactly are these units?

In this film produced with team partner Qualcomm, Paddy Lowe, Executive Director Technical, with support from Evan Short, trackside team leader, explain the units and how they give the team more data than ever before.

Success in modern day Formula One sees teams strive to optimise every aspect of the sport, this includes optimisation of the collection, downloading and analysis of data. The amount of data a team is capable of collecting a digesting a nothing short of staggering

Including rotary switches, buttons and paddles, there are approximately 45 individual controls on a modern Formula One steering wheel – and by far the most frequently used are the gear change paddles. At Monaco, the average number of gear changes per lap is around 50 – which equates to nearly 4,000 changes over a 78-lap race distance. When one calculates the number of inputs a driver is likely to have to make, the total during a qualifying lap alone is impressive. 130 significant changes of steering direction, 50 gear changes and up to 20 further inputs for DRS / ERS deployment and any other adjustments.That gives the driver a predicted workload of over 200 different inputs per lap

On track, the team manages 200 physical sensors on the car, used to log 1,000 channels of data, 100 times per second – measuring variables from hydraulic pressures to drive train temperatures and, of course, the hundreds of driver inputs undertaken each lap. 17,000 further parameters are recorded in ‘slow row’ (recording whenever there is space in the logger, i.e. every couple of seconds) with a total logging rate of 440kBps in the on-car and 250kBps in telemetry broadcast to the pits. In total, the two cars generate data at the rate of 1MB every two seconds.

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Some of this data is sent back in real time through a high frequency telemetry system, which transmits data from the moving car to the pits. However, there is far more data available than can be extracted via that route. The excess has traditionally been transferred using a wired connection once the car has stopped – but even that is problematic, as crucial track time is lost waiting for the download to complete. This is where Technical Partner Qualcomm has helped the team optimise track time.

Engineers are now able to download that balance of data – which can be very bulky – in the time between when the car stops in front of the garage and is wheeled back into the garage via an extremely powerful wireless connection. The most noticeable benefit from this comes in understanding tyres via the infra-red camera system – and more specifically the speed at which information from that feed can be processed. In the past, the crew would plug in the cameras when the driver returned to the box and have just a few seconds to extract as much data as possible before the car returned to the track. There simply wasn’t enough time to extract the full data set until after a session, so the real-time nature of that data was lost.

Qualcomm’s technology allows the team to extract that information much more quickly. By the time the car pulls back into the garage, the engineers have now received that information wirelessly.

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Overall, the team’s telemetry systems generate 15 GB of raw car data per weekend, with post-processing adding a further 70 GB of data. That equates to 3.5 billion data points per car – or seven billion data points across all team operations – per weekend. Staggering numbers indeed, which are perfectly illustrated by the gearbox. In Monaco, around 19,000 gearshifts will be undertaken between both drivers over the course of the weekend – compared to roughly 15,000 in Barcelona – with each shift writing around 50,000 points of
data. While a gearshift itself happens in about 10 milliseconds, today the team can extract this information from the database in roughly 0.4 milliseconds.

As someone who follows F1 partnerships avidly I have for some time now found the emphasis on Information Technology partners at the Mercedes AMG Petronas Team quite strange, whilst not directly in competition with each other, these partners operate in similar sectors. Understanding the team’s focus on data collection, data analysis, and application of data, explains how each of these partners play a significant role in the success of the team and how their core competencies act to compliment each other.

Qualcomm have, with the team, developed systems to support rapid data logging and downloading of data, this data immediate requires storage space, Pure Storage supply this in the form of FlashArray-based data storage. With this technology, average transaction times have been reduced by around 40% – again, saving crucial decision making time for the engineers. This is great for trackside support, but the journey of the data does not end there.

During an average Grand Prix weekend around 200 GB of data is synched between the race track and the Race Support Room (RSR) at the team headquarters in Brackely UK. Transferring such vast quantities of data requires a fast, reliable and secure connection to ensure optimal collaboration between the team at base and their counterparts on the road wherever in the world they might be. This is where the TATA Communications global network comes into play. This same network SKY SPORTS are now using to rely F1 broadcast feed across Europe as explored here

This link enables real time communication and analysis to be managed between the circuit and RSR. From the circuit, on-track performance and reliability analysis, driver-specific system and car set-up work, car assembly and maintenance supervision data is beamed back to base, while, specialised system support, video analysis, competitor analysis and second-line performance analysis returns in the other direction.

Motor racing purists may question if this complex use of and fixation over data is really the right direction for motorsport. To be seen as the pinnacle of Motorsport, Formula One must pioneer new technologies. In the past the focus of this pioneering spirit has focused on the automotive industry. In my opinion, a team such as Mercedes AMG Petronas working with partners to  find solutions around data collection and usage reflect challenges in modern society and serve to broaden the applicability of motorsport engagement for business.

Technological solutions found through projects between Mercedes, Qualcomm, Pure Storage & Tata Communications will filter down into everyday consumers lives. developing partnerships to solve challenges within Formula One drive not only a team forward but shape the direction of industry and consumer expectation.

You Can find follow developments from Qualcomm via social media here

Keep up to date with the latest news from Tata Communications here

Check out the Pure Storage home page here

 

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