Big Data in Formula 1: do you know how does it work?

Actualidad June 10, 2022

The meteoric development of ICT during the recent years represents an opportunity which should not be missed. The expansion of these technologies, especially Big Data, has reached to unsuspected areas, such us sports.

A sport that seizes this opportunity very well is Formula 1, where every single action is recorded. In this Befree blog post we will take a look at Big Data in Formula 1: how does it work?

More than a sporting competition

The Formula 1 Grand Prix calendar arrived recently at Spain. More precisely, at the Montmeló’ circuit. On the occasion of this visit, Silicon spoke to Roberto Dalla, who has been involved in Formula 1 for 33 years and is currently the general manager of the Media and Technology Centre.

For the Italian executive, Formula 1 is not just a sport, but a way of developing the future: “Innovations come out of it that are then applied and adapted to other worlds, especially the automotive world. We will look at one of them later on.

History of technology in Formula 1

Until the 1970s, the success or failure of a race was entirely determined by the driver’s split-second decisions. However, it was then that telemetry systems arrived: they were downsized and reduced in sophistication so that they could be fitted to cars to provide feedback on their performance.

Electronic systems were commonly installed in the 1980s. Data and business expert Tom Robertson explains that, at first, storage was limited to single lap data. Drivers were given a signal to turn on telemetry when the team needed to collect data. The data was extracted from the car and transferred to the computer systems in the garage for further analysis.

At the end of the decade, burst telemetry was developed, which sent radio signals from the car to the garage during the race, alerting the pit crew to the physical condition of the car. These bursts were replaced by data transmission, which was sent to the garage and then to the factory. Since then, it has evolved to become an important aspect of Formula 1 Grand Prix management and planning.

Big Data in Formula 1: how it works

Dalla talked about facts and figures. For example, each car transfers about 35 MBytes of information per lap. In total, a complete Formula 1 race generates between 700 GBytes and 1 TByte of data. These numbers are obtained by strategically placed sensors, which are “more than those of an aeroplane in proportion,” says Roberto Dalla. “But Formula 1 cannot see the data generated by the cars; it can only collect it and send it to the teams.

His department is working to make it easier for the teams to obtain information. The most important component of this is telemetry. Previously, the teams used their own telemetry systems. “But now we take care of that,” says Dalla. “In addition, we facilitate the transfer of other critical data such as engine vibration, the angle at which each car is cornering, and so on. Thanks to the technology, we ensure the security, reliability and privacy of the data until it reaches the teams”.

This privacy, however, is a complex case. While the teams keep their information hidden from the other teams, the spectators need some of that information in order to follow the grand prix. Top speed, how fast a corner is taken or how hard the brakes are applied are essential data to understand the race. This data is public and, most importantly, in real time. The coexistence of public and private data is only possible, explains Roberto Dalla, through the multiple transmission channels, of which there are up to 1000 for each vehicle.

Real-life applications

Let’s look at an example of what Roberto Dalla was talking about. Formula 1 fans had to learn two concepts introduced over the past decade: DRS and KERS. The first – Drag Reduction System – is a rear wing that can be opened to gain speed and encourage overtaking.

The second, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, was introduced earlier. It is based on the precept that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but transformed. Although it was used in Formula 1 to provide a little extra energy as a turbo boost, its day-to-day application is more of a regenerative braking system. This allows hybrid and electric vehicles, among others, to brake while at the same time producing energy from the movement of the wheels.

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