For­get the track, F1 is about the data

We take a look in­side the dig­i­tal world of the Re­nault F1 team with Mi­crosoft. By Damien O’Car­roll.

Sunday Star-Times - - DRIVETIMES -

More than any other, For­mula 1 is a sport of data. The rac­ing mat­ters, the peo­ple mat­ter, the com­pet­i­tive spirit mat­ters, but with­out the data none of that would hap­pen.

F1 op­er­ates on the cut­ting edge of what cars and peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of, so get­ting that data and mak­ing the most of the in­for­ma­tion it pro­vides is the lifeblood of the sport in this day and age.

While an F1 car wouldn’t run with­out fuel, wouldn’t go around a cor­ner with­out a driver, or wouldn’t even start with­out an en­gi­neer, with­out data it wouldn’t win.

The sheer amount of data a F1 car gen­er­ates over the course of a race week­end is mind bog­gling – there are more than 200 sen­sors on the car re­port­ing bil­lions of separate data points back over the three days of an F1 race week­end.

In­ter­pret­ing, shar­ing and stor­ing this data is a huge job, and one that most peo­ple don’t even think of when they are hud­dled on the couch at an ob­scene hour of the morn­ing watch­ing Mercedes win yet again in a dis­tant part of the world.

So how do they do it? Well, we’ve just had a first hand look at that process, thanks to Mi­crosoft and the Re­nault Sport F1 Team at the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix.

Mi­crosoft first part­nered up with Re­nault back in 2012 when the French man­u­fac­turer was only an en­gine sup­plier, sup­ply­ing the Lo­tus F1 team.

The deal ini­tially was for Mi­crosoft to sup­ply an ERP (En­ter­prise Re­source Plat­form, ba­si­cally busi­ness man­age­ment soft­ware) to the team but it has grown con­sid­er­ably since then with Mi­crosoft now pro­vid­ing the team with a wide range of soft­ware and com­put­ing so­lu­tions, but it is the lat­est step that has ev­ery­one at Re­nault Sport and Mi­crosoft rather ex­cited – Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion.

Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion can be thought of as the ‘‘third stage’’ of em­brac­ing dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, with the first two be­ing dig­i­tal com­pe­tence and dig­i­tal us­age. "The most dif­fi­cult el­e­ment of the car to sim­u­late are the tyres. Those pieces of rub­ber be­have in a very, very tricky man­ner. They change de­pend­ing on the tem­per­a­ture, on how ag­gres­sive the driver is, the weather con­di­tions and all of this quickly be­comes dif­fi­cult to en­ter into the sim­u­la­tor." Pierre d'Im­bl­e­val Think of it as go­ing pa­per­less but on a far larger, more am­bi­tious scale.

For the Re­nault Sport F1 Team, this means em­brac­ing the cloud in a big way.

‘‘Data is ev­ery­where in the world of F1,’’ says Pierre d’Im­bl­e­val, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer of the Re­nault Sport F1 Team.

‘‘On a race week­end, our cars gen­er­ate more than 35 bil­lion data points equiv­a­lent to about 30GB worth of data. Our su­per­com­puter gen­er­ates 60TB of data per week – that’s enough stor­age for 25,000 hours’ worth of movies.’’

Over the past two years, Re­nault and Mi­crosoft have been work­ing on cloud-based so­lu­tions for deal­ing with all that data, with ev­ery­thing from prod­ucts like Of­fice 365 and Skype (which saw travel be­tween the Re­nault Sport fa­cil­i­ties in France and the UK drop by 50 per cent and phone bill sav­ings of more than 30 per cent) up to the heavy hit­ting busi­ness soft­ware like Power BI and Dy­nam­ics 365, which will shortly be used by the team to track ev­ery sin­gle part of the car through­out its en­tire life.

While get­ting the vast amounts of data that the team pro­duces each week­end into the cloud dras­ti­cally im­proves col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the three sites (the Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre in the UK, the Hy­brid Power Units Cen­tre in France and the track), al­low­ing en­gi­neers at head of­fice to ac­cess data in real-time while cars are on the track, it is the mas­sive po­ten­tial to im­prove ma­chines us­ing data alone that is go­ing to be driv­ing F1 re­lent­lessly for­ward in the next few years.

‘‘Be­cause we are not al­lowed to do much phys­i­cal test­ing, we now have to tackle that with the sim­u­la­tor and we have to set it up to be as re­al­is­tic we can,’’ says d’Im­bl­e­val.

‘‘There are el­e­ments that are rel­a­tively easy to sim­u­late, like the track. We have all that data by scan­ning the tracks on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

‘‘The most dif­fi­cult el­e­ment of the car to sim­u­late are the tyres. Those pieces of rub­ber be­have in a very, very tricky man­ner. They change de­pend­ing on the tem­per­a­ture, on how ag­gres­sive the driver is, the weather con­di­tions and all of this quickly be­comes dif­fi­cult to en­ter into the sim­u­la­tor.

‘‘So we are able to learn over time how the tyres de­grade by push­ing two en­tire sea­sons of data into the cloud and start to com­pute that data, not to re­pro­duce what hap­pened last year, but to de­ter­mine some generic be­hav­iour of the tyre degra­da­tion to put into the sim­u­la­tor for the driver to get some sense of it.

‘‘It’s to pre­dict with a ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithm how a tyre will de­grade with a spe­cific driver at a spe­cific track.’’

Be­cause F1 doesn’t yet place any re­stric­tions on com­puter us­age away from the races, teams are able use ‘‘from one to a thou­sand’’ servers to run sim­u­la­tions dur­ing the course of a race week­end.

D’Im­bl­e­val says that since the move to the cloud, the team has gone from run­ning 5000 sim­u­la­tions a day over a race week­end to a sim­ply stag­ger­ing 75,000 sim­u­la­tions a day.

But while all this tech­nol­ogy is help­ing F1 cars go faster, there is one thing that d’Im­bl­e­val is cer­tain it will never re­place, and that is the driver.

‘‘There is much talk about this so-called ‘robo-race’ where you have com­put­ers driv­ing the cars. It is the ideal world, with cars run­ning on the track with no driv­ers,’’ he says.

‘‘But where is the sport? Sport is about hu­man be­ings. We want to keep F1 as a sport, and to be a sport you need hu­man be­ings.’’

SUP­PLIED

On a race week­end, Mi­crosoft gen­er­ates about 35 bil­lion data points for the Re­nault team.

Tech is help­ing F1 cars go faster, but the driver will al­ways be the cen­tre of the sport, says Re­nault F1.

Tyres are the most dif­fi­cult el­e­ment of F1 to sim­u­late on com­puter be­cause there are so many vari­ables.

Re­nault F1 chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Pierre d’Im­bl­e­val.

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