Caterham F1 drives into the future

Team manager Graham Watson says that it may run its racing operation off smartphones in two years’ time

Technology is changing so fast in Formula One (F1) racing that even veterans such as Caterham F1 team manager Graham Watson find it hard to keep up.

“A few years ago, the only way to get data from the [F1] car onto a laptop was to plug it into the car. Now, it is all done through cloud servers and the data comes through to everyone’s laptop,” he told Computerworld Australia.

When the car returns from doing a lap of the Melbourne F1 circuit, the Caterham engineering team download data such as cornering times. This gives them a chance to examine the data and prepare for the next race.

The Caterham F1 car has 500 sensors inside its wheels, engine, gearbox, chassis and elsewhere, generating up to 1000 data points per second and collecting over 20GB per race weekend

“We monitor about 160 channels of data off the car. If you get poor data, the decisions are going to be clouded because the information isn’t 100 per cent accurate,” Watson said.

“It’s not possible to check everything but the nights are long and engineers spend their time trawling through data to try and maximise the capability of the car for the next day.”

Caterham also sends data back to its factory in Oxfordshire, England, for extra analysis by staff who aren’t travelling with the team.

While on the F1 circuit, the crew uses smartphones provided by its communications partner Truphone. The phones feature several mobile numbers on a patented SIM card so crew members are not charged global roaming rates.

Watson said it began working with the telco in 2013. “To be honest, we’ve had very few problems and the company has a fantastic 24/7 support network. At the moment we’re working on smartphones and viewing PDF [race] documents,” he said.

“Smartphones have come so far that in a couple of years’ time we will be able to run our whole racing operation off them through the Truphone connection.”

Another technological change in F1 has been the investment made into simulation and computer-based testing in order to reduce fuel and tyre costs.

According to Watson, drivers now get eight days of testing on the track per year.

“We have the car sitting on a moveable bed with 3D cameras. The driver will have the feeling of [driving] an actual lap but they’re sitting in a dark room in the middle of England.”

Turning to the future, he said it was unlikely that human drivers would be replaced by robots. Under current F1 regulations, cars must not have any self-driving capabilities and need to be driven by a human being.

“The sport does thrive on driver personality and the purists may find it hard to relate to a robot,” Watson said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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