The beginning of the 2014 Formula One season saw some of the most wide-ranging and impactful changes to the sport’s rules and regulations for many years.
With Formula One frequently criticised for lack of excitement, the FIA mandated a number of new rules designed to level the playing field and provoke more intense competition, from engine sizes to fuel limits and more.
As a result of the changes, the course of the 2014 season fundamentally altered, with the four-year dominance of Infiniti Red Bull Racing and its lead driver Sebastian Vettel dramatically eroded in favour of rival team Mercedes AMG Petronas, and the rival pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
However, just because it is not leading the pack this year, Red Bull is by no means down and out. Indeed, when the Formula One circus went away on its annual summer break following the Hungarian Grand Prix, Vettel’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was the only driver to have won a race apart from Hamilton and Rosberg all season.
At the start of the year, Infiniti Red Bull realised it would need to make sweeping changes to its own core IT in order to adapt to the new regime, and set about upgrading an existing partnership with its network supplier AT&T.
According to Al Peasland, Infiniti Red Bull head of technical partnerships, it was a natural progression to move the partnership along.
The two firms have been working together for a number of years now, but with AT&T fulfilling the role of technology partner. Now, Infiniti Red Bull has made it an innovation partner, meaning it has a much deeper level of engagement with, and insight into, the day-to-day running of the team.
Ringing the changes
- 2.4 litre normally aspirated V8 engines replaced with 1.6 litre V6 turbos, giving less power – 600bhp as opposed to 750bhp in 2013;
- Number of gearbox ratios increased from seven to eight;
- A larger proportion of the car’s power to come from the Energy Recovery System (ERS), giving an extra 160bhp for around 33 seconds per lap, compared to 80bhp in 2013;
- Electronic rear brake control systems are now allowed;
- Fuel limited to 100kg per race;
- Minimum weight increased from 642kg to 691kg to compensate for larger powertrain;
- Single tailpipe exhausts now mandatory, with the outlet angled upwards to stop the flow being used for aerodynamic effect. Bodywork not permitted behind the tailpipe;
- Nose height reduced from 550mm to 185mm for safety reasons;
- Front wings narrowed from 1,800mm to 1,650mm;
- Lower rear wing beam outlawed, and main flap has been made shallower, although support pillars are now permitted. Additionally, the DRS slot has been enlarged;
- Restricted in-season testing now allowed;
- Increased restrictions on wind tunnel time and CFD simulations.
Network core critical for big data
The first step was to beef up the core network. Peasland explains: “Ultimately, the main service AT&T provides to us is track-to-factory connections. We already knew we would be seeing far greater levels of activity at the trackside, so we had to increase the bandwidth we take from them.
“Our network is now two and a half times larger and faster than last year, allowing us to share much more data between the track and the factory, and connect into Renault [Infiniti Red Bull’s current engine supplier] in France to supply real-time engine data.
“We also increased the scale of our network into our wind tunnel facility in Bedford. One of the new requirements is a restriction on wind tunnel testing time, so it is more important than ever that we capture as much information as possible during those tests.”
Data volumes are a big sticking point for a front-of-the-grid team such as Infiniti Red Bull, which can accumulate – and transmit – around 200GB of data during the course of a three-day race weekend. Each car houses approximately 100 sensors, measuring virtually all aspects of its performance, such as break, gearbox and tyre temperatures; engine control unit (ECU) performance; energy recovery system (ERS); airflow; suspension loads; and G-forces affecting the driver himself.
“We gathered all that before but getting it to the factory in a timely fashion was a challenge for us,” says Peasland, who began his career in aerospace engineering and automotive transmission design before moving into IT.
After consolidating its WAN links onto AT&T’s backbone, Infiniti Red Bull can now feed this data back from the 19 Formula One circuits worldwide to its various facilities almost instantaneously. Network latency ranges from around 300ms in far-flung locations such as Melbourne, Australia, to substantially less than 10ms between Silverstone and its home in Milton Keynes, just up the road.
Speedy data transmission is critical for a number of obvious reasons, such as managing the car’s settings while on the track and adjusting them to changing conditions such as decreasing fuel load, and weather or damage sustained in a minor collision.
Formula One fans watching a race on TV will frequently hear race radio played in over the commentary. Usually this will consist of conversations between drivers and engineers, which can relate to any number of topics, including racing incidents and rule infringements by rival teams.
Sometimes these gripes can result in more formal complaints to the FIA stewards, and if a team wants to escalate an incident, it helps to have as much evidence as possible to hand.
“We now fast-track data pertinent to on-track incidents, so if something happens on the track and we need to lodge a complaint with stewards, people at the factory will gather the data to enable us to log a complaint quickly,” says Peasland.
Wider than WAN
The partnership between Infiniti Red Bull and AT&T doesn’t stop with the underlying network, however, as the team is now also exploring and implementing other areas of collaboration.
With the amount of practical track time decreasing and data requirements increasing, effective communication between circuit and factory has become much more important than before.
After practice sessions, the team’s drivers head backstage to dissect how the session went and discuss where improvements can be made.
Infiniti Red Bull has now deployed AT&T’s unified communications services package in its mobile command and control centre – essentially a very large and expensive motor home – in order to conduct video conferences with the factory in real time.
AT&T is also now providing mobile device management for Infiniti Red Bull’s 500 or so staff, many of whom travel around the world for a big part of each year.
“Our job is to keep those engineers connected,” says Dave Langhorn, AT&T vice-president of its UK sales centre, “so we help to keep the costs down on bills. You can dial a four-digit PBX number from anywhere in the world, and the audio will always remain on our network.”
More on IT in Formula One
“Our people also want their email and network access for business systems traffic as well as telemetry,” adds Peasland. “So engineers at the track can now use also use our business systems as if they were at the factory.”
Infiniti Red Bull brings traffic management into play to manage this scenario, ensuring that critical vehicle data is not held up in its progress back to the factory by a less critical back-office function.
For AT&T, the enhanced partnership serves to help show potential customers what the supplier is capable of doing.
“We are essentially compressing the work we do over three to four months into a weekend,” explains Langhorn.
“Our interest in F1 is global, but it does help showcase us in EMEA because F1 is a great way to demonstrate technology, and we get the opportunity to showcase our technology quite intimately with our client base.”