The 2015 Silverstone Grand Prix took place in July and, for spectators, the event is now over – at least for another year. But Lotus F1 is busy analysing as much data as it can to ensure its cars and its company are as fast, efficient and cost-effective as possible.
The Lotus team has been working with Microsoft since 2012 to use Microsoft Dynamics cloud and collaboration tools, to ensure the best performance possible for its cars.
From track to lab – and back again
“That’s the only goal we have, the only thing we want to do is win,” said Thomas Mayer, COO of Lotus. “That’s why data is so important to us.”
Lotus has a team of 500, half of them engineers that design and run the two Lotus F1 cars. The cars themselves have around 200 different sensors, capturing more than 1,000 data points – all of which will be collected and monitored to see what improvements can be made.
Mobility is important for Lotus to make sure all the data can be distributed to who needs it; what they see on trackside they also see back in the lab. Lotus uses other methods of communication, such as Skype, to make sure as much data as possible is shared.
The huge amounts of data transferred makes the network important, so only extremely important data goes straight from the car to track; some of it is downloaded later.
A live stream from the car will be received both trackside and in the factory. Engineers find out how the car is running by crunching data based around 2,000 different statistics.
Read more about IT in the automotive industry
These statistics are used to create virtual models of future cars, with a 60% scale model used in the wind tunnel to simulate road conditions.
Many of the models in the wind tunnel are only tested for three minutes, by which time it will be clear if the car would reach the desired results.
Sometimes up to 400 different models are tested but, due to Federation Internationale De L’Automobile (FIA) regulations, only a certain amount of time can be spent using the wind tunnels and crunching the data.
A full-scale model of successful simulations will be made, tested and built, as data collected from the track come full circle.
“We monitor everything about the car,” explains Mayer.
“The more data we have and the more we can analyse the better we can make this correlation.”
Business data saves time and money
Time is of the essence in Formula 1, as there is only a limited amount of time to get the car from concept to track.
The pace of change in Formula 1 is rapid, and the use of data has led teams to approach design from a completely different angle, by using technologies such as rapid prototyping and simulations.
These "virtual" cars allow adaptations for each driver to be made virtually before thousands of different parts are developed and adapted, allowing quicker and less costly development.
“This is only possible because of the data. Data is changing the way we do things,” says Mayer.
But to get the most out of what limited budget the teams have, business data is very important to ensure everything runs efficiently.
“Making all of these decisions, you need the information about how much money is involved,” says Mayer.
“We’re tracking this all in Microsoft Dynamics.”
Lotus uses Microsoft Dynamics AX for all of its business areas – including finance, expense, budgeting, purchasing, HR and payroll processes.
Its previous system had a “clunky” user interface and separate teams in the organisation had separate systems to help the departments operate at cost.
The Dynamics AX implementation integrated these systems and prevented the organisation from falling into a siloed structure, instead promoting innovation and agile working.
The business runs in a two-week innovation cycle which will be different for each race, so it uses Microsoft Dynamics to track time-driven projects.
“It’s not just about one-off improvements – it’s about an innovation road map.” says Mayer.
The future of the business relies on continuous development and comparison of historical data to current data, to drive innovation in the same as any other business – regardless of the end product.
Developing the automotive industry
“It doesn’t mean the more information you have, the better decisions you make – you can get information overload, you need the business intelligence.” explains Christian Pedersen, general manager of Dynamics AX for Microsoft.
The innovation is the same as in other companies but the pace is much faster. Pedersen says Microsoft works very closely with companies such as Lotus, as their technology can shape the future.
Microsoft engineers work in the Lotus factory to promote “technical engagement” between teams. Pedersen says that an F1 car is essentially an internet of things (IoT) device using big data - but, unlike the rest of IoT, F1 as is an isolated industry.
Whereas the car’s only sensor used to be the driver inside, there are now sensors all over the car providing data which can be combined with third-party data, to determine the outcome of the competition before race day even starts, he says.
This has given life to machine learning – whereby the car’s system will automatically forecast based on past information, current information and third-party information, such as weather, track temperature and traction to find the correlation between the wind tunnel and the track.
And technologies such as these are now appearing in the public automotive market with technology such as personalised keys, insurance black boxes, predictive windscreen wipers and smartphone-controlled navigation systems.
“We don’t outspend the other teams, we out-think the other teams – that’s our competition,” concludes Lotus's Mayer.