Boosting Competitive Advantage with Data in F1 Racing

With the F1 race taking place in Singapore this week, we asked Rick Scurfield, Vice President and General Manager of NetApp in APAC to talk about how data is powering innovation on and off the track in F1 this year.  


How does data impact F1 racing?

Rick Scurfield: At a high level, F1 is the result of combining extreme sports and the highest levels of technology. F1 isn't just about competition between the drivers, it is about the cars as well. In fact, technology plays a huge role in the battle between teams on the track. Real time data analysis can save a thousandth of a second for the driver which is all you need to become a winner sometimes. In fact, sometimes more than half of the cars are within one second of each other – a millisecond (0.001 seconds) can be the difference between a winner and a loser.

With so much focus on the drivers and the cars, how important is the IT infrastructure on the track?

RS: It’s no longer a race defined only by the driver skillset. It is a team effort of driving skills and technology excellence. As the car races at speeds up to 220 mph, engineers at the track analyze the data in real time, coaching the driver to help him get the most out of his car.  This data gives race teams the edge to make split-second decisions for driving tactics on the racetrack – when to take a pit stop, when to accelerate or brake.

Are there any changes in the race this year worthy of noting that will change the dynamics compared to previous years?

RS: The new 2014 race regulations pose a great challenge for all race teams with implications on more accurate data analysis of fuel consumption and engine performance during the race. This will ultimately impact the pit-stop and tire strategies for all teams. Fuel limits will encourage teams to consider multiple pit stops since cars could run faster and consume less fuel. A half-tank car is quicker by 2 to 3 seconds than a full-tank car per lap. (Fuel changes from unlimited to 100kg per race this year.)

What is NetApp’s role in F1?

RS: NetApp has a direct role in the real-time information used to refine racing strategies on and off the track. NetApp’s mobile data centers allow F1 teams to collect and analyze terabytes of data. For every lap the car makes, more than 100 sensors on the car send streams of data in real time to make on-the-spot decisions such as pit stop strategies and driving tactics. NetApp’s FlexPod platform can be set up by just one engineer at the racetrack making it less costly to transport compared to traditional solutions.

100 individual sensors on the car produce 20–30MB of data, of which 3-4MB are sent to the FlexPod platform in real time, including information about the tires, engine, temperature, and fuel usage that is then used by the pit team to make immediate decisions about in-race strategies. Depending on the course and the conditions that might mean breaking later or accelerating earlier out of a corner. Off the track, teams analyze historical data, simulations and wind tunnel testing to effectively design a new car for each race.