November 23, 2016
As is the case for so many industries in recent years, Formula 1 has been transformed by data. Each team designs and tests its cars in silico, with vast server farms competing with onsite wind tunnels to see which can use more electricity. Up to 300 sensors per car constantly measure every parameter, beaming that info back to the garage—and in turn to home base—each lap. It’s a far cry from the garagiste days of drawing boards and pens or even the active suspension era and its rugged 286 laptops. It’s a highly competitive sport, for the financial rewards for success are many, and so that data represents a gold mine for each team.
Under CIO Greame Hackland, Williams Martini Racing provides an illuminating example of how an F1 team can use that data and the steps it has to take to protect it. And while some of the challenges are unique to Formula 1, many of them might be familiar to anyone working in a large IP-heavy organization.
“When I joined Williams in 2014, 70 percent of our race strategists’ time was spent getting data and putting it into spreadsheets, whether that was at the track or back at the factory,” Hackland told Ars. To help find a way around this, the team started working with Avanade (a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture), which brought fresh viewpoints to bear on old problems. “The last year and half has been a huge transformation. We can’t allow an engineer who’s been in F1 for 25 years to dictate how the tools we use look,” Hackland told us.
Some of that has been outreach to find a more diverse pool of young engineers along with changes to make Williams a more appealing workplace in the 21st century, like providing the ability to telework—something many of us take for granted. Some of the changes have meant leveraging all the data that pours off the cars to make the engineers’ lives easier, like managing the degradation of grip from each set of tires, a key aspect of F1 strategy these days. In just five weeks leading up to the start of the 2015 season, Avanade wrote an app for Williams that analyzes real-time sensor, weather, telemetry, and other data feeds from the team’s trackside servers to isolate the impact of tire status on performance.