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As the Formula One circus heads to Britain this weekend, we analyse the integral role that advanced technology plays in the sport.

Technology has always dominated motorsport, given its very mechanical nature which has engineering at its heart. Yet in recent years, things have advanced to another level as competitors seek to unlock innovation and this drive for perfection is no clearer than in F1.

All aspects of the sport incorporate some degree of technology, from pre-season testing to post-race analysis of a driver’s performance. In the centre of it all is the electronic control unit (ECU), a small computer that coordinates the vehicle’s various mechanisms, essentially making it the brain of the car. This small piece of kit monitors over 300 sensors around the car and controls most components, including the engine, gear box, throttle and drag reduction system (DRS). Throughout a Grand Prix, the ECU processes around 750 million data points, which equates to around 1.5GB. 

The ECU has a huge influence on how a team’s car functions, therefore how well they fair in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships can depend on how much they invest in this device. To prevent the better funded teams exploiting this, governing body, the FIA, attempted to level the playing field in the early 2000s by ordering that all teams use a standardised ECU, one developed by McLaren. This provides a framework over which the individual teams can design their own code to create their own competitive advantage.

Elsewhere, teams rely heavily on their sponsorships for technical support. The tobacco brands that were once emblazoned on F1 cars and circuits have now been replaced by technology firms. These partnerships prove much more beneficial since they gain free access to powerful platforms that enhance the different facets of their team, especially with regards data handling. 

For decades, engineers having been processing large amounts of data to inform race strategy, which has created a particular demand for tools which can extract as much insight into the driver and their car’s performance as possible. A prime example of this is the Advanced Telemetry Acquisition System (ATLAS) that allows teams to visualise data then spot any issues that may be hindering them, as well as identify trends that lend themselves to optimum performance.

Away from the track, data also plays a huge role in designing the car. It is increasingly used to build simulations, as opposed to spending loads of money on constructing car components that are only discarded later in the production process. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) are used to understand how the air affects their car, rather than using the wind tunnels that traditionally measures a car’s aerodynamics. Alpine (formerly Renault) partners with Microsoft Dynamics 365, using its Azure services to run these simulations among several others. 

Most teams also utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to inform these procedures and subsequent decision-making, for example the correct strategy to take when making a pit stop. AI could eventually be making and executing these decisions on teams’ behalf, hinting at a future in F1 where technology replaces human judgement.

For now though, fan engagement remains at the heart of the sport and its use of data, as proven by Formula One’s collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides cloud and data analytics tools. Broadcasters are thus able to display AWS’s statistical platforms during the races, giving viewers as much information as they can about each car and driver’s performance. 

Moreover, the service compiles results from fan polls and real-time race data to inform changes in regulation. Ahead of the 2022 season, F1 realised that fans wanted less overtaking, but rather more exciting wheel-to-wheel racing and subsequently all teams must now adopt a particular car design that reduces loss of downforce when tailing the car in front, in the hope of improving the spectacle. Putting it simply, technology ensures that F1 keeps evolving so that we stay entertained and keep coming back for more.

We hope you enjoyed this article looking at technology in formula one.

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