Big data and analytics pushing Formula One forward into new era, CIOs reveal
When you think of Formula One, normally you see fast cars, glamorous racetracks, and champagne corks popping. But lurking below the carbon fibre and rubber is one of the most technologically-advanced sports in the world.
Ahead of the British Grand Prix this weekend, TechWeekEurope went to speak to the Williams F1 team about its work with data specialists Avanade, to find out just why analytics technology can be the difference between victory and second place.
Over the course of a racing weekend, a Formula One car will generate up to 120GB of data, 60GB of which comes during the race itself. All this data needs analysing and scrutineering to ensure peak performance for both car and driver – which is where Avanade comes in.
Formed in 2000 as a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, the company has been working with Williams F1 since the start of the season, following previous work with Lotus F1.
The company now sends a large team to every race to assist Williams with getting the most out of their data, Colin Burrell, Williams client executive at Avanade, told TechWeekEurope. This includes providing real-time access to the “amazing amount of data” from the car, a vital competitive edge during the race.
Avanade’s systems are also able to facilitate the automatic manipulation of data, taking a large load of the Williams staff, freeing them up to get the most out of the car wherever they may be, either at the track or back with the 600 staff at the team’s factory in Grove, Oxfordshire.
“The work that we’re doing in Williams at the moment in terms of our strategy is moving ourselves forward greatly in digital,” says Graeme Hackland, Williams F1 CIO , “lots of teams are doing bits and pieces of IT work….but no-one else is doing exactly what we do”.
“Some of the teams will have advanced tools in some areas, and not in others…we need to focus on the things that we think will make us quick.
In some areas we’re catching up, and in some we’re ahead.”
Arriving at an empty garage every race weekend, the Williams team needs to be able to quickly set up their kit, with the team bringing two racks of computing kit to every race. However even this is down from four last season, thanks to opting for converged infrastructure, consolidating the hardware, and deploying new networks thanks to a partnership with BT, Hackland reveals.
The team’s IT strategy consists of four main pillars, one of which is the analytics services provided by Avanade, but also includes work on mobility, collaboration tools, and ‘facilitating innovation’.
But the work with analytics is definitely a key area for Williams, Hackland says.
“It’s not just about race engineering…it affects the whole team. Getting the right data, to the right person, in real-time, is critical for us.”
“Analytics for us is not just about the car – it’s across the whole life cycle of the vehicle.”
Avanade stood out from the competitors due in part to its work with many demanding clients in the past, Hackland says, but mainly stood out due to its ability to provide more capacity and development capabilities for the team.
Hackland had worked with Avanade at his previous team, but the company still had to endure a rigorous procurement process, as well as ultimately needing to educate its largely Indian workforce as to the rules and benefits of their work within Formula One.
“The key to engagement is giving people knowledge and understanding on what you’re trying to achieve,” Burrell says.
“The journey that we’re embarking on – Formula One is a hugely exciting sport, and I think if you can show the fruits of your labour every two or three weeks going around a racetrack….that gives everyone a huge sense of achievement.”
And so far, the partnership does appear to bearing fruit, with Williams recording a series of podium finishes this year, a trend the team hopes to extend this weekend.
Although Hackland refuses to single out any single IT tool for specific praise, noting that every service is there to help the engineers, he says that without the data capability provided by Avande, the engineers would not have been able to make the decisions that resulted in success for the team.
“It’s about a positive cycle of improvement,” he says. “The more brain power and better decision-making you can have, the better.”
Ultimately, Hackland says, the fans also love the mountain of data generated over a race.
“I think a lot of Formula One fans like the data,” he says, “if we could unlock more of that and put it in front of the fans, I think they’d be happy.”
“People want to racing,” says Burrell, “the more competitive we can make the team, the more chances there are that people we be able to see exciting racing.”
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