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How Biometric Analysis Is Pushing Williams F1 Pit Stops Below 2 Seconds

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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IN DEPTH: Williams F1 is using IoT and video to work out how it can record pit stops consistently below 2 seconds and win more races

In the world of Formula One, races can be decided by the tiniest of margins. The difference between victory and a podium position can be just tenths of a second.

The skill and experience of the two drivers on each team is essential to shaving fractions of a second off each lap time, but behind these two high profile talisman is a team of engineers, mechanics and strategists.

Much of this focus is on designing components and testing, as seen by Silicon at various team bases in ‘Motorsport Valley’, an area of Oxfordshire and the Midlands in which many F1 teams are concentrated, but Williams F1 has dedicated itself to quicker pit stops.

Since the abolition of in-race refuelling, teams have worked to change tyres as fast as possible, knowing that a delay or a mistake can cost their driver the race.

Read More: How to build an F1 IT department from scratch

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Pit stop importance

“When I came to team one of the first things our CTO Pat Symonds said was he wanted to get below two second pit stops,” CIO Graeme Hackland explains at the team’s base in Grove, Oxfordshire. ”At the time we were doing [around] 3.5 seconds.”

Williams had the slowest pit crew in the sport back in 2013 but in 2016 it recorded the fastest stop in 15 or the 21 races that comprise the Formula One World Championship. The most rapid was 1.92 seconds, a feat achieved at the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan.

Biometric analysis has been instrumental in the dramatic reversal in fortunes. In 2014, the team appointed Gemma Fisher as ‘Human Performance Specialist’. Fisher was previously an osteopath, albeit with a sports background, and is tasked with keeping 800 staff in shape.

Formula One is a global sport that requires multiple long-haul flights and long hours at the race track. Tyres themselves are heavy and changing them requires a lot of repetitive movement. And while NASCAR has professional pit crews, their counterparts in F1 are mechanics who have to cope with the pressure of the world’s media ready to pounce on any mistake.

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The rise of biometrics

“[Pit crews] are fatigued and overworked so they aren’t exactly at peak physical status when they do [pit stops],” says Fisher. “We keep people in the best physical state possible.

“There’s no point us doing a sub-two second stop and then another one that takes five or six seconds. We need to rely on those guys to perform at a certain level. We look at the bionics – how we make them stronger, fitter but keep them healthy [too]. There’s a lot of repetitive movement, it’s highly physical and it’s not their only focus.

“Physically, they need to be optimum, and psychologically they need to be able to work under pressure.”

Data is acquired through a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) and video analysis. Pit crews are equipped with a chest strap that collects data on heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, stress levels (which uses an algorithm combining other metrics) and calories burnt.

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