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AT&T In Pole Position To Assist Red Bull Throughout 2014 F1 Season

As the Formula One season gears up for its first race in Melbourne next weekend, the sport’s teams are all hoping that they have prepared sufficiently to succeed after a raft of new rules and regulations were introduced for this season.

With 19 races on four continents, teams in the world’s most technologically advanced sport need to be in constant contact with their racing headquarters to analyse and act on the massive hoard of data generated during a racing weekend. But ensuring that a reliable network can be set up at all these different locations can be a major challenge, and one that needs to be conquered in order to become a winning team.

Plug and play

Last year’s world champions, Infiniti  Red Bull Racing, based near Milton Keynes, told TechWeek Europe how it is working with American telco AT&T to install, provide and maintain communications networks at all Grand Prix locations.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing sends 60 people to each race weekend, and is supported by a further team at its headquarters and the offices of its engine supplier Renault in Viry, France. This means that communications need to be reliable and clear – but also temporary, as the network will only be used once a year at each location.

The three teams need to remain connected at all times, as over 100GB of data will be transferred between the various Infiniti Red Bull teams during the course of a weekend, with each car featuring around 100 sensors which constantly transmit information to the pit lane and the factory. All of this can be crucial in making split-second strategic or mechanical decisions which could mean victory or defeat, meaning that a reliable communications network is an absolute must.

Using its experience from setting up temporary networks in the construction and retail industries, AT&T is able to visit the grand prix site a week before the race lands and then install a ‘plug and play’ network which allows the team to easily access to a high-bandwidth network.

Testing times

In preparation for the 2014 season, which features the largest set of new rules and regulations for several years, the Infinti Red Bull team had to invest more than ever in research and development.

With pre-season testing severely limited following rulings from the sport’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA), the team needed to get as much data as possible in order to tweak the car ahead of the season’s opening in Melbourne, which Al Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, (pictured) described as a ‘massive test’.

The team has therefore partnered further with AT&T to provide it with a network two and a half times bigger than the previous season in order to crunch the numbers not just from track testing, but also from the wind tunnel at Red Bull’s factory, where the team will test its new car and all the aerodynamic components.

“Being able to get more telemetry off the car, more sensors, more data, has been absolutely crucial, because this is a brand new vehicle – the technology in it is new, the car is a completely different animal this year…so learning as much as we can in the short amount of time we have is crucial” Peasland said.

The expansion in development also extends to the manufacturing of the cars themselves, which are made up of 7,000 components. The team went through 22,000 design changes during the 2013 season, with each new part needing to be tested, said Peasland. When a new part is built and sent out to the race team, 3D modelling will show the mechanics exactly where it needs to go on the car, meaning they can fit the part though they may never have seen it before.

The Infiniti Red Bull team will also look to develop the car over the race weekend following the free practice sessions which run prior to qualifying, with the increased network meaning that the team can run as many simulations as needed to hopefully produce a race-winning car.

World champions

Where AT&T really stands out, Infiniti Red Bull says, is in providing a reliable communications network that allows all the different teams to connect in almost real-time. In a sport where speed rules and the margins can be as little as a thousandth of a second, the ability to make the right strategic calls based on data collected from the driver and the car can be the difference between victory and second place.

Infiniti Red Bull can testify to this only too well. The last race of the 2012 season at Interlagos in Brazil saw the team’s lead driver, Sebastian Vettel, on the cusp of clinching a third consecutive world title, which would make him the youngest driver ever to have achieved that feat. Disaster struck on the first lap, however, as contact with another driver at the third corner left him facing backwards and with potentially race-ending damage as the field sprinted past him.

The team were unsure if the contact suffered in the accident was sufficient to necessitate a pit stop, which would place Vettel too far back to have any realistic hope of victory. But after analysing data sent from sensors on the car, the operations team over 5,500 miles away in Milton Keynes were able to confirm to the team in the pit lane that the loads being put on the car’s suspension did not indicate severe damage, and recommended he stay out.

The team in Milton Keynes was also able to analyse slow-motion video of Vettel’s car being broadcast by TV crews to check on the extent of the damage, and recommended altering the car’s front wing to balance the vehicle better. Over in France at the Renault engine office, the team detected a dent in the exhaust, which could have developing into a race-ending issue, and told the pit lane team to turn down the car’s engine. These calls were all vital in ensuring Vettel did enough to stay in the race and power through to win the championship, with his performance eventually earning him the world title.

Scrubbed up

In such a competitive sport, guarding your secrets and your data is another key consideration. AT&T’s network was also chosen for its security features, with Peasland stating that “IT security is really important”.

Although the team has yet to experience any attacks during its three-year partnership, AT&T’s network is able to provide security measures which should ensure any attempts are quickly detected and blocked. If the company sees any Infiniti Red Bull address being attacked, its software will detect the malicious activity and will deploy ‘scrubbers’ to clean the traffic, and can even shut down the portal that has allowed in the hack if needed.

Infiniti Red Bull also monitors its staff and visitors to its factory, and is able to track which employee logs into which computer in order to prevent any data being stolen.

Best in the world

In recent years, Formula One has come in for criticism from many observers, who deride the amount of assistance and driver aids available, stating that the drivers do not need as much skill as in the sport’s ‘golden days’. Peasland disagrees, stating that safety, not just of the driver, but of the car, means that the presence of technological assistance is paramount in today’s sport.

“Some of the data is for safety, which we’re very passionate about – making sure that the drivers and the whole team are safe, and that the sport is safe – so having people who can monitor the race, monitor the GPS positions of all cars on track, and be able to communicate to our driver that there is a backmarker or that after the next turn there is an incident, is really important,” he said.

“I think the technology element means that it is a technology race as much as it is a driver race, and we hope that the technology will find its way back into the automotive world – it’s a great platform for innovating and driving the technology on.”

“For me, if you watch what these drivers have to do to drive a Formula One car, they still are quite the best drivers in the world”.

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Mike Moore

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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