Pat Pilcher: F1 goes hi-tech

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When watching Formula One Grand Prix, most of us remain blissfully unaware of the technologies or logistics that go into making an F1 car hurtle around the track at speeds topping 300 kph.

None of this occurred to me until I caught up with Team McLaren's chief engineer, Phil Prew.

The logistics around Formula One racing are mindboggling. According to Prew, a staggering 40 tonnes of material ships with each race car. Racing an F1 car also requires people resources. Not only is there a pit crew at the track, but there's also a sizeable contingent back at McLaren's UK headquarters doing race simulations in an ultra-realistic F1 car rig using projected HD 3D video, but they're also revising race strategy and testing new parts based on real-time data obtained from cars as they race.

Generating this data means that McLaren's F1 cars are crammed with 200 sensors to transmit real-time telemetry back to pit crews teams via a network of trackside radio repeaters. This telemetry covers everything from tire temperature through to engine performance, with each car generating a whopping 3TB of data - per race.

3TB isn't a trivial amount of data. If it were all MP3 files (encoded at 192kbps), it'd be about the same as listening to music non-stop, 24 hours a day for just under 4 years.

Sifting through this vast pile for performance enhancing data also pays big dividends according to Prew.

"Some might only create a 100 millisecond improvement, but when combined they can really add up."

This said, finding such valuable information out of the vast amount of data already to hand isn't easy. To this end, McLaren partnered with SAP to help them mine useful data out of the mountains of information generated using SAP's HANA, mobility and cloud applications.

Sometimes tweaking performance also requires that new parts are added to the car. As simple is this sounds, in practice it can be anything but.

According to Prew, this often sees rapid prototyping technologies including 3D printing used to speed things up. Even so, parts created in McLaren's UK factory often need to ship to some pretty remote locations and get there as fast as possible. The most reliable way of doing this is to send the parts out with someone from Team McLaren on a plane.

Further adding to an already boggling amount of F1 technology are regulatory changes that have also seen F1 car designs tweaked for 2014 to incorporate eco-friendly, hi-tech wizardry. The petrol V8 engines of the past have been shrunk to V6's and now incorporate electric engines, effectively transforming F1 cars into very fast hybrids. Batteries are also charged using a combination of regenerative breaking and engine exhaust gasses from the turbo.

The net result is that this year's F1 engines are complex beasts, and on today's practice sessions this appeared to have created problems for some teams, with pit repairs taking much longer when compared to last year's simpler petrol driven powertrains.

Either way, the combination of complex logistics and technologies in use appear to be working for team McLaren with their driver, Jenson Button, recording the second fastest practice times today.

- NZ Herald

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