Gazillions of gigs of Data to Expect the Unexpected

The closest I’ve come to motor sports writing was last year when I tried to understand the role technology, specifically analytics, has in the world of Formula One racing.

This is no mean feat, as I’m far from being a speed demon. Being in anything faster than 150 kmph forms a thin sheen of cold sweat upon my brow.

This also leads me to have more appreciation for the other parameters that goes into winning an F1 race – engineering for the optimal car and performance, workflow and processes for the optimal layout in the garage, the wear and tear rate of the many. many different car components, and maybe most important of all – the fastest possible setup combination for that track, that day, that car, that driver.

This is a good video that talks about what is involved.


Brakes, tyres and engine temperatures are crucial things to know.

For example, during the recent Singapore F1 race, the track is said to have 23 corners per lap. which can take its toll on the braking system.. While car engines run at 800 degrees celcius, carbon discs which are an important part of the braking system, can go up to 1000 degrees celcius.

Needless to say, not only the car engine, but these carbon discs need to be cooled sufficiently, for them to work optimally – the discs’ temperature cannot be below 300 degrees or above 1000 degrees.

This temperature is controlled by altering the air ducts around the braking system.

But that is not all.

It is said there are about 400 sensors all around the car to measure different things about its performance, and this produces 500,000 channels of data to analyse.

Focus and precision and control

Precision and control is the name of the game.

All the more because of the various of parameters involved and the variables that can happen – weather, track conditions, the different race regimes etc – everything else that can be controlled, will be controlled.

Each team has two race cars, and each race car has its own set of 10 engineers/mechanics. This means even if a fire breaks out in the garage, they may not go to help their teammates but remain focused on the race car they are designated to.

Actually, even variables are under intense scrutiny, and millions of simulations based on many different variables are run, using TIBCO Spotfire visual analytics to predict and strategise for the best possible outcomes.

There are 21 race circuits that these motor sports teams travel to to race at, all within 365 days. So, you can imagine (or maybe not) the number of variables that are in play, all the time.

The driver’s steering wheel

A tour of a Formula One motor sports team’s garage, is like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. The only words that would compute is “Lewis Hamilton” whilst everything else whizzes past.

One such mind-boggler is the agreement all race teams have to open communications amongst themselves while they are out on the track, during a race.

Initially, I thought that this reveals too much of the playbook and gives away the recipe to each team’s strategy to win. If you have the same thought, let me explain.

What’s understood is that a few years ago, regulation had disallowed teams from informing their drivers how to control systems in the car.

But this became a safety issue. Here’s why.

There are around 45 buttons, paddles and rotary controls on top of (and on the underside of a driver’s steering wheel, which control over 500 settings of the car. One example of a setting, is for an energy recovery system.

It is said, for example, knowing which buttons to push could harness kinetic energy from the braking system and heat from somewhere else, to increase the car’s horsepower.

So, knowledge of the combinations to control could make all the difference between winning and losing.

The thing is, we could be driving at only 60 kmph while on the phone, and the traffic police will pull us over for being a health hazard. I think it’s prudent to assume while driving at 3-4 times that speed with a bunch of other speed demons on a narrow race track, it’s best to keep our eyes ON THAT TRACK.

So today, all the teams agree to allow their engineers to advise their drivers, and be transparent about the instructions they give.

IT BYTES BACK! says: Eighty-percent of a Formula One race car may be made of carbon fibre. But I think the more significant material may be the STEEL that drivers’ nerves need to be made of, to navigate a Formula One race course.

I can imagine these drivers have to appreciate the data and analytics being leveraged to inform motor sports teams and regulators, which in turn help to drive down the risks of getting to the winners’ podium.


(This journalist was a guest of TIBCO’s to the Singapore GP Friday Practice).