A Formula 1 car on a flying lap is the epitome of man working in perfect synchronisation with machine, but when Ralf Schumacher or Jarno Trulli hit the track with Panasonic Toyota Racing, they are not the only ones sensing every minute aspect of...
A Formula 1 car on a flying lap is the epitome of man working in perfect synchronisation with machine, but when Ralf Schumacher or Jarno Trulli hit the track with Panasonic Toyota Racing, they are not the only ones sensing every minute aspect of the car's behaviour.
A Formula 1 car is more than man and machine -- it is man, machine and a whole array of information technology to give Panasonic Toyota Racing's engineers a full picture of what happens on track, and more importantly, why.
Whenever a TF107 is on track, its every move is recorded by around 250 sensors in various parts of the car. The team receives information on approximately 1,300 different parameters, from basics like tyre pressures and engine temperature to more complex information on how the gearbox and engine behave.
But in Formula 1, time is always of the essence and if Panasonic Toyota Racing is to achieve its goals, the team's engineers cannot wait even for the driver to return to the pits for this vital information -- instead it arrives directly onto their computers via a wireless antenna on car.
This is a vital tool during qualifying or a Grand Prix. It enables specialist engineers to monitor every aspect of the car and if any parameter changes, the race engineer can adapt his strategy in an instant. Such details decide races.
Chief Engineer Race and Test Dieter Gass knows the importance telemetry has in modern Formula 1. He says: "Telemetry data is fundamental for us. It gives us the chance to follow in real-time what is happening on the car in order to take immediate action, whether that is with systems changes, operated by the driver on the steering wheel while the car is running, or to prepare new set-up solutions in the garage before the car is back in the pits. As engineers we rely on telemetry to give us a picture of the car's status in more detail than a driver can tell us through the radio."
Electronics engineer Margret Geisert is one of those whose job it is to monitor this data and keep the race engineer up to date with what is happening on the car. She says: "Even after the car has gone out we still need to be able to check and monitor the data. We want to know, for instance, what the engine is doing when the car is on the move. If we didn't have telemetry we would have to wait until the car came in to the pits when we could plug our computers in and download the data."
Sensors and antennae are as small as possible on the car so performance is not disrupted but in the back of the garage, the banks of computers, screens and storage hardware from team partner EMC are anything but small.
Panasonic Toyota Racing must bring all the equipment necessary to every circuit and IT Administrator Dirk Hauschild is the man who is charged with hooking the team up to all those data streams at test tracks around the world.
"We have got around 40 PCs here at the circuit plus memory, for example hard drives that can store 800GB of data," he says. "It is all built into small cabinets on wheels. We simply push them into the trucks and our truckies take them to the circuits."
Not only do the demands of modern Formula 1 demand instant access to data for engineers at the track, the information must also reach the factory in Cologne, Germany.
For practical reasons, only a limited number of engineers can be present at the track but back in Cologne, a team of experts have a virtual link to the car via a satellite link. A virtual face to face meeting happens twice a day via video conference but it is the satellite connection which really counts.
This link between track and factory, which is monitored with BMC Software, is crucial, giving the test or race team access to a wealth of IT resources, which helps them turn raw data into faster lap times.
Senior Manager IT Systems Waldemar Klemm knows exactly what it takes to supply the IT demands of a Formula 1 team. He says: "With the satellite link we have a very high bandwidth to be able to send and retrieve data, huge amounts if necessary in a very small amount of time to make sure the communication itself is not the bottle neck.
"It is crucial to have this data connection to the facility because you have only a very limited amount of calculation power at the track. What you are going to do is have a relatively brief analysis of the data at the track and then you are going to send that to Cologne to the factory.
"Here in Cologne we do have the huge calculation power to do the analysis to get deeper inside and get a better conclusion, to do modifications and to send all this set-up data back to the track for car improvement."
And improving the car is what really matters. Success in Formula 1 is not simply about man and machine -- it may be invisible from the grandstands or television screens, but IT plays its own essential part in Panasonic Toyota Racing's push for the top.