Mercedes has been working since last year with San Diego-based technology company Qualcomm to better analyse tyre data. Can this deal prove instrumental with the complicated new rules coming for 2016?
In 2015, Mercedes initiated a process to dramatically shorten the time needed to download data off the car with help from its new technology partner Qualcomm.
With new tyre rules coming into effect in 2016, and the addition of a new ultrasoft tyre compound, there are indications that the result of this work may give Mercedes an edge over its rivals in the upcoming season.
For executive director Paddy Lowe believes that what started out as a good idea 12 months ago could now prove crucial in making decisions that will be far more urgent in 2016.
“The real challenge that we had was around tyre data,” he said during an event in Barcelona last week.
“One of the key things here is that you have a big surface there and you want to see the temperature on all four tyres.
"That requires effectively a video of telemetric data, rather than single channels from single sensors. The bulk of data you then need is suddenly in a whole different order of magnitude.
“We didn’t have the infrastructure to bring that off the car quickly. So what we developed with Qualcomm was a WiFi solution that allowed us to actually gather that data back into our system before the car had actually stopped, whereas previously we had to download it afterwards.
“And it also might have taken us twenty minutes to half an hour because it was so bulky, effectively video-scaled data.”
Swift decision making
Lowe confirms the new system has been saving Mercedes huge amounts of time.
“It’s all about decision making,” he said. “When you are in a tight practice session you’ve got an hour to send the car out, do a run, make an analysis, make a decision, make changes to the car and go out again. You need to cycle around in literally seconds.
“So that process didn’t work with the tyre data before, but it does now. We can work with it, get the answers, make a decision and turn the car around within the session.”
With the new tyre rules, having that amount of data will be tremendously beneficial for Mercedes, Lowe admits: “I think it will come into its own even further this year because we have five compounds to choose from through the year but at any given race there will be three rather than two compounds.
“And that means, particularly on a Friday, rather than doing our homework on two compounds, we are going to be doing it on three.
“So in two 90 minute sessions we have got to learn all we can about those three compounds to decide which ones we are going to use in qualifying and the race itself.
“So again, this rapid turnout that we can do, seeing how the tyres are working with whatever set-up we picked and perhaps adapting the set-up to compensate with the tyres in some way, we can do that now with the speed that is necessary.”
More track time during testing
Mercedes is not only benefiting from this new wireless system during grand prix weekends, because it also helped the team to rack up an incredible amount of mileage with the new W07 car during the first week of testing at Barcelona.
“What Paddy mentioned about the quicker turnaround, that’s how we are able to do so many laps every day”, world champion Lewis Hamilton, who did a total of 343 laps in Spain, said at the same Barcelona event.
“In the past you would come in and have these long, long waits while they have to download the data. They plugged the car in and sometimes I would be asking the team: ‘What is taking so long?’ And they answered: ‘We are downloading all this information.’ So the faster we are able to do that, the better.
"It’s crazy how quick the turnaround is now. So I come back in and I barely have time to have a sip of my drink and the data is already downloaded, so I can go back out to do the next run.”
On how important it is to have this data, Hamilton said: “For me it’s incredible how technical these tyres are.
“It’s difficult to explain it to people, but in the car it’s all about feeling the tyres. The driver that has the more knowledge, the more information and the better understanding of those tyres can utilize them more.
“That’s why you see some drivers make the tyres last longer. Or sometimes people ask: ‘Why are you better in qualifying?’ That is because you understand how to use the tyre more.
"And you don’t have all the time in order to learn about the tyres. You only have a few sets for a weekend.
"So you really have to make sure that you maximize. All that extra information helps.”
Qualcomm vice president of technology Graeme Davison believes that F1 is a brilliant environment for his company to proof its products.
“Motorsport is a fantastic show ground for us to do rapid learning on technology in an environment which is very harsh,” he told Motorsport.com.
“The work we did with Mercedes is the perfect example. They would collect gigabytes worth of data of the systems that monitor all four individual tyres and then during the practice sessions they actually had to plug in wires to get that data off the car.
“They had connectors underneath the bodywork so they had to lift off the bodywork, plug in, download the data, process it and get the engineering guys to work out whether those improvements were working or not and then feed that info back to the guys who are in charge of setup.
"During that time the car was stuck in the garage doing nothing.
“We came up with a way of downloading that data using a highly modified 5 gigahertz WiFi system, such as that when the car approaches the garage the data download starts occurring.
“By the time the mechanics jack the car up and start to change things, that data is off the car and the engineers are already analyzing it and giving advice on the changes that need to be done.
“So we came up with a very simplistic way to not have to interact with the car for the data retrieval. If you can get ten laps in a free practice session, then that’s a good use of your time. But if you can get eleven laps, that’s ten percent more data.”
Introducing a 60 gigahertz system
During last season, Qualcomm kept improving the downloading process for Mercedes, such to a point that it is no longer the bottleneck on the system.
Davison added: “We can now get all the data the team needs off the car. What we are now looking at, is doing some other work.
“Now I can only hint on some of this stuff; but it’s effectively looking at some of the other sensoring systems that they put on the car, to gather more data from those, how to flow it across the car, collect it in single points and then dump it off in similar ways.
"I think we’ve got a little more breathing space on the current system, but we are already looking at, and we talked about this a number of times now with the Mercedes guys, moving from the 5 gigahertz 802.11ac system to the 60 gig 802.11ad system.
“This system was designed for use in buildings. It’s short ranged but it has a very, very wide bandwidth.
"So we are now looking if we can put this system in an environment it wasn’t designed for, which allows us to rapidly understand how we can improve that technology so it can be used in an environment where there is the possibility of smog, moisture and rain, things that affect a 802.11ad because of its very high frequency.
“But that’s what motorsport gives us: an environment where we can do very rapid developments.”
Qualcomm is also looking to add processing ability on the car itself.
“So we can do things like compression on the car”, Davison explained. “This way we can reduce the amount of data that you need to physically dump off. So you can collect more and dump it off quicker."
Real-time data transfer
Qualcomm even considered real-time data transfer. “One of the interesting things we discovered was that our system was connecting early," said Davison.
"At certain circuits, we actually connected with the car while it was going down the start-finish straight.
"So we realized that the system, with some architectural changes, might actually be able to gather data in a very ad hoc burst mode, as the car goes through certain sections. So that’s an area we looked at.
“We haven’t continued down that path currently because it’s one of those things we don’t need to do as of yet. But we are ready to pull it out of the toolbox when we need to.”
Interview by Erwin Jaeggi and Tim Biesbrouck