Formula 1
Formula 1
Emilia Romagna GP
18 Apr
Race in
42 days
Portuguese GP
02 May
Race in
56 days
09 May
Next event in
59 days
23 May
Race in
77 days
Azerbaijan GP
06 Jun
Race in
91 days
13 Jun
Race in
98 days
27 Jun
Race in
112 days
04 Jul
Next event in
115 days
18 Jul
Race in
133 days
Hungarian GP
01 Aug
Race in
147 days
29 Aug
Race in
175 days
05 Sep
Race in
182 days
12 Sep
Race in
189 days
26 Sep
Race in
203 days
Singapore GP
03 Oct
Next event in
206 days
10 Oct
Race in
217 days
United States GP
24 Oct
Race in
231 days
31 Oct
Race in
238 days
Australian GP
21 Nov
Race in
259 days
Saudi Arabia GP
05 Dec
Race in
273 days
Abu Dhabi GP
12 Dec
Race in
280 days

Analysis: How F1 is fighting off the hackers

In the blink of an eye, computer hackers could wreak havoc in a Formula 1 team. Here's how technology giants have joined the fight to counter that threat.

Analysis: How F1 is fighting off the hackers
Mark Webber
Ferrari engineer at work
#49 AF Corse, Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Alex Moiseev
Start: Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T leads
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF16-H
Singapore circuit
Ferrari engineer
Ferrari on the pit gantry
James Allison, Ferrari Chassis Technical Director and Maurizio Arrivabene, Ferrari Team Principal on the pit gantry
Singapore circuit
Start: Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T leads
Scenic Singapore
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T
Felipe Massa, Williams FW38 Mercedes, is returned to the garage by engineers
Maurizio Arrivabene, Team Principal and Mattia Binotto, Ferrari Race Engine Manager
Jock Clear, Ferrari Engineering Director with Maurizio Arrivabene, Ferrari Team Principal
Jenson Button, McLaren, Tom Stallard, McLaren race engineer
(L to R): Peter Bonnington, Mercedes AMG F1 Race Engineer with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 on the grid
Start: Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T leads
Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull Racing RB11 leads Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W06
#49 AF Corse, Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Alex Moiseev
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W06
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W06

Ever since Mark Webber's Red Bull car ground to a halt at the inaugural 2008 Singapore Grand Prix with gearbox failure attributed to electrical interference from an underground line, Formula 1 teams have always taken extra precautions around the Marina Bay circuit.

The exact cause of the electrical signals remains open to debate, but it highlights how teams have always to be mindful about the potential of an external force playing havoc with a car's electronics, for a wrong signal at the wrong time can mean instant retirement.

But in the modern ultra-connected world we live in, the threat posed by a part of a Singapore track pales into insignificance compared to the chaos that modern day hackers could create if they were able to get inside an F1's electronics black box.

Open doors

It's why companies like anti-virus giants Kaspersky Lab have thrown themselves into F1 with Ferrari - because the technology progress, high-profile compeition and cost of things going wrong makes the sport an arena like no other.

For Kaspersky's chief sales officers Alexander Moiseev, the sophistication of hackers means that if an F1 team dared try to run without strong protection, then the danger is not only losing data, but in having its car put under someone else's control.

"I don't want to create a black sky, but technically without protection, the doors are open," Moiseev tells

"All teams have their own IT departments, they have security and knowledge themselves but protection is fundamental.

"We have done a huge work with Ferrari over a year and a half. We learned a lot to adjust the product and create solutions. We did a lot of education in terms of cyber security because their way of seeing threats was different from what we do.

"If they lived without protection, it would be like if you have a perfect home and put no locks on the door. Would it be easy to access it?"

Growing threats

Many of the sophisticated hacker groups are interested in either scaring people or getting money, but equally some would get satisfaction from simply bringing down an F1 team.

Moiseev says the threats are ever increasing, and it is a never-ending task for his company to stay on top of things.

"If you try to analyse the number of threats and targeted attacks that are happening over a weekend, they are happening because there are more people and bigger crowds – so it is really extreme for our protection system," he said.

"The protection for the team starts at the pit wall and ends up at the tracks and with the factory itself. Then of course, the data itself – it is very vulnerable. It is always under attack, the question is how the bad guys will decide to attack it."

Moiseev says that his company not only has to fight off potential risks of hackers bringing down car systems, but also wreaking havoc with entire computer systems.

"There are different sorts of attacks. Consider, for example, the 'DOS' attack. As an example, if you have a phone and I call you, I disable the service for other incoming calls. You can enable a second line but if someone else calls you as well, then you have denial of service [DOS].

"With an Internet service, you have millions of lines to come in to read the website. But if you create a bottleneck and hack many, many computers and command them to go the website, you basically create a denial of service to the website and it doesn't work. This is called DOS attack.

"It is something that is becoming quite common and, for teams, it is much more sensitive to be service enabled. They cannot have DOS – the service must always be live."

Team hacks

But it is not just criminals or troublemakers that those in F1 are having to watch out for, because if teams were left unchecked then the temptation to hack into systems for competitive gains would be too much for some not to act.

Since 2008, F1 teams have all had to use a standard ECU supplied by McLaren Applied Technology, and great efforts have been made to ensure that it is tamper proof.

The processors inside F1's ECU are supplied by Freescale, and the American company is well versed in understanding how in the past, in other categorie,s some nefarious behaviour was going on.

Freescale's Peter Highton, who is heavily involved in the F1 project, said: "If you have physical access to something, you can spend a lot of time and probably hack your way in there, but it would take months and a lot of effort.

"We went through a situation 10-15 years ago where we found people were playing with standard ECUs to get them into a vulnerable state [so they could be hacked].

"The way to do it was to play around with the voltage. So you would drop the voltage very low and bring it back up again, and it would put the ECU into a reset mode. At this point they could put a debugger in and say, 'oh it is just starting to run code now'.

"So they could hack in before the system had started running properly. What we've now done is build into chips to look into strange voltage variations, strange clock variations and tampering. Even there, we have tried to make it as physically difficult as possible to get into it.

"The latest devices, if they see a tamper, will just erase something. There will be nothing to debug…"

In F1, of course, the ECUs will not be wiped. Any such bad behaviour will simply flash up with the FIA and the troublemakers will be outed. Intricate systems have also been put in place to ensure that any software teams use themselves is not cleverly getting around the rules.

Tim Stafford, commercial director of McLaren Applied Technology, said: "Our company has worked closely with the FIA to develop techniques and security mechanisms that the FIA can satisfy themselves that they have a secure system to allow the teams to run cars but prevent driver aids they don't want them to run.

"If you look inside a garage, the software running on a laptop for a particular car is licenced specifically for that team. The data off that laptop in someone else's garage, they wouldn't be able to talk to the box."

Striving for perfect security

Ultimately, it is about the gamekeepers being one step ahead of the poachers.

As Highton explains: "We have seen road cars that have been hacked, and the way in for those guys was through the infotainment system, which hadn't been secured as much as the mission critical areas. What you really don't want to happen is have someone play around with the way the engine is running.

"We realised years ago that cars had to have the same level of protection as other systems – and the rest of the world is catching up!"

Moiseev concurs: "Unfortunately for us, with the bad guys there are a lot of guys working with good minds. Bad minds in terms of understanding the world but good minds in terms of technology.

"The malware world is really a business, a huge business. But the things they do, the groups they have and the technology they realise, just seeing some samples from what we have on our database, the investment to create such a weapon is huge.

"Some are targeted to release money, some are targeted to scare people – but the investment is huge. Unfortunately, we need to be constantly updated."

And with a more and more connected world – where our smartphones connect to our laptops and our cars – the technology is ever changing.

F1 is not above any of this, but for now it appears the hackers have not yet got through and stopped a car, perhaps because the price of breaking the systems is simply too much.

"There is a definition of perfect security," adds Moiseev. "100 percent security doesn't exist, but perfect security means the investment to get through the security perimeter is higher than the money you can get after. That is the level we have to operate at."

Renault encouraged by 2017 engine test results

Previous article

Renault encouraged by 2017 engine test results

Next article

Ten times Toro Rosso stood out - the Red Bull junior squad reaches 200 F1 starts

Ten times Toro Rosso stood out - the Red Bull junior squad reaches 200 F1 starts
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Ferrari
Author Jonathan Noble
The updates Williams hopes will lead to a point-scoring return Prime

The updates Williams hopes will lead to a point-scoring return

After producing a car which demonstrated progress but lacked the points to prove it last year, Williams starts its new era of team ownership with the FW43B, its bid to continue the climb up the Formula 1 grid in 2021

Formula 1
Mar 5, 2021
How Ferrari plans to recover from its 2020 F1 nightmare Prime

How Ferrari plans to recover from its 2020 F1 nightmare

The 2020 Formula 1 season was Ferrari's worst for 40 years as it slumped to sixth in the standings. A repeat performance will not be acceptable for the proud Italian team, which has adopted a notably pragmatic approach to forging its path back to the top

Formula 1
Mar 4, 2021
Why Aston Martin’s arrival is more than just new green livery Prime

Why Aston Martin’s arrival is more than just new green livery

In the most eagerly anticipated Formula 1 team launch of the season, the rebranded Aston Martin squad’s changes go much further than the striking paint job. But rather than a restart, the team hopes to build on top of solid foundations.

Formula 1
Mar 3, 2021
The car Aston Martin begins its new F1 journey with Prime

The car Aston Martin begins its new F1 journey with

The team formerly known as Racing Point gambled successfully on a Mercedes look-alike in 2020 as it mounted a strong challenge for third in the constructors' race and won the Sakhir GP. Now clothed in British racing green, Aston Martin's first Formula 1 challenger since 1960 provides the clearest indicator yet of what to expect from the new-for-2021 regulations

Formula 1
Mar 3, 2021
The tricky driver conundrums facing Mercedes in F1 2021 Prime

The tricky driver conundrums facing Mercedes in F1 2021

Ahead of the new Formula 1 season, reigning world champions Mercedes will take on challenges both old and new. This also can be said for its driver conundrum which could become key to sustaining its ongoing success...

Formula 1
Mar 2, 2021
How Alpine's cure to 2021 F1 rules starts at the front Prime

How Alpine's cure to 2021 F1 rules starts at the front

A new name, new faces and new colours pulls the rebranded Alpine Formula 1 team into a new era while carrying over core elements of its 2020 car. But under the surface there's more than meets the eye with the A521 which hints at how the team will tackle 2021...

Formula 1
Mar 2, 2021
Can Mercedes' W12 retain the team's crown? Prime

Can Mercedes' W12 retain the team's crown?

Replacing Formula 1's fastest car was never going to be an easy feat for Mercedes. Amid the technical rule tweaks to peg back the W12 and its 2021 rivals, the new Mercedes challenger will remain the target to beat

Formula 1
Mar 2, 2021
The pointed note that starts Ferrari's Leclerc vs Sainz era Prime

The pointed note that starts Ferrari's Leclerc vs Sainz era

Ferrari is starting its post-Sebastian Vettel age by welcoming Carlos Sainz in alongside Charles Leclerc. But while Sainz has a tough challenge to match his new teammate, Ferrari is also sending a message that previous intra-team spats must end

Formula 1
Mar 2, 2021