Monaco – The Ultimate Test of Man and Machine

Monaco – The Ultimate Test of Man and Machine

The Principality of Monaco – a venue fitting in its royal connections for the jewel in the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport. Fitting also, then, that the only driver to achieve this feat to date is ‘Mr. Monaco’ himself – Graham Hill – who triumphed on the streets of Monte Carlo no less than five times (1963 – 1965, 1968, 1969), at the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972. But what makes the Monaco Grand Prix the most revered event on the motor racing calendar? Heritage for one, with the principality having hosted Grand Prix racing since 1929 – and Formula One specifically since the advent of the World Championship in 1950. Glamour, of course, for another – with the yacht-laden marina, celebrity-strewn terraces and infamous après-course entertainment at La Rascasse all part of the fabric of the weekend. Ask those at the heart of the action, however, and the significance of the Monaco Grand Prix takes on deeper meaning. From the drivers to the engineers, mechanics, truckies, marketing and hospitality crew, this is undoubtedly the most significant – and most challenging – event on the calendar.

It’s the ultimate test of man, team and machine working in perfect harmony. And the one they all want to win. Where once the onus was predominantly on the talent and bravery of the men behind the wheel, today the challenge has changed significantly – particularly in last decade. While the driver remains the ultimate decider at the ultimate driver’s circuit, technology has a huge impact on performance.

Flashback 66 years to the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix and Silver Arrows legend Juan Manuel Fangio, whose iconic post-race analysis of the moment which arguably saved his race – and perhaps even his life – demonstrates the extent of on-board ‘telemetry’ at the time: “I led from the start in my Alfa,” he recalled. “Villoresi was behind me and behind him was Farina, who spun at Tabac in front of Gonzales and Fagioli. Maybe 10 cars were involved and the track was completely blocked. I knew nothing of this, of course, because it had happened behind me. But when I arrived there on the next lap, I braked hard and stopped, just before all the wreckage. People said that I must have had a sixth sense – but it wasn’t like that, really. I was lucky. “There had been a similar accident in 1936 and I happened to see a photograph of it the day before the race. On the second lap, as I came out of the chicane before Tabac, I was aware of something different with the crowd – a different colour. And I realised that, instead of seeing their faces, I was seeing the backs of their heads. I was leading the race – but they weren’t watching me. So, something down the road was more interesting. And I remembered that photo…”

  • Großer Preis von Monaco 2016, Sonntag

More recently, in the late 1980s, the early phases of data logging were a little more advanced – but still a far cry from the complex systems of today: “When I started in Formula One almost 30 years ago, we were in the pioneering stage of putting data on the cars” says Executive Director (Technical), Paddy Lowe. “Our first data logger had only eight channels and could record only one lap at a low data rate. Today, we have thousands of channels of data from hundreds of different sensors measuring parameters within the Power Unit, gearbox, suspension and bodywork of the car. It’s a huge aspect of modern Formula One operations.”

And it’s not just the cars themselves that have progressed so vastly in this relatively short time frame. Race tracks and cities are now transformed into fully connected environments during a Grand Prix weekend to support the data and communication requirements of teams and spectators alike. Despite the uncompromising physical environment of a venue such as Monaco – which presents significant challenges to radio, telemetry and GPS connectivity – the show continues largely uninterrupted. When Formula One comes to town, the future of digital urban infrastructure is on full display.

With radio communications from the pit wall now heavily restricted following amendments to the regulations for the 2016 season, the reliance on fast and reliable data capture is notably heightened. Teams today must be better prepared than ever to give the men at the wheel not just the perfect machine beneath them – but the largest amount of track time possible. From there, it’s up to the driver to find that elusive Monaco rhythm.

Described by some as ‘The Greatest Ever Lap’, Ayrton Senna’s pole-winning performance in Qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix – and his subsequent description thereof – shows just how in-tune a driver must be with both his instincts and his machine to master the twists and turns of Monte Carlo: “I was kind of driving it by instinct,” he said of the lap. “I was in a different dimension. I was in a tunnel, well beyond my conscious understanding.”

This poetry is echoed by all those who take to the tarmac in his wake, aiming to emulate those six victories in the Principality that remain a seemingly intangible record: “It’s an incredible feeling, making a car dance through those streets,” says Lewis Hamilton “One of the purest thrills you can have in a racing car.” A sentiment echoed by three-time Monaco Grand Prix victor Nico Rosberg: “It’s the most legendary, exciting and challenging event on the calendar – the ultimate driver’s track.”

  • Großer Preis von Monaco 2016, Donnerstag

It’s easy to see how such legendary status has been built. The steering wheel is in almost constant motion in Monaco – from major inputs through the tight turns to tiny corrections over the bumps of the city streets. At the ‘Loews’ hairpin, for example, the wheel is turned through more than 180 degrees. And while the circuit comprises 18 other numbered corners, the drivers make a significant change to the steering angle approximately 130 times per lap – with the wheel itself remaining relatively centred for around ten seconds per lap, equating to just 13% of the 2016 pole position time.

Including rotary switches, buttons and paddles, there are approximately 45 individual controls on a modern Formula One steering wheel – and by far the most frequently used are the gear change paddles. At Monaco, the average number of gear changes per lap is around 50 – which equates to nearly 4,000 changes over a 78-lap race distance.

When one calculates the number of inputs a driver is likely to have to make, the total during a qualifying lap alone is impressive. 130 significant changes of steering direction, 50 gear changes and up to 20 further inputs for DRS / ERS deployment and any other adjustments. That gives the driver a predicted workload of over 200 different inputs per lap – all before the balletic dance between the throttle and brake pedals are even considered. Finding that perfect lap between the barriers of Monte Carlo is no mean feat. The driver must be totally confident and comfortable in the cockpit – and 100% focused on the task at hand. This is where the vast quantities of data gathered from the cars – and the efficient transfer thereof – becomes crucial.

On track, the team manages 200 physical sensors on the car, used to log 1,000 channels of data, 100 times per second – measuring variables from hydraulic pressures to drivetrain temperatures and, of course, the hundreds of driver inputs undertaken each lap. 17,000 further parameters are recorded in ‘slow row’ (recording whenever there is space in the logger, i.e. every couple of seconds) with a total logging rate of 440kBps in the on-car and 250kBps in telemetry broadcast to the pits. In total, the two cars generate data at the rate of 1MB every two seconds.

Some of this data is sent back in real time through a high frequency telemetry system, which transmits data from the moving car to the pits. However, there is far more data available than can be extracted via that route. The excess has traditionally been transferred using a wired connection once the car has stopped – but even that is problematic, as crucial track time is lost waiting for the download to complete. This is where Technical Partner Qualcomm has helped the team optimise track time. Engineers are now able to download that balance of data – which can be very bulky – in the time between when the car stops in front of the garage and is wheeled back into the garage via an extremely powerful wireless connection.

The most noticeable benefit from this comes in understanding tyres via the infra-red camera system – and more specifically the speed at which information from that feed can be processed. In the past, the crew would plug in the cameras when the driver returned to the box and have just a few seconds to extract as much data as possible before the car returned to the track. There simply wasn’t enough time to extract the full data set until after a session, so the real-time nature of that data was lost.

Qualcomm’s technology allows the team to extract that information much more quickly. By the time the car pulls back into the garage, the engineers have now received that information wirelessly – saving as much as half a lap of crucial track time around Monaco. In 2015, this equated to roughly seven additional laps apiece for Lewis and Nico across the three free practice sessions. With the debut of the UltraSoft compound for 2016, that extra track time could have an even greater impact.

Aside from significantly faster data transfer in the pit box, the on-board SnapDragon processor can extract information and stream it live to the pit wall via the telemetry system – allowing the engineers to see what the driver is doing through each corner before he gets to the next one. With this information, the team is then better placed to fine-tune car setup and provide the driver with more information at the beginning of each run. This reduces the need for a driver to adjust the balance of the car around a lap, allowing him to focus on getting the most from the car.

Of course, from the moment that data has been extracted from the cars, the engineers must be able to process the information as quickly as possible to maximise the value of each run – particularly at a circuit with the highest track evolution of the year in Monaco. This is where the next weapon within the modern Silver Arrows technological armoury is deployed.

Overall, the team’s telemetry systems generate 15 GB of raw car data per weekend, with post-processing adding a further 70 GB of data. That equates to 3.5 billion data points per car – or seven billion data points across all team operations – per weekend. Staggering numbers indeed, which are perfectly illustrated by the gearbox. In Monaco, around 19,000 gearshifts will be undertaken between both drivers over the course of the weekend – compared to roughly15,000 in Barcelona – with each shift writing around 50,000 points of data. While a gearshift itself happens in about 10 milliseconds, today the team can extract this information from the database in roughly 0.4 milliseconds.

In the garage, engineering decision-making processes are now significantly enhanced by FlashArray-based data storage from Pure Storage. In layman’s terms, this technology is the equivalent to an everyday laptop user upgrading from a traditional spinning disk hard drive to USB stick data storage. And with this technology, average transaction times have been reduced by around 40% – again, saving crucial decision making time for the engineers.

But the journey doesn’t end there. During a Grand Prix weekend, the team has engineers back at Brackley supporting the 16 engineers at the race track for all aspects of chassis operation in real time.

An unusual quirk of the Monaco calendar effectively gives the team a ‘Day Off’ on the Friday – but this is far from down time. For the engineers at the track, it’s an extra day to hold meetings, analyse data and run simulations alongside their colleagues at Brackley and Brixworth. For the drivers, it’s an extra day to do their homework – but, of course, under modern-day radio restrictions, the ‘calculator’ of an engineer in their ears is no longer permitted, making that extra prep time all the more crucial.

As part of this process, during an average Grand Prix weekend around 200 GB of data is synched between the race track and the Brackley Race Support Room (RSR). In Monaco, this number rises to around 250Gb – with the ‘bonus’ Friday engineering time generating extra video content and an additional 24 hours’ worth of simulation runs and procedural checks on the cars.

Transferring such vast quantities of data requires a fast, reliable and secure connection to ensure optimal collaboration between the team at base and their counterparts on the road – wherever in the world they might be. And this is where the TATA Communications global network comes into play. Comprising over 500,000 km of subsea cable and over 200,000 km of terrestrial network fibre, TATA provides a data transfer capacity of one terabit per second, with high bandwidth availability and seamless scalability.

This link enables real time communication and analysis to be managed between the circuit and RSR. From the circuit, on-track performance and reliability analysis, driver-specific system and car set-up work, car assembly and maintenance supervision data is beamed back to base, while, specialised system support, video analysis, competitor analysis and second-line performance analysis returns in the other direction.

These three ‘Zones of Acceleration’ ultimately combine to achieve one common objective. Through more track time and a better understanding of the cars in a more timely fashion, the team can empower Lewis and Nico to focus on what they do best – extracting the absolute maximum from their Silver Arrows. From there, may the best man win…

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