At the grand prix of Italy , from 5 to 7 September, the Lotus F1 team hit bottom. Qualified 16th and 17th on the starting grid, the drivers of the English team made little progress during the race (14th and 16th at the finish). Yet a year earlier, the team was on the podium and battling for the constructors’ championship. Several factors explain this descent into hell: budget cuts, delay in the development of the Renault engine , bad exploitation of new technical regulations … Everything is to rebuild, or almost.
To begin its recovery, the team can count on a technical and commercial partnership with Microsoft Dynamics, the subsidiary of the American giant specializing in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). The black and gold car has the division’s logo on its rear wing. But it is all Microsoft that accompanies the team, and not only with its ERP.
DIGITAL EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME
Providing Nokia phones , mobilizing the Azure cloud and its computing capabilities, exploiting CFD (digital fluid mechanics) data and other simulation tools … the American company is present at every link in the chain. So much so that men from Redmond are directly integrated into the team and work for her at the factory (located in Enstone, near Oxford) and on the circuits.
It is especially in the management of data of any kind that Microsoft tries to print its mark. An F1 team is a huge data-producing machine, thanks to telemetry. The team has many performance indicators: speed, battery charge level, engine temperature and brakes. ” Every lap, a single-seater, with 200 sensors, generates 200 megabytes of data, ” explains Christian Pedersen, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics ERP. Information to be communicated to the stand via secure channels, then analyzed in real time. The complex event management solution (CE) StreamInsight, developed by the American giant, is involved.
But there is also data related to each component of the car, which can manage their life cycle (lifecycle management) and optimize reliability. Everything is logged in a database. Microsoft provides the team with its SQL servers.
Computer simulation is also gaining more and more prominence in the life of a Formula 1 team. Track tests have been considerably limited to reduce costs … but the teams have gone on a bidding war to compensate. At its Enstone plant, Lotus has a wind tunnel, a simulator, and a Boeing supercomputer . Its power is limited to 200 terraflops per second, the maximum allowed by the FIA, the International Automobile Federation.
PILOT THE DECISION
Another type of data managed with Microsoft tools: human and financial resources, the nerve of the war in F1. ” Lotus has a third of the budget of large teams, ” said the team’s CEO, Matthew Carter. ” So we need to be responsive, be agile, mindful of cost control, and make better use of technology than our competitors, ” he says.
Microsoft’s tools make it possible, for example, to know what resources to allocate to the various development programs carried out within the team. ” It helps us know when to shift the majority of the team’s resources to the next year’s single-seater, for example, or quantify the cost / performance ratio of a program. if I put so many people on this project, how much it will cost me and how many tenths of seconds it will bring me back on track, “says Matthew Carter.
All business leaders are faced with such choices. ” But we live in two weeks what most businesses do in a year, ” says Matthew Carter. Christian Pedersen confirms: ” F1 is a business like any other!” All sectors are undergoing these changes, with a pace that is accelerating and must adapt, except that everything is pushed to the limit, to the extreme. It’s a good laboratory for us . ”
THE CIRCUIT AS A LABORATORY
Microsoft is using this experience to test new technologies and processes. ” There are areas where we can do better ,” Christian Pedersen said. ” During a race, we have a software that adjusts the strategy according to race events.The calculation of a new strategy requires 1 minute 30 to 2 minutes now, and it can happen a lot, during a race, in two minutes, so we are looking to mobilize computing capabilities in the cloud to improve the speed of the software “.
Another topic on which Microsoft will floor in the coming months: predictive analysis and deep learning. ” The technology is available, but we need to make it available, but for the moment the technical expertise required to exploit the full potential of machine learning is too high, we need to deploy tools to categorize the data, sort it, and give it meaning automatically, we set ourselves two years to progress, “says Christian Pedersen, convinced that there is a lot of performance to unlock by working on the algorithms.
TOWARDS “SMALL DATA”?
But does too much technological assistance kill the spirit of Formula 1? Some voices are beginning to rise to denounce the dehumanization of sport. Thanks to big data, the engineers give orders to the drivers during the race, minute by minute, in order to adapt their driving to the track conditions. This could change: this weekend in Singapore, radio communications between the stand and the driver will be restricted. A partial ban on telemetry is also envisaged. We are therefore moving towards an era of declining data in F1. A new parameter to take into account for Lotus and Microsoft, who have extended their partnership until 2016.