In only nine years Infiniti Red Bull Racing has managed to go from being the ‘fun underdog’ of Formula 1, to a team that is taking on companies that have been making cars for decades – and is frequently beating them to the top of the podium.
Al Peasland, head of technical partnerships, argues that much of the team’s success in the sport comes down to its innovative use of technology to define strategy in real-time and on a lap-by-lap basis.
However, Formula 1 is due a massive overhaul in the regulation of its engines – the first of its kind in four years – and is an attempt by the FIA to once again level the playing field amongst the top teams, sending them back to the drawing board for how they claim poll position.
Shacking up the pack
Over a number of seasons the top Formula 1 teams’ performance has converged as they got better and better at innovating with the designs of the cars and engines. By implementing these new changes - which will require teams to use hybrid engines - technology, analytics, networks, design and data are going to play a massive role in getting the car design to its best.
“Next year the big challenge is an overhaul of the rules, it’s going to shake up the pack, shake up the sport and get us focusing on new things,” says Peasland.
“We are going to go from a 2.4 V8 engine, down to a 1.6 V6 Turbo. We will have fewer engines a year, so will need to make them far more reliable. However, because we will now have a maximum fuel load for each race, in order to make it to the end of the race without running out of fuel, we will have to use a hybrid system.”
He adds: “This will change both the shape of the car and the race next year. Strategy will become far more important – when do we use fuel? When do we rely on the hybrid? We will be changing our strategy on a lap-by-lap basis.”
A resilient network is key
Infiniti Red Bull has over 100 sensors on each car, monitoring performance throughout any period it is on the track. As well as a team monitoring all of the information trackside, all of the data is being sent back to the team’s factory in Milton Keynes, where a number of people are monitoring performance in its operations room.
For each race Red Bull sends 100GB of data from the track to its factory and back, in real time, over AT&T’s global network.
“The operations room wouldn’t work without that network. The car on the track is sending wireless signals to the receiving points at the back of the garage, where the data is shared around our own secure network at the track, but is also shared through the AT&T VPN, which is secure and reliable, back to our operations room here,” explains Peasland.
This data is used to influence 25,000 design changes to the car over a season, which are implemented trackside in very tense conditions, in multiple locations across the world. This is going to become even more pertinent as the next season begins and the rule changes kick in.
“25,000 new components have been redesigned, modified or updated in some way from the first race to the last. And if we hadn’t done that we would have been right at the back of the grid. We are constantly sending new components to the mechanics and we are expecting them to fit them in a short space of time, fit them well and understand how they perform,” adds Peasland.
“The only way we can do that is by supporting them closely and giving them as much information and as much data as possible over that short space of race time. The network helps us get that very rich, heavy duty, 3D data to the circuit to the engineers to use to support their job," he says.
“So next year we will heavily be relying on the people in the ops room in Milton Keynes to plan out our races and support the team. We are going to have a brand new car, brand new technology – it’s going to take a lot of monitoring, a lot of evaluation. The first few races will be big test events.
“There will be a big demand next year to use the network to its full capacity and get as much data back from the track.”
Simulate everything in a virtual environment
This heavy data demand will mainly be coming from Red Bull’s approach to design, analytics and testing, which largely relies on 3D simulation. Peasland explains how the company is always looking to perform more efficiently, more quickly, but with the same amount of people, resource and money. Simulation and virtual environments, using bespoke software written by an in-house development team, is how Red Bull achieves this when changing the design of components on the cars.
“We design the entire car in 3D, in a virtual environment. Using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) – a virtual wind tunnel – a supercomputer, and some sophisticated software to simulate airflow, we can test and analyse the predicted strength of each new component before we spend the time and money on manufacturing it,” says Peasland.
“Everything we do is about using the virtual environment, simulating before we commit. So before we cut a piece of metal, we have already verified that it will be a good component.”
Peasland says that this insight and getting the data back to the teams in real-time has completely changed how the team understands each race and where its drivers will finish. It will also be incredibly valuable when the team is fine-tuning the cars following the regulation changes.
He says: “Getting rich, 3D CAD data across the world to the engineers to see how a new component is going to fit before it even gets on the car – getting that data across the network has totally transformed the way the guys work.
“You know where you are going to place based on how everyone is performing that weekend and so it allows us to target a position without stressing the car or pushing too hard.”