This team is directly connected to the circuit thanks to some amazing technology from Cisco, a McLaren partner. They receive data from the vehicle in less than 18 milliseconds – literally less than the blink of an eye – and then analyze it to feed critical strategy calls to the track.
“The mission control is a bit like the Apollo 13, just without the jackets and cigars,” began Ed Green, McLaren’s chief commercial technology officer. “Everyone looks at the critical data about race and a lot of the decision making comes from there, and it gets sent straight to the pit wall.
“If there is a race with a lot of safety cars, for example, the window of the safe car can be really small. Do you stay outside? Do you get in? What tires do you go in? What tire pressure do you have? What temperature? Who comes in? First, you have three seconds to make that decision.
“If we lose the connection to Mission Control, it’s like walking around the garage by candlelight. You can see where you’re going, but you don’t have everything you need. With Mission Control, it’s like putting floodlights on a football field. Suddenly. You can see everything.”
The communication between the car and the team is becoming increasingly complex with the development of technology. From the hole core board I applied to a hole-to-car radio and then telemetry was input to send data back from the vehicle each time the drilling went through.
This then evolved into direct telemetry, and the vehicle-to-team communication expanded to a larger group of engineers in the garage. Now, only recently, technology has achieved such fast, high capacity networks that allow live data to flow and communications all the way to the base.
That opened the door to something incredible. Not only does Mission Control add massive data analysis to improve vehicle setup and strategic decisions, it has also allowed McLaren to showcase the experiences of those who work every day, without sending everyone to the track.
“On Friday and Saturday, it’s all about the air, the tires, the reliability engineering, and making sure we have the cars prepared for the best possible place to race,” Green explains. “Come on Sunday, it’s about strategy, execution and insights. So we have flexibility on who we bring to each side.
“All simulations are done in the background and we are constantly providing information and writing it to many different systems. Cisco is at the center of enabling everyone to access that information across our network.”
Photography: Mark Sutton / motorsports pictures
inside the garage
It might sound less exciting than aerodynamics or hybrids, but the mesh infrastructure is just as important on a Grand Prix weekend as any part of the car. In fact, it can be said that they are just as important as the drivers themselves. Not that the IT guys will tell them that!
It all starts in the back of the garage, where an IT device—essentially a miniature data center containing telemetry servers, storage, routers and all the Cisco networking gear—sits quietly away, sending data to all the right places and letting everyone communicate .
The rig uses Cisco switches to create a local area network that covers the engineering offices and the central engineering island in the garage and from there to the pit wall. The rig is also connected directly all the way to Mission Control, using a complex, high-capacity network.
“When the data comes from the car, we have to move it from the car to the engineering island, to the IT platform and then distribute it in the garage and get it out to Mission Control as fast as we can,” Green says. “That’s a huge amount of information as soon as real you can get it.
“All of the car’s voice communication is done by radio, but it relies on IP around the garage and back to Mission Control. We also use Cisco switching equipment to connect them all together, so the team back at the base is already connected.
“Then there are cameras in the garage and cameras in Mission Control and we connect the two through our network – so if you’re sitting in Mission Control you can see what’s going on in the garage and if you’re in the garage you can see who’s in Mission Control.”
Engineers are often so focused on data analysis that they need an external alert to spot accidents on the right track, Green explains: “We built lights in the garage and in mission control so that if there was a safety car, for example, the whole area would pulse and glow with color Different. “
Another challenge – and this may seem surprising – is the speed of data transfer. In the fastest time, the delay of 18 milliseconds causes no small problem. However, when racing on the other side of the world, in Australia, it can take up to 400 milliseconds for information to reach Mission Control.
“It’s not much in any other world, but in Formula 1 it equates to a great deal of distance on the track,” says Green. “A lot of what we do is think about if we’re milliseconds behind, how do we adjust our timing systems back in Mission Control so we’re playing at the same speed.”
Photo by: McLaren
F1’s new budget cap means every bit of spending is now analyzed to determine what gets the most “bang for the money”. This is comprehensive, and McLaren is constantly working with Cisco to explore how new innovations can drive better efficiencies.
In the world of information technology, it’s all about finding solutions that are more robust, faster and can manage more data and, ultimately, make the job easier for those in the path or back to base to do their work. Because it all leads to better results on race day.
“When I got to McLaren, we were maximizing our data capacity,” Green recalls. “We pump information in terabytes, so we turned to Cisco and asked them what was coming next in the clipboard and looked at new ways to increase capacity.
“We use the Catalyst 9000 suite as this allows us to pass more data across the business and get a better view of it. If someone has trouble seeing something, is losing audio quality or can’t see the video, we get full visibility across our network, So we can find out where these events occurred.
“On track, we have full Cisco Wi-Fi coverage to give us good range and good power. So while engineers tend to be telemetry, when people are walking around the garage, they’re working on Wi-Fi. The same goes for Paddock Club and team hospitality.
“We also did some really cool things about the collaboration. Webex Hologram was a really fun experience. We did a demo and the person appeared as if they were sitting on the other side of the table to me. It was surreal. He reached for the bump of a fist and strangely felt that he was not there!
“It didn’t feel like a gimmick, it just seemed like a step forward. I can very well imagine that in a race weekend, when we quickly do prototypes of the car, or even to see the airflow over the car as it comes back, these things could be really interesting. .
“Wi-Fi 6E is another interesting innovation. Hopefully, the additional channels and the bandwidth available with them means that people can start doing high-productivity tasks in a way that is more mobile. So you might find people moving around a bit more and collaborating in different ways.
“We’re very cautious, in some ways, about making the change but there’s also a huge appetite for what comes next. In a sport where you’re dealing with milliseconds, you’re looking for any advantage that you can help you achieve faster.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, making a stop
Photography: Glenn Dunbar / motorsports pictures