Formula 1 cars are fitted with sensors on many of their components, measuring a whole variety of data from pressures to temperatures and the movement of components.
In race trim, we have something in the range of 200 sensors on the car. However, in private testing configuration – when we are not restricted by the sport’s regulations – that number can exceed 500.” Jason Rees, Race Team Electronics Co-ordinator, Renault Sport Formula One Team
The data produced is stored in an electronic control unit and transmitted to the team in real time – at a speed of 4MB/second – by way of an antenna on the nose of the Renault R.S.17.
There are between 15 and 20 people monitoring this data at the track, as well as a similar number of engineers doing likewise back at base at Enstone in the UK and Viry-Châtillon in France...” Ciaron Pilbeam, Chief Race Engineer
All of these engineers have their eyes firmly fixed on the screens, where graphs display the evolution of all these parameters. Programmed alarms instantly detect the slightest problem on the car, so the team very often knows about punctures and other issues before the driver does!
The most important data concerns safety-related items, such as the brakes and tyre pressures. But after that there is also power unit performance and reliability – including fuel consumption and coolant temperatures – and chassis-related performance and reliability data, such as car balance and tyre performance.” Ciaron Pilbeam, Chief Race Engineer
At the beginning of the new millennium, telemetry in the sport was a two-way tool, with engineers able to alter the car’s settings from the pit wall. Although such intervention is now banned, telemetry nonetheless remains an invaluable tool in race situations, assisting in crucial decisions that can have a direct impact on the final outcome by allowing teams to optimise the performance and reliability of their cars.
By way of an example, telemetry identified an issue on Nico [Hülkenberg]’s car towards the end of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, when he was running in sixth place. Without telemetry, the car would likely have retired as a result of the problem, but quick analysis of the data by the engineers allowed us to tell Nico which settings he needed to change on the steering wheel to ensure he reached the end of the race.” Ciaron Pilbeam, Chief Race Engineer
You now understand why, at Spa, from 2:00pm local time on Sunday, August 27, nobody will be disturbing Formula 1’s data engineers!