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The magic of connectivity at F1

| Updated on: Nov 12, 2015
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How Tata Communications cracked it for Mercedes

At Formula 1, apart from the burning rubber on the tarmac it is the speed of a different track that is equally vital to winning the sport. This is a track that ensures a superfast internet connection to transmit several gigabytes of data. For a car that is travelling at over 200 miles an hour, constant analysis on every aspect of performance is indispensable. Whether it is concerning tyre pressure, brake fluid, race and lap distance, or aerodynamic issues such as down-force and drag, technology is the backbone at a F1 race.

A case in point is the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team which dominated the sport in 2014 and is having more success this year too, says Mehul Kapadia, Managing Director of F1 Business at Tata Communications. It recently secured the 2015 Formula 1 World Constructors' Championship title to become the ninth team to win back-to-back crowns. Since 2013, Tata Communications has provided the Mercedes AMG Petronas team with three times faster trackside connectivity, greater bandwidth and lower latency to transfer race data to and from their engineers at their base in the UK.

Each of the Formula 1 cars have 150-200 sensors embedded in them which send out streams of detailed information about the health of various subsystems such as fuel load, tyre pressure, race and lap distance, tyre thread condition etc. This information has to be relayed real-time to the team's pit crew, where it is rerouted to headquarters.

Timing is everything Accordingly, tweaks are engineered to propel the car to secure a hair's breadth lead over another. The rapid transfer of rich data from the sensors on the track to headquarters and back could well prove to be the game changer. Kapadia says the company has the ability to transfer live race data around the world in less than a quarter of a second. "We have given them three times the capacity that they had, in terms of data transfer and analytics, which expanded the possibilities of what they can do," he adds.

The speed of data transfer from the race car to engineers is crucial to a team's ability to react quickly. Sumeet Walia, President and Global Head, Enterprise Business, Tata Communications, says the company has done a lot of work with the Mercedes team. 

"From monitoring fuel levels, miles per gallon, acceleration, oil levels, tyre balance and even engine performance, we are connecting them back to the factory in some milliseconds. Real-time data that is transmitted has to be analysed and sent back to the driver on track," he adds. Tata Communications uses 0.244 seconds to send a signal around the world, and can transmit 128 GB of data per second.

Terming it a team sport, Kapadia says, "We have played a little role to help drive productivity better and to promote better operations, but they have changed their engine and have the great team effort of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.” Tata Communications has also enabled remote operations on a large scale at every F1 track by providing resilient infrastructure for high-speed connectivity. "We have created a scalable platform so that we can keep adding more bandwidth and network or infrastructure components. We leverage our existing fibre network to deliver voice, data, video and broadcast of every F1 race across the globe," says Kapadia. For the company, every F1 race track is a mini city where it sets up infrastructure that can deliver a real competitive advantage to the team on the track. It has been assembling and reassembling its offices at 19 F1 race tracks across the year. The role of data is also increasing in importance for F1 teams, since it is all about the speed at which it is analysed and transformed into action by the race driver.

The high definition video of every aspect of the car, as well as information from sensor points used to simulate a driver's experience back to the factory, added to precise weather readings and the locations of other cars on the track, all make for mind boggling data. To make things more complicated, most vehicles are nearly always brand new. As a result, split-second decisions are needed to be made during the race.

The writer was in Singapore on an invitation from Tata Communications

Published on January 22, 2018

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