A hotbed of innovation and cutting-edge technology

The pinnacle of open wheel racing … in Formula One, technology has transformed the way a team approaches a race weekend.-PICS:GETTY IMAGES

When it comes to Grand Prix racing, or any other form of motorsport, the role of technology is not a one-way transaction, but works in different ways, writes Dipak Ragav.

Right from the time the idea of racing automobiles evolved, technology has been an integral part of motorsport. Unlike other sports, technology is the raison d’etre of motorsport. So when it comes to Grand Prix racing, or any other form of motorsport, the role of technology is not a one-way transaction, but works in different ways.

There have also been technologies imported from motorsport into the automobile industry. And industries such as tyre manufacturers use motorsport to test their products. The automation of different tasks within the sport and the technology used in the automobile industry has crossed over in either direction.

A common feature in automobiles these days is the calliper-type disc brakes. Though disc brakes were experimented with from the start of the 20th century, the turning point of the technology was when the Jaguar C-Type racing car used it successfully to win the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1953.

In Formula One, technology has transformed the way a team approaches a race weekend these days. Since the beginning of the Formula One Championship, teams hardly faced any restrictions in testing cars on the track as they prepared for each Grand Prix. However, with the clampdown on tobacco sponsorship and the financial crisis hitting the sport towards the end of the last decade, testing has been severely restricted. However, at the same time, a new technology was in development — the driver simulators.

The virtual simulators have now fulfilled the need for drivers to test a car on track. Simulation technology has been improving by the day and the race drivers are spending a lot of time in simulators in between races to prepare for a race. It helps them to familiarise with the track and find the right set-up before the cars hit the track for the practice sessions on the weekend. The teams now appoint designated drivers to do its simulator work through the season when the team wants to test some new parts and even provide some feedback from the factory base when the teams are at the track during a race weekend.

Nowadays, a Formula One race is not just run by the people out on the track; it also involves hundreds of engineers back in the factory who, through real-time telemetry, monitor every aspect of the car and gigabytes of data are often transferred from the car to the pits and to the factory.

The data received are analysed and decisions are made in quick time to help the car on track with strategies like pit stops or for troubleshooting.

Formula One teams have now realised that the process they follow can have use even in a different setting and different industry. For example, a year ago, the Formula One team, McLaren, tied up with a few other companies to help increase efficiency in London’s Heathrow airport. In a press release informing the tie-up, McLaren Applied Technologies, a company within the McLaren Group, said, “...MAT (will be) involved in the development of software which will help decrease the amount of time planes spend circling the airport, and improve their movement on the ground.”

It further explained: “The real-time software is based on the technology used by race strategists in the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, and will be able to assess multiple factors that can affect efficiency including stand reallocation, taxiway closures, schedule delays and weather conditions.”

Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso at a driver simulator during a preview to the Malaysia formula one grand prix at Sepang. The virtual simulators have now fulfilled the need for drivers to test a car on track.-

MAT also joined hands with Team Great Britain during the London Summer Olympics in 2012 and helped in winning 15 gold medals with its involvement in sports like cycling, canoeing and sailing. Cycles and cycling helmets have been developed to be aerodynamically efficient with help from F1 teams, who spend millions on aerodynamics.

More recently, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) technology introduced in Formula One in 2009 is being tested on buses in London. In this flywheel-based system, the energy lost as heat during braking is harvested to charge the flywheel. A traction motor acts on the axles to slow down the vehicle and generate electricity to charge the flywheel.

When the driver steps on the accelerator, the energy from the flywheel powers the traction motor, which in turn powers the vehicle and helps reduce the work done by the normal engine to improve fuel efficiency.

In addition, Formula One has also successfully demonstrated technology in areas like active suspension, to improve handling of vehicles depending on the road, traction control systems, to control the vehicles from sliding and loss of traction, and the latest hybrid engines (introduced in 2014) that increase fuel efficiency by 35-40 per cent, which manufacturers hope will help them in designing efficient engines for road cars in the future.

Finally, to illustrate how the sport has been a hotbed of innovation and cutting-edge technology, sponsorship these days is not restricted to merely stickers and on-track signages, but backs a more collaborative approach for companies to test their products in the high-pressure, ultra-quick environment of racing, while at the same time leveraging their association and exposure the global sport has to offer.

For example, Tata Communications is the Formula One’s official connectivity provider in addition to hosting the F1 website and delivering content over its network, while Microsoft Dynamics has a close relationship with the Lotus F1 team.