Mercedes F1 gets into data slipstream

Published on the 14/04/2019 | Written by TIBCO

Mercedes FI TIBCO


Mercedes-AMG Petronas logo

  • Automobile manufacturing


  • Improve analysis of aerodynamic data
  • Make the car go faster
  • Gain real time insights to optimise performance


  • TIBCO Spotfire
  • TIBCO Data Science


  • Five FIA Formula One World Championship titles
  • Race day analytics driving car set up
  • Accelerated learning, testing, experimentation cycles


TIBCO Software
T: +61 2 9458 2124

In the razor edge of F1 motor racing data and analytics are making the difference…

Five-time FIA* Formula One World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport are no strangers to success. Over the years, the team has formed a data-driven culture, leveraging data analytics and insights to gain a competitive advantage. To propel continuous innovation, the team has implemented an augmented intelligence product portfolio for quicker data analysis, shaving off critical milliseconds for the ultimate competitive edge. When producing the 2019 car designs, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport drew on TIBCO’s strategic insights to support the process of determining the optimum race-day car configurations, and achieving real-time adaptation to race conditions.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s leadership comes from every aspect of the program delivering at peak performance: from creating the optimum car and engine design, to having a competitive driver pairing, to recommending the most advanced car configuration that insights and testing can prove, to implementing battle tested race strategies. Because F1 is a very competitive business and sport, getting to the top is extremely difficult. Teams like Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport use a holistic approach to car design. All groups contribute their best performance and leverage collaboration with other groups.

One of the ways Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport achieves success is through car aerodynamics. In addition to tires and engine, aerodynamics is one of the key components that make a Formula One car fast. On an F1 car, aerodynamics has two main functions: producing downforce and controlling drag, which help the car travel faster through corners and increase straight-line speed by improving grip. Even the slightest increase in downforce can mean the difference between a vital win or a loss.

At Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, aerodynamics are primarily tested in a proprietary cutting-edge wind tunnel in close correlation with dynamometric testing of components. The dyno is a test bench that replicates and examines all the car’s moving parts—the engine, gearbox, and brakes—and exposes environmental conditions that could impact the drivers’ experience on the racetrack. Its sole purpose: to ensure that all parts of the car are reliable and optimized in time for race day.

New season. New rules. For 2019, the FIA imposed a fresh set of aerodynamic testing restrictions. And this is where technology sponsorship can be invaluable to a competitive team—for gathering the most relevant information and analyzing key elements to make the difference. Undoubtedly, the team that can do both most efficiently, while staying in compliance, has a significant advantage.

Mike Elliott, technology director, looks after aerodynamics and dyno testing. Along with Elliott, John Ingle, head of dyno, and Andrew Crook, principal aerodynamicist, work to continuously innovate the race car, trying to find every crucial bit of performance to improve the driver’s lap time. “All the teams have good people, all working really hard,” said Elliott. “But, it’s about how you get those people to work together, how you get those people to collaborate on data, collaborate on the processes that get you that last bit of performance.”

Test, analyze, repeat
According to Crook, simply put, the wind tunnel is a large hairdryer. An object (in this case, a scale model of an F1 car) is fixed inside and wind is blown over it at varying speeds to gauge the impact of various elements of the design. Crook and his team have the capability to measure forces and pressures around the model to gauge the flow field. The added challenge is that FIA regulations limit the number of runs that each F1 team can perform in the wind tunnel, the amount of time spent in the tunnel, and even the test speeds. For example, teams are only allowed to test at 50 meters a second or at 180 kilometers an hour.

“We’ll have a number of roles interacting inside the tunnel, so that will be the support staff of test technicians, model technicians, system engineers, and aerodynamicists that are conducting development tests,” said Crook.

With its state-of-the-art wind tunnel facility, the team is able to fit one race car within the tunnel, which can blow wind at close to 300 kilometers per hour (even though the testing limit is 180 kilometers per hour). The team is able to move the ground; with the low ride heights an F1 car runs, combined with important tire flow simulations, an essential moving ground is created during F1 testing.

“The wind tunnel here at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport has been fundamental to our successes,” said Crook.

To measure the effect of aerodynamics, a 60 percent scale model of the car is used. Within each run in the wind tunnel, aerodynamicists look to extract the maximum amount of information, learning as much as possible from the various tools at their disposal. Based on the allowable quota, the goal is, in the fastest way possible, to apply the output of those findings to making decisions about what to test in the immediate and long term. For Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, every decision is about optimizing performance by balancing risk and reward.

“When it comes to developing our capability in the wind tunnel, it’s very important that we look to maximize the learning from each run and minimize the time it takes for us to do each run,” said Crook.

To make sure the aerodynamics of the car work with the other components for maximum reliability, the team must also gather and fuse together data from the track. The aerodynamicists use data coming from the wind tunnel—pressure, force measurements, flow field measurements, and more—to improve understanding of the car’s performance and how best to set it up on any given track. It requires close collaboration with the dyno group, race engineering teams, and design office, to identify the leading aerodynamic package.

One test, two tests, three tests, more
Formula 1 teams are always looking to find small gains, which becomes increasingly challenging the more the cars evolve and advance throughout the season. One of the ways Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport sees those millisecond gains is through dyno testing.

The more testing, the more reliable the components become, the more the risk of failure track-side is reduced. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport has been fortunate to have the support from its partners to capitalize on the technological infrastructure for the long term, giving it the best testing scenarios in the field.

“The more we can do in-house on the test bench means we can prove that car out before it goes to the track,” said Ingle. “When the car gets to the track, the team can concentrate on all of the performance items rather than worrying about reliability issues, which can put the car in the garage losing that track time.”

Teams are restricted by track testing time, with the goal of increasing the longevity of costly components. And this season, teams are only allowed to have three engines —that’s for 21 races—as opposed to four or five engines as in previous years. Because of these rules, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport tests the interaction between the engine, transmission, and hydraulics early to try to ensure these critical components will last the required distance.

Additionally, FIA regulations require that each driver may use no more than one gearbox for six consecutive events, and teams now have standard ratios for the whole year (for the 2019 season, it’s eight). Previously, teams could change gear ratios at every event to customize for very different circuit parameters. Now, they have one for everything. To address this, the car designers push the limits right to the edge of the permissible; encouraging innovative use of materials in every aspect of their competitive designs.

The race engineering team is the other crucial group that relies heavily upon the data produced by the dyno team. It relies on this data to get the car setup for its biggest impact at the race circuit. Collaboration with the dyno group is essential for testing the performance of the engine and gearbox. Both need to be tested in a way that is representative of what the team should expect on the track.

Finding clarity in the clutter
Many of the aerodynamic testing components, such as the wind tunnel, produce large amounts of data. When testing, Elliott and his team are assessing a model of the car; however, it’s not the exact dimensions and specs of a car, and the team can’t run it in exactly the same way as a real F1 car would be run on the circuit. The goal is to run the aerodynamics of the car as close as possible to the real race track environment to ensure critical gains are seized once the lights go out.

“We use our engineering judgment, the information gathered from the virtual environment, and the information gathered at the track to make sensible decisions and judgments about what will make the car go faster,” said Elliott.

Imagine some of the world’s leading data science and engineering experts in a room watching components spinning at thousands of RPMs behind a plexiglass window, and discussing numbers and performance metrics. Dyno testing is a critical process at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport. The team isn’t just making sure that the dynos are working properly; they are gathering data from various channels. Data is collected and analyzed in detail to see if any signs of failure, performance issues, or opportunities can be identified to find more performance. This data is analyzed by both the dyno team and the factory experts, turning it into actionable insights for making smarter decisions about how to improve the car’s performance.

When it comes to analytics tools, this group primarily leads with TIBCO Spotfire analytics to bring insights from the testing data and use this new knowledge to make more empowered decisions across departments to optimize performance, and ultimately, win championships. Spotfire analytics allows the team to look at the data across the whole season. From improved aerodynamics allowing for more efficient use of time in the wind tunnel, to visual, real-time analysis of car and driver execution during testing, to more reliable components that decrease the likelihood of early swap penalties or a did not finish (DNF) designation, Spotfire analytics has been a critical component to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s performance on the track.

“Spotfire software is allowing us to view the data in a much more dynamic way, and it’s allowing us to think about how we use data and quantities of data,” said Ingle. “We can take on more data, knowing that we can look at smaller aspects, giving us signs in the future.”

The team can quickly filter data for a specific action, such as a gear change during a particular lap. Ingle and his team focus on that aspect, removing data from all other gear changes, and analyzing the temperature or pressure trends for only that particular event.

“We get a lot of data from the testing that we do, and the quantity of data is increasing over time with more and more sensors. TIBCO analytics allows us to look at the data across such a broad timeframe, such as across an event or over the year,” said Ingle. “It allows us to find the things in the data that we can’t necessarily see when we look at it really close. We’re looking for all the hidden signals that can be the first sign of something that may cause a problem later on the track.”

This detection is important for three reasons: understanding more from the data itself, which allows the team to capture the failure before it happens; finding evidence in the analysis as a component is just starting to fail; and enabling the team to make improvements in the actual car. If addressed early and correctly, it can make a big difference in the performance of the car and outcome of a race.

“We are competing in a race with everybody else. Therefore, the faster we can extract learning, the faster we can make a decision, and the faster we can make the car,” said Elliott. “The more we can learn from what we’re doing, the more we can apply that learning and work out how we can go faster tomorrow.”

For aerodynamicists using creativity and skill, the data collected goes into improving tests and coming up with new ideas for the future. Data also goes into simulating what the race car does, as well as setting it up when it gets to the track. The combined power of Spotfire analytics and TIBCO Streaming real-time analytics enables Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport to sift through large data volumes to spot trends and make decisions in a better, more robust way.

Make it count
The work that is being done at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport undoubtedly parallels other industries: applying speed of learning, quickly analyzing data, and deriving insights to make more informed decisions.

“Some of the things that we learn in Formula 1 are definitely applicable to other industries: the speed of analysis, the speed of learning, and how you can turn that, in our case, into lap time,” said Elliott. “In the case of other businesses, that might be into products and return on sales on those products, so analytics is massively important, and I think equally as important to the outside world.”

Like in dyno testing, businesses can take a close look at their operational efficiency. No matter how much time the team spends running, or in downtime, preparation, assembly, disassembly, or other areas, there are opportunities for significant improvement. The proper utilization of data is going to be where Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, and businesses in other industries, can find specific areas for improvement. In the long run, this leads to other benefits, such as extending resources, developing new products or services, and saving costs.

“The most impressive aspects of the wind tunnel are the ability to very rapidly turn the data into understanding the car parts that are running at the circuit, and in times of difficulty, that can be really quick,” said Elliott.

With the world creating more and more data, companies need to implement analytic tools to make sense of their large datasets. They can definitely benefit from TIBCO’s technical knowledge and the power of tools such as Spotfire and TIBCO Streaming analytics to analyze data and extract information.

Leaders, in no matter what industry, can use data in a strategic way. By treating data as an asset, companies can become data-driven like Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport. Its continuous innovation culture has led to five championships in the last five years. This is not only an athletic win, but a business achievement. Businesses can achieve outcomes like these by implementing their own innovative and disruptive culture with the help of TIBCO Connected Intelligence.

*The FIA is the governing body for world motor sport and the federation of the world’s leading motoring organisations. Founded in 1904, with headquarters in Paris, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is a non-profit making association. It brings together 240 national motoring and sporting organisations from 144 countries on five continents. Its member clubs represent millions of motorists and their families.

Source: This article was originally sourced from TIBCO


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