How McLaren uses high technology to make decisive strategic decisions for the race

This team is connected directly to the track thanks to some incredible technology from McLaren partner Cisco. They receive data from the car in as little as 18 milliseconds (that’s literally less than the blink of an eye) and then analyze it to send crucial strategic calls to the track.

“Mission Control is a bit like Apollo 13, only without vests and cigarettes,” begins Ed Green, director of business technology at McLaren. “Everyone looks at critical race data and a lot of the decision-making comes from there, sent straight to the pit wall.

“If there is a race with a lot of pace cars, for example, the pace car window can be very small. Do you stay out? do you come in? What tires do you choose? What tire pressure do you have? What temperature? Who goes in first? And you have three seconds to make that decision.

“If we lost the link to Mission Control, it would be like walking through 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 turning on floodlights on a football field. Suddenly you can see everything.”

Communication between the car and the team has become increasingly complex as technology develops. From the basic pit dash, it moved to pit-to-car radio and then telemetry was introduced to send data from the car every time it went through the pits.

That then turned into live telemetry, and the connection between the car and the team expanded to a broader group of engineers in the garage. Now, only recently, has technology achieved such a fast, high-capacity network that it enables live data flow and communications all the way to the base.

That has opened the door to something incredible. Mission Control not only adds rich data analytics capability to improve car set-up and strategic decisions, it has enabled McLaren to harness the expertise of those who work every day, without sending everyone to the track.

“On Friday and Saturday, it’s all about aerodynamics, tires, reliability engineering, making sure we have the cars set up for the best possible place to race,” explains Green. “Come on Sunday, it’s about strategy, execution and insights. So we have flexibility on who we bring in for each aspect.

“All simulations take place in the background and we are constantly feeding and writing information to many different systems. Cisco is at the core of letting everyone access that information through our network.”

McLaren Garage

Photo by: Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

inside the garage

It may sound less exciting than aerodynamics or hybrid powertrains, but network infrastructure is just as crucial to a Grand Prix weekend as any part of the car. In fact, it is arguably as important as the drivers themselves. Not that the IT guys told them that!

It all starts in the back of the garage, where the IT platform (essentially a miniature data center containing telemetry servers, storage, routers, and all of Cisco’s networking gear) sits quietly humming, sending data to everyone. the right places and allowing everyone to communicate.

The platform uses Cisco switches to create a local network that covers the engineering offices, the central engineering island in the garage, and from there to the pit wall. The platform is also directly connected to Mission Control, using a complex, high-capacity network.

“As the data comes out of the car, we have to get it from the car to the engineering island, to the IT platform, and then distribute it in the garage and send it to Mission Control as quickly as possible,” says Green. “That’s as much information as you can get in near real time.

“All voice communication with the car is via radio, but it’s based on IP around the garage and back to mission control. We also use Cisco switching equipment to interconnect them all together, so the equipment at the base is truly 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 He’s in mission control.

Engineers are often so focused on analyzing data that they need an external alert to spot incidents on the track, and Green explains, “We put lights in the garage and in mission control so if there’s a pace car , for example, the entire area will pulsate and glow a different color.”

One of the other challenges, and this may sound surprising, is the speed of data transfer. In its fastest form, the 18-millisecond delay causes few problems. However, when racing on the other side of the world, in Australia, the information can take up to 400 milliseconds to reach mission control.

“That’s not a lot in any other world, but in Formula 1 it equates to a lot of track distance,” says Green. “A lot of what we do is think about if we’re milliseconds behind, how do we adjust our timing systems in Mission Control to play at the same speed.”

Photo by: McLaren

constant innovation

F1’s new budget cap means every bit of spending is now looked at to determine what gets the most value for money. This is widespread, and McLaren is constantly working with Cisco to explore how new innovations can lead to better efficiencies.

In the IT world, it’s about finding solutions that are more robust, faster, can manage more data, and ultimately make it easier for those on track or on base to get their jobs done. Because all that translates into better results on race day.

“When I came to McLaren, we were maximizing our data capacity,” recalls Green. “We carry terabytes of data, so we turned to Cisco and asked what’s next in the portfolio and looked at new ways to increase capacity.

“We use the Catalyst 9000 range because it allows us to move more data across the enterprise and get better visibility into it. If someone is having trouble seeing something, is losing audio quality, or can’t see video, we get full visibility across our entire network, so we can see where those events are happening.

“On the track, we have full Cisco Wi-Fi coverage to give us good scale and capacity. So while engineers tend to be wired for telemetry, when people are wandering around the garage, they’re operating on Wi-Fi. The same goes for the Paddock Club and the hospitality of the team.

“We’ve also done some really cool stuff around collaboration. Webex Hologram was a really interesting experience. We did a demo and the person seemed to be sitting on the opposite side of the table from me. It was surreal. She reached out for a fist bump and it felt weird that he wasn’t there!

“It didn’t feel like a gimmick, it felt like a small step forward. I could well imagine that on a race weekend, when we’re rapidly prototyping parts for the car, or even just seeing the aerodynamic flow over the car when it comes back, that sort of thing could be really interesting.

“Wi-Fi 6E is another exciting innovation. Hopefully, the additional channels and bandwidth available mean people can start doing high-performance tasks in a more mobile way. So you might find people who move around a bit more, collaborating in different ways.

“We are very cautious, in some ways, about making changes, but there is also a huge appetite to see what comes next. In a sport where you’re pitted against each other in hundredths of a millisecond, you look for whatever advantage you can to help you go faster.”

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, makes a pit stop

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, makes a pit stop

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

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