F1 Grand Prix – Montreal’s Biggest Tech Event of the Year?

40 years ago, when Gilles Villeneuve piloted his Ferrari to victory the inaugural Grand Prix at the track that now bears his name, Formula 1 racing was nearly unrecognizable from its current form. In those days the sport was mostly about 2 things… horsepower and courage. Fast forward to the Canadian Grand Prix this month on Île Notre-Dame, only the names are the same… Williams, Ferrari, Alfa-Romeo and McLaren. And while horsepower and courage remain prerequisites to compete at the pinnacle of motorsport, what happens off the track these days is arguably more important than anything the drivers can control on it. Many Formula 1 teams now employ 600 to 800 people, if not more, and often work with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If only 3 of those employees actually drive the cars (2 race drivers and 1 test driver) one might wonder, what do the other 597 people do?  The answer is that nearly all of them are in engineering or IT. Which makes sense given the level of technological advancement the automotive field has seen over the last 4 decades, and Formula 1 has long been on the leading edge of that innovation. “We produce 300 to 400 GB of data over the course of a race weekend” says Tim Churchouse, IT Operations and Support Technician at Rokit Williams Racing, one of Formula 1’s legendary teams. “We run about 150 virtual machines here at trackside. It takes us about 0.3 seconds to transfer the data. Using Acronis makes the job so much easier. If one of our machines die during a race weekend, we can just pull the data out of the cloud and onto another machine and it works. It’s saved our bacon a few times.”
Tim Churchouse, Courtesy of Williams Racing. Canadian Grand Prix, Thursday 6th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.
Formula 1 teams are competing for an advantage as little as a tenth of a second on track, and they leave no stone unturned in their quest to find it. They gather videos of other team’s pit stops, how their competitors cars go over curbs, how their wings flex… everything they can think of. All this data is stored and analyzed in order find new ways to get their own cars around the track just the slightest bit faster. The Williams team relies on Acronis for real-time data backup, disaster recovery, file sync and sharing as well as immutable blockchain file transfer. “We were doing a small piece of this for Williams before, now we do it all for them and give them more control and reliability all through a single UI. This saves a lot of time managing different solutions” says Patrick Hurley, Vice-President and General Manager – Americas. “We want to become the Pirelli (F1’s sole tire supplier) of cyber protection in the sporting space.” He added that his company also works with the Boston Red Sox, Arsenal, Manchester City and the Racing Point BWT Mercedes F1 team.
Nicholas Latifi (left) Williams Racing Test and Development Driver and Patrick Hurley of Acronis (right). Canadian Grand Prix, Thursday 6th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.
The test driver for Williams this year is none other than Montreal-born Nicholas Latifi. The Canadian also currently tops the standings in Formula 2, which is a junior circuit to Formula 1. “In F2 we’ve got 14 or 15 people working in the team. At Williams there are 650 or 700” he explained, adding that the level of technology in motor racing’s top series is like nothing else he’s seen. “The sensors and the technology on the cars now are so advanced that they can see any slipping on each individual tire. It helps us find the limit. It’s always back and forth with the engineers. But they’re not driving the car and they can’t feel exactly what it’s doing. However there are instances when the engineers will say ‘I think it’s possible for you to do X’. But then you tell them ‘No, no, no! If you drive the car you’ll understand’. But it can go the other way as well. You may think as a driver that something is impossible, and then you check with the engineers and they say you can try it, and then it works!”. He told reporters that in F2 he really only uses buttons on the steering wheel to talk over the radio and for the pit limiter. Whereas “in F1, there are so many tools to adjust the car balance, to adjust engine modes, break balances… these are all things we don’t have access to in Formula 2. It’s cool from a driver’s standpoint.” Meanwhile, just down the pit lane, Otmar Szafnauer is Team Principal and CEO at SportPesa Racing Point F1, another Acronis partner and the only Canadian owned team in Formula 1. He says when things are fine they don’t worry about cyber protection. But when they aren’t, they rely on cyber protection in a major way. “We’re a data driven sport. We gather and analyse a lot of data. And employ 425 people just to make 2 race cars go a little faster. Imagine you’re 0.1 of a second slow getting on the throttle coming out of a turn. At the end of the lap that mistake makes 1.4 seconds. We need to gather a lot of data, and have a good understanding of that data, so we can make the right decisions to make the car quicker.”

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