F1 Team Lotus are using Microsoft Dynamics to not only meet tight new requirements by F1, but to beat the competition. All teams face amazing logistical nightmares each round of the F1 timetable, requiring 80-90 personnel, 2 cars and thousands of parts to be shipped around the world in a matter of days. In such a complicated environment, it’s easy for things to go wrong.
Since mid last year Lotus has been working with Microsoft on a 3 phase plan to move different parts of the business to Microsoft software. Just 9 months later, phase 1 is complete, and phase 2 is due to complete shortly. Phase 3 will round out the implementation meaning that all areas of the business from HR and Finance right through to R&D all being powered by software from Redmond.
Lotus are one of only 3 companies that have a team of 6 Microsoft developers working with them to integrate the product into there business. The task is not small, with an F1 team creating a stunning amount of data. A modern-day F1 car has more than 100 sensors that feed data back to the engineers. Over the course of a weekend, the data produced from these sensors amounts to 32GB per car.
What’s more impressive is that the 64GB of vehicle telemetry is transferred back home immediately and plugged into computer models that are processed by one of the worlds largest supercomputers. This means the speed to action in Lotus is simply stunning and would be the envy of any company. In an environment where 1,000th of second makes the difference, the R&D team take the data and begin work on new parts for the car for the next race to maximise performance at the upcoming track.
With all this data being sent back to the pits wirelessly, it’s important that communications are secured, so encryption is a strong requirement from all teams. The data is them transferred internationally over large fibre-based connections supplied by Formula 1.
After spending some time behind the scenes it was incredibly eye-opening to get a glimpse into the office of Lotus engineers. Their office for the weekend is small, tight, restricted and you get an overwhelming sense that space is at a premium and the star of the show is the car. While many of us think about the drive being the one who gets the credit, seeing the car inundated with a variable swarm of mechanics was breathtaking to say the least. Many times this happened while the drivers where nowhere to be seen.
We here a lot of companies talk about big data, or other companies trying to find new ways to collect data, In F1, the problem is almost the reverse. The vehicle sensors, track and weather conditions, strategy options and tyre choices create so much data that even a massive team can not watch it all.
Behind the rubber-marked cement slabs of the pits, there’s a wall of displays showing engineers more data than they could ever hope to consume. Instead they implement complex algorithms that notify them when the most critical data is out of predefined specifications.
Probably the best example was the gearbox failure that Kimi Raikkonen suffered last year. Lotus analysed the data for the preceding laps and mapped that signature. There’s now software looking for that same signature in gearbox. With F1 regulations restricting teams to 8 engines and 6 gearboxes per season, they need to get smart about prediction. If they ever see that same signature arise in the gearbox data, the can act immediately before it fails and potentially save the gearbox, but more importantly the grid penalty they would incur if they exceeded the limit.
One interesting sidenote was that of the 8-10 machines we seen, all bar one were still running Windows XP, the other was running Windows 7. I’m torn between understanding they want to stick with something that works and the belief that F1 are always using the latest and greatest money can buy. Sure they are unlikely to be interested in taking time out to upgrade, but if there are benefits to be had, why aren’t they using them?
The realities of how successful the Lotus move to utilise Microsoft technologies like ERP, CRM and Office 365 will only really show it’s true benefits after all 3 phases are complete. If they rise dramatically in the constructors championship, then there’s a good chance this business change had a large part of the success. The real challenge is staying ahead of the competition and only time will tell if they are successful in that endeavour.
Disclaimer: Jason attended the F1 today courtesy of Microsoft.