The business of technology in Formula One

As the F1 season kicks off this weekend, we take a look at some of the business technology that lies behind the success of world champion Lewis Hamilton’s team - Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

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Jonathan Neale, managing director of McLaren Racing, shed more light on how the F1 team uses Lenovo tech.

"Much of the data used to inform the race's engineer's decisions comes from the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 F1 car, which provides the pitwall with a continuous flow of data. The ThinkPad T-Series comes with 3G networking capability but can be linked to the garage UPN network for even faster links. Through these networks engineers can access library material at the McLaren Technology Centre, look at design drawings, and study data from previous sessions."

One area that Lenovo doesn't get involved with is the complex number crunching of the computational fluid dynamics used behind the scenes to create perfect aerodynamics, which is done using Linux on SGI Altix high performance computers.

Tracking changes

Of course, it's not just a case of hardware that makes a team successful. Formula One is an incredibly complex affair that requires a phenomenal amount of planning.

In Formula One, each engine is built from numerous pieces and has to be stripped down and rebuilt several times a season. Keeping track of all that is difficult enough especially when the engine is not assembled in one place, as Peter Grendel, who was SAP's global account director for the DaimlerAG account in 2008, explained to IT PRO.

"The [McLaren Mercedes] engine is put together in three different locations, with parts from three different companies DaimlerAG (parent company), Mercedes Benz (engine) and McLaren (car) . The challenge is that a lot of people need to work together so what we have - to use IT language - is a collaboration programme'."

Grendel explained the process in more detail, saying that each engineer types into the system what he or she has done with a part or component, while another inputs what has been done with say, the clutch. This enables everyone to have clear visibility on the state of the car so that everybody is on the same page.

This collaboration is key, said Grendel. "It's hard to count the percentage of the magic in that collaborative process. The engineers are a little bit like artists in F1 - when they are working on engine or the wing, they go deep into detail. You can be so focussed on your job on creating the best clutch or brake that you miss sharing the info with the others."

The SAP software doesn't just handle the details of the parts, but also of the cash flow between the companies. "The interesting thing," said Grendel, "is dealing with three different locations and handling the complete flow of data and cash between (parent company) DaimlerAG, Mercedes Benz and McLaren."

Significantly, Grendel revealed that SAP got involved with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team not just because of the link between the companies, but because he was a fan.

"It was a business decision, but it was also emotional I was a big fan," he said, which shows that to really succeed in sport, especially Motorsport, requires a combination of technology and human passion and commitment.

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