To learn more about the future of the automotive industry, you can interview analysts and experts, review scientific publications and attend various conferences. Or you can watch multi-million dollar race cars racing around a track at speeds over 220 miles per hour.
Welcome to Formula 1, the international motor racing sport with a cumulative TV audience of 1.55 billion people† The budgets are dazzling. Mercedes reportedly spent $442 million in 2019 to win two world championships, and Formula 1 drivers are among the highest paid athletes in the world. (The personalities are great too. Gunther Steiner, anyone?†
While most American fans have flocked to the sport over the past three years thanks to the success of the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’, engineers have long understood that a Formula 1 car is a sort of time machine on four wheels, a glimpse of what is possible for the company cars of the future. The money involved is only part of the reason why. Unlike NASCAR tracks, which are almost always elliptical, Formula 1 tracks are irregularly shaped and sometimes just a series of city streets. Therefore, Formula 1 cars must be able to perform under extreme forces in a wide range of conditions, making the sport a valuable form of research and development for automotive OEMs. Among the many innovations that have debuted in Formula 1 since the first World Championship race in 1950 are: computer controlled active suspension and the use of carbon fiber in auto parts†
fig. 1: A McLaren Formula 1 car on the street circuit of Baku, Azerbaijan. Source: McLaren
The 2022 Formula 1 season started in March and ends in November. Insiders say the technology on display and behind the scenes could be particularly inventive this year due to major rule changes to make the sport more competitive. Of particular note are sweeping new design restrictions that allow cars to pass each other more easily, as well as create a bouncing phenomenon known as porpoises, and a $140 million cap on spending related to car performance.
The most groundbreaking technique will likely remain invisible to the public for years because of the premium on competitive advantage. In a sport where shaving a few nanoseconds off a lap can lead to millions of dollars in sponsorship deals, proprietary technology is a closely guarded secret.
However, there is no doubt that the technology involved is becoming increasingly complex. According to Hewlett Packard Enterprise, who has collaborated with various teams on design simulations and other activitiesEvery car contains hundreds of sensors. A single season can see 30,000 design changes between teams, and each team manages 18,000 data streams on race days. Collaborations with tech companies are now commonplace for individual teams and the Formula 1 organization itself.
Business leaders would only speak of Formula 1 technology in general terms for this story, but their enthusiasm for the subject was often palpable. KT Moore, vice president of corporate marketing at Cadencewhich recently announced collaborating with McLaren’s Formula 1 team around Cadence’s computational fluid dynamics software, said he’s excited about what he’s seen and the implications for the technical advancements possible in this lifetime. “If you had asked me about this a few months ago, I would have said no. Now I can tell you that the developments in Formula 1 will change the whole world. It is already happening.”
On the race track or country road, how quickly a driver or driverless system reacts to new information can mean the difference between life and death. During a Formula 1 race, not only does a huge amount of coded information flow between vehicles and team members, but the delay time between sending and receiving that data is extremely small. It’s a remarkable feat, especially considering that in many cases the people who interpret data in real time and help make decisions are nowhere near the track at all.
“Right now, data from a track in Miami can be sent overseas with a latency of about 130 milliseconds,” Moore said. “Formula 1 is the crème de la crème, the best of the best, but the technology will achieve it.”
The Formula 1 informed future that Moore says could be in 20 years or less includes fiber optic networks integrated into roads where hundreds of sensors in each vehicle communicate on the network with minimal latency.
Such a future requires enormous infrastructure. After all, it’s not just individual teams that collaborate with technology companies. In March, Lenovo announced it would provide hardware, high-performance computing and server solutions across the Formula 1 organization.
Gerald Youngblood, Chief Marketing Officer of Lenovo North America, called the multi-year partnership “an exciting opportunity for Lenovo to push traditional boundaries and create smarter solutions for customers around the world.”
Daryl Cromer, CTO of the Global Innovation Center in the Intelligent Devices Group at Lenovo, said the partnership also illustrates how much technology is needed not only from the teams, but also from the organization itself. “The foundation for Lenovo’s partnership with Formula 1 is to improve the efficiency and security of communications, computation and storage, both on and off the track. Our technology will deliver improvements within Formula 1 operations while promoting productivity, mobility and data storage. The ultimate goal is to enhance the fans’ experience by producing high-quality, customized content, such as high-performance computer hardware solutions that can be used for video applications, such as graphics and editing, as well as to support on-premise broadcast solutions. ”
With the right infrastructure, engineers can focus on correlating the digital and analog worlds. David Fritz, vice president of hybrid and virtual systems at Siemens PLM, said matching virtual models to real-world data is a critical part of solving latency problems. Siemens has a long-standing relationship with the team now known as Oracle Red Bull Racing, which uses Siemens software to design carbon fiber parts and organize spending data, among other things.
“The extreme environment of yesteryear was the orbit, and the extreme environment of the future is the virtual domain. We have to connect the two,” he said.
But in the automotive world, that data is sometimes difficult to obtain. Few people would voluntarily drive an experimental vehicle at potentially lethal speeds under extremely dangerous conditions. But that’s exactly what Formula 1 drivers do, Fritz said. In other words, the data generated by the sport creates a valuable testing environment for automotive OEMs and their partners to make their technology even faster and more responsive. Armed with lessons from the racetrack, these organizations can translate their technology into products and services for a wider commercial audience.
Cities are unlikely to be filled with single-seat open-cockpit vehicles next year, and some critics say the speed of technology transfer between Formula 1 and the public is not entirely clear. There is also the question of how the commercial auto industry will integrate more complex systems into vehicles as it currently struggles to produce existing technology. In recent years, the industry has seen shocked by the global chip shortageand while there is some indication that the situation is easing, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently said the: shortage will last until 2024†
Aside from the chip shortage, Fritz said Formula 1’s cost cap could in fact create technology that is easier to translate into the commercial world.
“The way to cut costs is consolidation,” says Fritz. “We used to have a steering controller and a transmission controller and all those other little things, and they’re now being combined so that the computational complexity increases. But the cost of producing even a limited number of vehicles is significantly lower and the weight is lower. technological dynamics and there is a cost dynamics, and they have a symbiotic relationship.”
Experts across the industry say the cost cap also encourages Formula 1 design teams to rely on modeling and simulation to experiment with designs. Tony DeVarco, HPC production segment manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said the computer-assisted engineering side of Formula 1 is less visible than some other technology, but is equally important in understanding the future of the auto industry.
Walt Hearn, a vice president at Ansys, agreed. “Today, simulation is used to design the fastest and most efficient vehicles in F1 races. In addition, virtual crash tests are an essential part of producing the safest vehicles on the track. We can expect that these design and testing methods (i.e. simulation engineering) will set the standard for designing future commercial vehicles that require the same level of efficiency and safety as we move towards an electric future.”
Hearn said Ansys has partnered with Oracle Red Bull Racing since 2008. He said the partnership’s initial focus was on aerodynamic simulation, which has since evolved to solve cooling problems, manage and optimize material use and IP, and ensure the vehicle is designed to protect the driver in the event of an accident.
HPE’s DeVarco said engineers should also pay attention to Formula E, the electric car arm of Formula 1 racing, which is where he says he believes the industry in general is on track. But most innovations that make their way to the commercial market, regardless of engine type, will be around sensors and autonomous driving, according to DeVarco.
“Using sensors to actually do telemetry data and to be able to stream that data — to me that’s the next generation of innovation that’s taking place,” says DeVarco.
Driver fatigue is another major safety issue that is carefully monitored at Formula 1. Fritz said the process relies on sophisticated interaction between the driver and the vehicle, known as the human-machine interface. “The car essentially makes its own decisions, but doesn’t act on them, and uses that as a measure of driver behaviour. Maybe there’s a 1% difference between the driver’s decisions and the computer’s decisions at the start of the race, and later in the race it becomes 9% or 10%. You look at the eyes, you see them hanging a bit, the attitude changes a bit. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say, ‘This is fatigue.’”
The real question, Fritz said, is what vehicles will eventually do to counteract driver fatigue, such as blowing cold air at the driver or some other approach. The answer will likely have a lot to do with artificial intelligence, which Fritz says appears in rather unexpected places in Formula 1 cars. “We see AI for fuel injection. We see AI for braking and steering. We see AI for broadcasts. And all these AIs make these nanosecond decisions based on the feedback that comes from other AI-driven and high-performance sensors. And what does that mean? That means we’re getting smarter personal vehicles with the same technology Formula 1 developed that is more than capable of handling normal commercial vehicle operating conditions.”