Recommended ReadsDecember 21st, 2021

Formula 1 and the data-driven future

A photo of Duc.
Duc Ho, Senior Visual Designer

We recently went through our scheduled internal performance review process, which really got me thinking about personal performance and development. I’ve always found it difficult to track – I have a general idea of my skills but find it tough to specifically pinpoint where I’ve excelled and where I can push myself further. I wondered if any existing systems quantified performance down to the specifics.

I recently fell back in love with Formula 1, having not watched it since the days when Michael Schumacher dominated. As a kid, Schumacher was mythical and my understanding of the sport was entirely driver-based: you have the best driver, you win the championship. Revisiting the sport now, I recognise that the driver exists in a complex system that exists to extract maximum performance out of both driver and vehicle.

Millions of dollars are invested into the F1 cars and into the performance of the driver of the car, but what ties performance together is data. Each F1 race car is equipped with approximately 300 sensors, generating more than 1.1 million points of telemetry data per second, transmitting from the cars to the pit. Each race weekend, approximately 160 terabytes of data is sent from the circuit to a F1 Media and Technology centre.

All this data gives F1 teams the ability to analyse the performance of the car, and the driver, down to the minute details. Data can give the teams optimal tyre strategies, which line to take to maximise speeds, where on the track the driver is losing or making up time against the rivals. The driver can always provide qualitative feedback during the race, but with the data system, team engineers can match up the feedback with quantitative data.

In a sport where milliseconds can be the difference between first place and tenth place, data really is critical to extracting maximum performance. I’m fine without this level of microscopic scrutiny day to day, but maybe one day if visual design becomes a competitive sport...

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