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Caterham F1 cuts its phone bill as 2014 season beckons

29 Nov 2013
Car development places high on the team's priorities list as it looks to cut costs elsewhere. Image: Caterham F1 Team

F1 team Caterham is looking to squeeze every penny of value out of its IT services as it refocuses its effort on major rule changes coming into force next season.

As one of Formula One's newest teams, Caterham was able to start with a clean slate when it was first accepted onto the grid in 2010, with no legacy IT to deal with. But with tight budgets and rival teams working with huge amounts of powerful infrastructure, Caterham Group's head of IT Bill Peters had to do some lateral thinking to ensure he would get as much value as possible from vendors.

"We always try to drive a hard bargain with our suppliers," he told V3. "We're always looking for disruptive technologies on the side." Coming directly from 12 years at F1 giant McLaren, the blank canvas of a new team allowed Peters to take a completely different approach.

"We set out from the get-go to really rationalise what we do," he said. Caterham took the unprecedented step of virtualising all of its trackside operations, meaning the demand for shipping infrastructure around the world has been greatly reduced. "Where previously I would be taking five racks of equipment to every race, we only take half a rack with us."

"Being a new team, we've taken the opportunity to take a few risks as well, and we've pretty much led the way there," he said. "We need to be able to innovate and get a competitive advantage, but at the same time we need to save money where we can because we need to focus on aerodynamics so anywhere we can make cost savings in IT, we'll do it."

Bill's mobile bill
With F1 travelling to 19 countries and setting up a new base of operations once every two weeks – or sometimes twice in the space of seven days – it creates an enormous communications challenge and a hefty mobile bill for the team.

Some of the team's infrastructure crew find themselves without terrestrial internet access for days. Peters highlighted the team's technical partnership with global mobile network Truphone as one of its key strengths, allowing them to significantly reduce mobile spend throughout the season.

"As an F1 company, we tend to try to take control of our supply chain. So within the comms side of our business we have a small ecosystem with a number of suppliers that supply our group-wide MPLS [multi-protocol label switching] services, so we're connected between our factories within the UK. We have another supplier that supplies MPLS guaranteed bandwidth to all the circuits we go to worldwide.

Charles Pic gets a service during the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix

Image: Caterham F1 Team

"Truphone fits into the equation to complete that circle, a mobile provider that works globally within the ecosystem."

Through Truphone's global network, Peters says Caterham has achieved a 30 percent reduction in mobile services spending, and he's looking for more. "The particular areas we're looking at are around fixed mobile convergence, such as having WiFi calls and then routing them across our network," he explained. "From a unified comms point of view we're looking to have one device whether you're at the office, at home or at the track. It all goes towards pulling the costs back."

Caterham endured a tough 2013 season, finishing 11th in the Constructors' Championship. With next year's new rules set to level the playing field somewhat, every penny diverted from ancillary expenditure over to car development will have an impact on the team's performance.

Last week, V3 heard from the Lotus F1 team on its own IT strategy, and how big data and tough regulations have sparked a race to create the most efficient supercomputers possible.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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