Formula One is stuffed with technology, from the internals of race cars through to the IT infrastructure supporting a team all the way from its factory headquarters to the race track.
The Williams F1 team is no different, using digital technology to keep the team in contention for podium positions in every Grand Prix.
Heading-up Williams' IT deployment and strategy is chief information officer Graeme Hackland.
Previously the IT chief at rival F1 team Lotus, Hackland moved to Williams at the start of 2014 to lead the team's IT transformation from an on-premise and on-location infrastructure to cloud-based and more flexible systems.
V3 sat down with Hackland to hear more about the Williams team's use of IT and other cutting-edge technology to accelerate its performance on the track and beyond.
Hackland oversaw the digital transformation of the Lotus F1 team, and has plenty of experience in driving the Williams team's adoption of more modern digital technology.
"We're looking to do an IT transformation and bring more digital technology in than the team had been taking advantage of before," he said.
"In 2013 the team had a really tough year and underperformed, and decided they wanted to transform things."
Hackland explained that the opportunity to work on Williams' IT overhaul inspired him to make the jump from Lotus.
"That really excited me. The opportunity to remain in Formula One, which I'm passionate about, but really make that big jump for the team in terms of technology," he said.
"When talking about technology in F1 you tend to focus on the car. I'm very much focused on the IT and the information systems that we can put in place to enable engineers to do their job."
Part of the team's IT overhaul involved joining forces with IT services and consulting firm Avanade, which has brought in data visualisation tools to help race engineers make sense of the mass of data gathered from multiple sensors on an F1 car.
Hackland explained that the Williams team generate 120GB of data from the car and other sources during a Grand Prix weekend.
This required systems to store and process the data, but space in an F1 pit is at a premium, which is why Hackland opted for converged infrastructure supplied by Nutanix, allowing the team to cut its server racks from four to two.
Hackland also said that the IT transformation used a 100Mbit MPLS link provided by BT to push the data back to the Williams factory to aid the development of future F1 race cars and technology that can be deployed beyond the F1 world.
"We get the data off the car in pretty much real time and we're able to get that data back to the factory again in almost real time, which we weren't able to do in the past," he said.
Race to the cloud
Cloud adoption is being banded around F1 with topics and trends mirroring those being discussed in the business world, and Hackland sees it as a technology that will be increasingly adopted by the teams.
"I believe that cloud is in the future for every company, and F1 teams are using it," said Hackland.
"Earlier on, all CIOs used security as a reason for not doing it, but I think that's gone. There's enough use cases to show that you can secure your data in the cloud. You can make it as secure as you can on-premise.
"And I think most of us are heading towards hybrid [cloud deployments] anyway, with the view ultimately to switch seamlessly between on-premise, private cloud and public cloud as you need to.
"I think for all industries there's some data that maybe you feel you don't want to put in the cloud for whatever reason, but I think eventually we'll even get beyond that."
Cloud is far more than just a technology the firm dipping its toe into, given that the team needs the ability to scale cloud resources up and down as and when needed.
"We're taking what we're calling a ‘cloud first' approach. So unless we come up with a good reason not to put [certain data] in the cloud, we will go for cloud services," Hackland explained.
"We've put our develop and test environment in the cloud, so that means wherever our developers are in the UK, in India, in the Philippines, they can work seamlessly.
"We felt an on-premise system would restrict us, and we get that flexibility of capacity that we can expand as we need to for different projects.
"We will never be able to buy the full capacity that everyone needs and keep it unused for 60 percent of the time. We just wouldn't waste resources like that.
"We moved our Williams.com website onto Microsoft Azure as well, as at different times of the year there's huge demand on an F1 team's website and we can automatically expand as we need to."
Hackland said that the Williams team can gain several advantages by using cloud services and platforms as opposed to relying on its own infrastructure to support activity beyond the track.
"[Cloud] really does make sense from a cost perspective, though I never see cost as the major driver for cloud adoption. For us it's about reliability. The availability [cloud providers] offer is probably more than I can offer with my own data centres," he said.
Wearable technology is slowly growing in the consumer and enterprise technology worlds, despite being in its infancy, and Hackland sees potential for its use in F1.
"Wearables is one of the categories I've highlighted as an area that we could take advantage of as a team and as a company beyond F1," he explained.
"We think that by using wearables we can improve the speed of the crew. There are some ideas we've got around helping a pit-stop crew get their [race activity] times down using wearables, rather than just using cameras and videoing the pit stops."
Hackland said that wearables that capture health data can help achieve this, and drew our attention to the potential of clothing-related wearable technology for drivers.
"You're getting clothing that can regulate your body temperature automatically, so I think for the drivers that can be very useful," he added.
"There's a lot of instrumentation on the car but less so on the driver, so I think we could see wearables playing a role in driver performance as well as pit crew and engineer [performance]."
He noted that the human performance side of F1 is as important as getting the car operating at its peak.
"Most teams have been looking at that for some time, but we have a dedicated person looking at the human factor in terms of an F1 race and the race performance," he said.
"I think that's the next logical place to look. We've instrumented the car and we understand the car technology really well, so [we will look at] where we can gain another 0.2 of a second potentially though the human performance.
"I've had a look at Microsoft's HoloLens, for example, so I think there are applications where those kinds of technologies may help us.
"I've been asked about heads-up displays for drivers. Potentially there's a future where the driver has information on their visor instead of having to look at a dashboard. I think there's a huge amount of potential for things like [smart] glasses and other wearables."
Digital transformation is the main focus of the Williams IT team, but Hackland said he is keeping a careful eye on some of the innovations coming out of the technology industry and related research and development organisations.
"I'm looking for interesting areas that other teams are not taking advantage of that, if we get in early, we'll get a competitive advantage," he said.
"I think analytics is where we're putting most of our focus over the next three to five years. [But] there's potential [for AI]. I think there's some really interesting use cases out there already and I've been talking to some of the people at Oxford University about the things they're doing."
However, Hackland warned that all this innovative technology will need to deliver direct advantages to the driver, as the bottom line of F1 racing rests with a driver's performance.
"We'll put innovation in the car, but the driver may not get the most out of it because it's not pure maths," he concluded.
"You're putting it in the hands of a human, so can we feed all that data back so in the future we are only working on the things that ultimately our drivers will take advantage of?"
The F1 season is well underway, and racing and technology fans will be able to see how well the adoption of modern digital systems and IT can help teams narrow the margin between pole position and disappointment.
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