‘It’s 1,000 times the average home internet’ - the tech behind staging Formula One
Quite aside from the head-spinning speeds that Formula One cars reach around the Yas Marina Circuit, the numbers behind staging the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix are staggering. More than 500 tonnes of team equipment has been flown into Abu Dhabi from the previous round in Brazil; a total of 8,550 litres of paint are used to get the track up to scratch; 30 hectares of landscape grass is laid. But have you ever thought about the huge operation required to broadcast the race and transmit the reams of data teams require to optimise their cars? That’s where F1’s official connectivity partner, Tata Communications, comes in.
For the past five years, it has been behind joining the dots for the world’s top motorsport series, via their 500,000-kilometre worldwide submarine cable network. The company claims to handle one in 10 of all international calls and connect 70 per cent of the world’s mobile carriers. The amount of data required to keep F1 running smoothly is similarly intimidating.
“We provide a whole range of services to Formula One management, from connectivity services at all the racetracks to the Formula One offices in the UK,” Tata’s vice president, F1 business and product marketing, Mehul Kapadia, explains. “We provide the physical wired connectivity to the racetracks, and that opens up possibilities for them to run a whole range of services on it. We provide the base connectivity on which their data, video and a lot of the content flows through. We also host Formula1.com.
“We also work with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team, the current world champions; and a range of broadcasters, from Sky Sports in the UK to Ziggo in the Netherlands. So it’s a nice mix of the people who run the sport, people who are winning the sport and a bunch of broadcasters.”
Much as home and office internet connections have improved at a headlong rate, F1’s technological leaps and bounds have also been significant.
“Before we came into Formula One, they used data connectivity that was less than pretty much the average broadband connection in the UK – about 10 megs [megabits],” Kapadia says. “We now deliver about one-and-a-half gigabits of bandwidth – 1,000 times what somebody would use on average at home in terms of speeds. That’s because of the humungous amount of data and video that needs to go through it, weekend after weekend.”
A week before the Abu Dhabi race, Tata’s team touched down in the capital, direct from Brazil, for the final stop of the season – then the hard work really starts.
“It’s pretty much a mini data centre that we set up from location to location,” Kapadia says. “It involves the physical connectivity coming through our local partners where we need it, then on top of it, we build this set-up which allows for two things: to run the services – data, video and voice – but more importantly, monitor it from the racetrack. We can monitor, troubleshoot, enhance and modify the services.”
As an official Mercedes team partner, Tata is guaranteed to be on the victorious side this weekend, whether the drivers’ championship is won by Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton, after two titles in a row for the British driver.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Kapadia says. “We joined Mercedes in 2013, when Lewis Hamilton joined them as well, and it’s been fantastic. At that time, they were No 4 on the grid. We’ve really enjoyed being a part of the success that has built over the last three years.
“When we came onboard with Mercedes, we gave them three times the connectivity they had before. Data and analytics has become a critical part of the sport. Mercedes can get about 60 to 65 engineers to every race, but have a team of about 600 back in Brackley [the team’s British headquarters]. Each car has about 200 sensors updating thousands of data points as it goes round the track. We pick up all that data, [and] get it to the UK, where it can be analysed in real time.
“There are various components that make successful teams and this is one small component of that journey.”
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