Big Data Fuels F1 Success For Team Sauber


When we talk about Big Data we tend to think about media & entertainment, big business and insights, and perhaps even big brother. But few people realize that Big Data is making a far bigger impact in places that we don’t usually consider.

Take Formula 1 racing for example, a multibillion-dollar global sport, where cars fly around the track at breakneck speeds in excess of 200 mph and where first and last place is often only separated by mere milliseconds. So fine is the line between success and failure that the smallest adjustment to a car’s aerodynamic efficiency can make all the difference between a podium finish and utter disaster.

In order to close the gap, F1 teams are increasingly turning to telemetry to shave those vital milliseconds from their lap time. Formula 1 is a sport where teams typically have budgets in excess of $250 million per year, and on average they’re spending around 5% of that on IT systems and telemetry, reports the Financial Times:

“A modern F1 car is fitted with about 130 sensors, which send enough information to fill several telephone books by the end of a two hour race via a radio aerial fitted to the car.”

Except that races are far from the only thing that’s being recorded – as well as race days, we have testing, qualifying laps, practice sessions and more. Modern Formula 1 cars don’t move an inch without every single detail being recorded by telemetry.

Sauber Turns to NetApp

One of the biggest success stories of the 2012 Formula 1 season was undoubtedly that of Team Sauber, which operates with an annual budget that’s barely a third of that afforded to bigger F1 teams like Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Yet despite these financial constraints, Sauber proved to be an unexpectedly strong challenger last year, ultimately finishing the season in 6th place in the Constructor’s Championship and securing four podium finishes.

The reason for this success was Sauber’s leveraging of Big Data to help it punch well above its financial weight. The team cannot spend the same massive sums of money on research and development as its richer rivals, and so instead it relies on Big Data to gain a competitive advantage, using NetApp’s FlexPod data center solution to collect terabytes of data during each race, qualifying session and practice lap.

“Every single team in F1 pushes their cars to the absolute limit, which means the margin for success is razor thin,” said Monisha Kaltenborn, CEO and team principal, Sauber Motorsport AG.

“Given the level of resources that other teams have to work with, we know we have to think and act differently if we want to challenge for the F1 world championship. NetApp gives us an IT foundation that can keep pace with the intense nature of our sport and help us accelerate innovation within our cars to make the Sauber F1 Team the best it can be.”

In order to be the best, each Sauber race car is fitted out with over 100 sensors that produce around 20-30 MB of data PER LAP, sending back around 3-4 MB of that in real-time. These sensors tell engineers everything they need to know about the performance of their cars, giving them up-to-the-minute knowledge about the condition of the car’s tires, its engine status, temperature, fuel usage, brakes, wear and tear, and more. By analyzing this data, Sauber’s engineers can tweak elements of the car design, plan their race strategy and make crucial decisions in real-time as they plot their race tactics and pit stops.

As an added benefit, NetApp’s Big Data analysis has also helped Sauber to reduce its carbon footprint, shaving 50% off of its power consumption on race days.

The importance of Big Data is underlined by Sauber’s Head of IT Magnus Frey:

“NetApp delivers a level of reliability across the board to the Sauber F1 Team that is critical to our team’s success. We have never once experienced a failure with our FlexPod solution or an outage with our MetroCluster solution,” emphasizes Frey.

“If either of these solutions went down for any period of time it would be a catastrophe for us.”

Team Sauber might not have the resources of its rivals, but its smart leveraging of Big Data has helped it to gain ground on them at a time when the financial gulf continues to expand. For more info on how Sauber is able to improve its car design and hone its tactics, you can read this technical case study compiled by Sauber’s engineers, or alternatively, check out this cool infographic: