Big Data for  Formula 1Formula 1 Grand Prix racing hits the silver screen next weekend in Rush, a Ron Howard film depicting the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 F1 season. But while Howard will surely deliver all the high-speed thrills of racing’s past, its present is about much more than just car and driver. Nowadays, F1 teams must monitor intangibles such as temperature and humidity—it’s all due to big data.

Today, the sport is as competitive as ever, with a healthy diversity of drivers, constructors, racetracks, geographies and fans around the globe. Yet if you were to poll the professionals competing in the sport or those covering it, one undeniable fact would emerge: Data analytics is the digital backbone of the sport.

In fact, F1 data use is now so refined that none of the action would ever happen without it.

Does that sound like the way your business is heading? I bet there’s something you can learn from the F1 experience. Let’s have a look at some on- and off-track examples…

Riding A Bicycle Around Your Living Room

Legendary tracks such as Britain’s Silverstone, Belgium’s Spa or Germany’s Nürburgring were molded by the natural elements of their respective settings. The coveted Monaco street track was described as “riding a bicycle around your living room” by famous driver Nelson Piquet.

These are a legacy of the analog era of racing.

On the other hand, newer circuits such as Austin, Bahrain, or Korea are meticulously engineered to satisfy criteria such as driver safety, advertising location, and attendee comfort. These designs rely on rich graphical information systems (GIS) data, feeding computer-aided design (CAD) systems to lay out the tracks.

Driving On The Ceiling

Off the track, in the constructors’ factories, engineers pore over advanced computational flow dynamics (CFD) data, feeding computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems. They focus on optimizing the sophisticated aerodynamics, giving each team maximum competitive advantage as their cars cut through the air on the track, while satisfying the sport’s complex regulations.

In fact, the aerodynamic data and resulting automated computer models have evolved to such a degree that the downforce generated is strong enough to pin an F1 car to the ceiling—if it were to be driven upside-down!

Head Games

Some fans enjoy the pre-race activities even more than the race itself. Usually the Friday before the race is reserved for two preliminary “free practice” sessions.

This is a pivotal data collection exercise for the teams: They collect priceless telemetry from their cars in action, factoring in many important variables. Each race involves new data about the evolutionary equipment upgrades shipped in for each race from their respective factories, as well as unique geographical, temperature and humidity data.

The specific characteristics of each track—details about each curve, straight, elevation change, plus pit-lane particulars and such—help ensure no two sets of telemetry data will ever be the same. by Val Bercovici Read more