From racetrack to road: Reflecting on F1’s impact on automotive tech

The UK’s Formula One scene has long been hailed as one the best in the world. Thanks to a first-class ecosystem of high-tech manufacturers, forward-thinking university programmes and established design houses, Britain has built itself a long heritage in automotive innovation.

The importance of this goes beyond the teams, drivers and die-hard fans flocking to Silverstone each year. Huge investments in F1 strategies have cascaded from racetrack to the ordinary roads as proven tech innovations have been democratised, reducing the cost for their introduction into the mass consumer car market.

When we look at the cars we drive today, there are numerous features which have been influenced by the sport. The most glaring example being the now sleek, aerodynamic shapes of today’s cars. The changes have largely been around body, mechanical and propulsion features.

Today, it’s data which is set to bring about a new tidal wave of disruption. Despite being used track-side in the early and mid-2000s, it is still really only in its inception in the automotive industry. But, thanks to advances in technology and creation of digital eco-systems, digital technologies are starting to make their mark in mainstream designs and out onto our roads. So, what can we expect to see around the next bend?

Sensors recording everything

Ten years ago, F1 cars had around 250 sensors built into them, used by engineers to record and evaluate the performance of the car in regard to its surroundings, including G-force, temperature, suspension displacements and speed to name a few. This data is used to identify what needs to change in the design to help the car better respond to driving conditions and plan for every eventuality.

The best luxury cars of today have around 90 to 100 car electronic control units and sensors designed to improve the overall comfort and performance. We will continue to see the integration of these devices into cars as manufacturers develop the ‘connected car’ to create a personalised driving experience for the ‘connected consumer’. A slew of such features are now going to be delivered with advances in contextualization possible with AI and Edge Analytics.

Analytics to improve performance

In 2003, F1 banned two-way telemetry units that allowed teams to push real-time OTA (over the air) updatesonto the car. This caused a fundamental shift towards deep and real-time analytics. Drivers now have a whole selection of buttons to make changes themselves, perhaps guided by engineers continuously analysing the car’s performance from the command stations. In the everyday commuter world, the evolution of cloud technologies and cellular communications is a major factor aiding in the transmission of car data to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) with reduced latency.

Today, we are seeing this technology adopted by more and more by car manufacturers to view and manage car data – not just locally during check-ups but remotely across geographies. Of course, everyday-cars will never be subjected to the same stress as those on the racetrack but they do have wear and tear. Analytics on telematics data will spot and warn drivers of potential failures such as engine seizures or electrical/mechanical faults, as well as guide them to a safe location.

Safety features will be even more critical with driverless cars

Advancements in car safety have always directly come from F1, such as lightweight but crash-resistant body materials, and fire suppression systems. And the technology emerging from the racetrack will continue to infiltrate road cars irrespective of automotive trends which emerge. Maintaining a high level of safety will become even more critical as the government forges ahead with its plan to be at the forefront of driverless cars.

Intelligent cars need intelligent infrastructure

Road cars will become increasingly intelligent thanks to the trickling down of F1 technologies such as sensors, analytics, AI, cloud and machine learning. They are redefining the mass market automotive space and enhancing consumers’ driving experiences.

They are also opening new opportunities for automotive manufacturers, from allowing them to predict failures to address warranty issues and recalls, to using performance data to inform future car designs, and monetising the driving experience through third party services.

However, to take advantage of such opportunities, car manufacturers will need to follow in the footsteps of F1 crews by creating an eco-system of digital technologies. This includes harnessing a real-time analytics engine and building a cloud infrastructure, which can collect, analyse and make sense of the data collected from customers across geographies. Also, consider a revolutionary F1 pit stop approach to servicing everyday cars – taking seconds to change tyres and change parts instead of those hourly waiting times at the repair shops. With that in mind, it is time for automotive manufacturers to shift gears if they want to stay in the fast lane.

Author profile:
Prasad Satyavolu is chief digital officer, Manufacturing, Logistics, Energy & Utilities, Cognizant