How a TV gimmick became F1's latest secret weapon – The Telegraph

F1's unstoppable rise to world domination begins with 300 tiny computer sensors on each car and the information teams harvest from them
Formula One’s technological revolution reached the point of no return at the exact moment Lewis Hamilton’s wheel blew up on lap 51 at Silverstone two years ago.
"Think something happened to my left tyre," was the Briton’s startled reaction before he staged a memorable act of derring-do to win the race on his three remaining wheels.
For the data boffins now at the heart of the sport, however, the dramatic scenes were greeted by faint mutterings of "we told you so" within earshot of the commentary boxes.
"Our analytics had popped up on the screen long before all this and said ‘the tyres are now at end of life, he’s gonna have to pit’," says Rob Smedley, F1’s director of data systems. "The commentators reacted to that by saying ‘it doesn’t feel that way’. Well, two laps later the tyres had absolutely expired."
Smedley observes the "naysayers" against F1’s use of pioneering technology have gone noticeably quiet as the sport now enjoys the fastest growth spurt in sporting history. ESPN is so confident about F1’s rise that it has agreed to bump up its US TV rights deal with Liberty Media by 1,500 per cent. Silverstone is also counting new-found riches, having welcomed a record 402,000 to the sold-out British GP, even with ticket prices exceeding £250.
Soaring profits have been turbocharged by the Drive to Survive TV craze, which has brought with it tens of millions of new fans. However, as Smedley explains, Netflix has done only half the job in attracting the new audience in the first place. Viewers were once reliant on Murray Walker’s often dicey predictions, but now, under the fan engagement-obsessed era of Liberty, the sport has found a way to maintain attention spans by delivering accurate forecasts of the drama ahead. Even the hard to pin down Gen Z target audience is staying glued to the screen on a Sunday afternoon, Smedley explains. "We want to keep the DNA of F1 but we want to keep moving it, we want to keep refreshing," he adds. "We have to be getting the fresher audience in. You’ve got to be brave with stuff and you have to force it through, whatever the doubters are saying."
F1’s unstoppable rise to world domination begins with 300 tiny computer sensors on each car. Smedley, a vastly experienced former engineer with Williams, Ferrari and Jordan, struck upon the idea to harvest information each team gets to make the whole spectacle more enthralling.
Five years ago, Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing company, was drafted in to convert the data into easy to understand TV innovations.  Battle forecasts, predicting when a chasing driver is within striking distance of the car in front, and a myriad of insights around pit strategy, helping predict upcoming drama in a race, were introduced. "We think we’ve fundamentally improved the fan experience given the insights that we’ve provided," says Darren Hardman, general manager of AWS UK and Ireland. The technology has even helped end  a debate as old as the hills – its aggregated data shows Ayrton Senna is officially F1’s fastest in 40 years, followed by Michael Schumacher and then Hamilton. Hardman is most excited about the future, however, as "we’ve also made racing more competitive this year".
To achieve this, F1 harnessed the increased horsepower that AWS provides to create a new car providing more ‘wheel-to-wheel’ racing. The days of wind tunnels to work out a car’s aerodynamics appear long gone, with F1 instead now employing a Computational Fluid Dynamics design system on AWS’s computing platform that reduces simulation time by 80 percent, from 60 hours to 12 hours. With their new-found ability to run complex simulations visualising wake turbulence of cars and the impact on following drivers, the design of the basic car used by all teams this year are able to compete significantly closer together than ever.
"By running its CFD platform on AWS, F1 has designed a car that reduces downforce loss in wheel-to-wheel racing from 50 percent to 15 percent, so a car is much less impacted by the wake of the car in front of it," explains Pat Symonds, chief technical officer for Formula 1.
Crucially, as far as the boffins are concerned, the drivers are impressed. Hamilton said last Sunday was "very reminiscent of the karting days" after he had been at the heart of an exhilarating tug of war for podium places at Silverstone.  
While Carlos Sainz opened a four-second lead, Hamilton, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Pérez had tussled furiously for position around lap 46 before the Briton eventually secured third. "I feel that that’s Formula One at its best," Hamilton said after the race. "The fact that we were able to follow and dice like that, lap on lap is a testament to the direction I think that we’re now in. I was just grateful that I could be in the battle. Because I’ve not been in that fight for a while."
The buzz in the sport had not been lost either on Ferrari, which has now become the first team to partner with the tech firm to give themselves an extra edge. The Italian giant, which invited Telegraph Sport to its paddock base at Silverstone last week, says AWS backing has become a secret weapon in challenging Red Bull in the constructors standings.
"Marginal gains are so important," says  Marco Adurno, head of vehicle performance at Scuderia Ferrari. "Sometimes you make or miss out by one millisecond. The new regulations are written in such a way that it’s only gonna be getting tighter and tighter."
It is a fiercely kept secret how exactly AWS helped Ferrari with its car design which has performed so well this year. Adurno jokes that he hopes rivals do not copy him by entering into a deal with AWS. However, by the start of next season, he is confident the firm’s ability to run simulations in the blink of an eye will be helping them make judgements during races too. "We are getting up to speed," he said. "The reality is that to make predictions like that, it’s a mix of things. So obviously, having good computing infrastructure helps but also, it’s the mathematical methods that you use to predict the future."
After the team’s Monaco Grand Prix strategy faux pas – which cost Leclerc a probable win as he went from full wets to slick tyres on a drying track – the latest innovation, as far as Ferrari is concerned, cannot come soon enough.
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