“Formula 1 is all about innovation,” (Ross Brawn, Team Principal Mercedes)
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in F1 at the moment, with the preparation of the new powertrains, which are set to come in under new rules for 2014. These feature small capacity 1.6 litre turbo engines with a high degree of hybrid energy regeneration, stored electrically.
There are over 120 sensors on an F1 car and managing the data and control systems is the Electronic Control Unit, which is designed and manufactured for F1 by McLaren Electronic Systems. In Barcelona at the weekend MES and its semi conductor supplier Freescale gave a briefing of what lies ahead in this fascinating area.
The ECU is the brain of the racing car. It won’t go anywhere without one and it’s the device which , because it’s standardised across all the teams, allows the FIA to ensure that no-one is cheating with traction control or other banned electronics and no one can do any illegal testing without one. In the four years since MES started as ECU supplier, no car has retired from a race due to ECU failure.
The ECU is the primary logger on an F1 car, recording over 500 different parameters and it streams live data via telemetry back to the pit garages. 750 billion pieces of data are sent in real time by each car during every Grand Prix. The data is sent over a telemetry system which has 100% coverage around every track, even through the tunnel at Monaco and the forest of the Monza track in Italy.
F1 has long been an innovator in the field of high speed mobility, connecting cars to fixed networks. But here it’s set to really push things on in terms of connected cars.
Now the challenge for MES is to innovate around the 2014 power units. The push is towards smaller, more powerful and more efficient microprocessors. They are based around Freescale’s 32 bit MCU, which is built on four, 200 megahertz Power Architecture cores.
The new ECU will be the same size and weight as the existing one but will have five times the processing power of the existing units and will be able to log over 1,000 parameters. The new ECU will run on the existing V8 engines next season, before transferring to the new generation 1.6 litre V6 Turbo Hybrid F1 engines in 2014. These engines will have a fuel flow control, managed by the ECU, and will have to be 33% more fuel efficient than the existing engines; they need to be able to cover a race distance with 100 kilos of fuel instead of the 150 kilos needed today. The winner in the new generation will be the engine manufacturer who manages the energy sources the best. But all of them will be controlled by the same ECU.
The next requirement for the teams will be to find a way to get larger bandwidth into the pit garages to make the most of the new ECU and its capabilities by managing to send the data back in real time to their factory bases.
Freescale and MES, which also provides the standard ECU in IndyCar and NASCAR, see F1 as a platform to innovate in four key areas, which also have relevance to the road car industry: efficiency, enhanced safety, mobility and connected vehicles.
It’s clear that the worlds of racing, automotive and communications. are coming closer together through innovative work like this.