A quick look into the future
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 May 2012   |  1:58 pm GMT  |  113 comments

“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.

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Is it true the wing dimensions will change for 2014 also? In line with things I've expressed before, I find it harder to fully enjoy F1 without being able to appreciate the car aesthetic.


Available to download here:


These are the current and 2014 regs as published in July last year. (they may change) You can also download the current ones and open both in different tabs in a pdf viewer, thus compare each section directly. However changes from previous are normally highlighted in a colour within the printed text.


Really interesting article about electronics in F1. With the upcoming move to more complex power systems could electronics could become an area as important as aerodynamics are now?

Also, can the teams currently programme these individually? For example, we hear about 'fuel maps' etc, which must be individual to each engine type and strategy?

Do the FIA check the programming of the units too?


Yes the FIA check them

Mark in Australia

Great piece, James. I'd love to read more of these flavored articles.

Sensational stuff.


Much agreed! Excellent article!


I think that a lot of potential in terms of innovation and relevancy lost due to the standardization.


I agree. There seems no incentive for MES to improve the standardized unit - even if the regulations would allow them to do it.

The only innovation will come with the need to keep in compliance with regulation changes (for example the required increase in fuel efficiency). There seems no prospect of an electronics-led innovation comparable as the aero-driven items of recent years like double diffusers, f-ducts and double-DRS.

Of course it is arguable how much good some of those innovations really do in sporting terms when they are completely invisible to fans and their effect is difficult to see.


James, do MES provide a slimmed down version of ECU for any road cars? I presume they supply the ECU for the McLaren's MP4-12C road car? Just wondering if they do business in this area, outside of the racing car environment. Thanks in advance.


Yeah, but can it run Angry Birds?

But seriously - can you believe those connectors? It must be incredibly easy to bend one of those pins. Although I see the plug is keyed - but still, that would never survive in the consumer world.

And amazing reliability considering all the components internally are subjected to the forces of F1.


I'm an electronics technician and I can honestly say those connectors are very hard to accidentally damage. They are so accurately manufactured that repeatedly connecting and disconnecting the plug and socket won't damage the pins.

It requires almost deliberate effort to insert something thin but rigid into the connector followed by reasonable application of force to bent the pins.


It's hard to tell the scale in the photo, but they are probably not as fine as DVI pins or something similar which is what it looked like to me. I can see they are a bit thicker. But still, what about a strand of hair conducting between pins, etc. I'm a bit surprised about the caps in there - I always thought they didn't do well with vibrations. Those two thin ribbon cables look light duty too. Anyhow - what do I know - obviously it works, and well at that. But inside it just looks consumer grade to be honest. I've seen PCs MoBos that look more heavy duty that this.

Think of the wiring harnest that plugs into this, the pipe of cable - three of them. I wonder what the diameter of those plugs is.


Oh NOooo.... " winner in the new generation will be the engine manufacturer who manages the energy sources the best"

Its about "managing" the engine now! Not flat out racing anymore! omg Schumacher will have a fit.

First the tires, now the engine. Whats next- "managing" the aero?

Sigh... Its all so artificial. Its not racing, its high-speed management!


"omg Schumacher will have a fit."

He's never raced properly wheel to wheel anyway. He passed everyone in the pits for 7 years! If anyone knows its managing that gets you to the front, its him...


Are you serious? Of course it is about managing all of these elements together. It would be "easy" to produce a car that takes off much faster than an F1 car currently does but destroys it's tyres by turn 1 and then explodes by turn 2. If you want flat out racing, go and watch drag racing. F1 has always been a marathon and the best combination of man and machinery wins. The aero is already managed - what do you think all of those wings and diffusers and side plates are for?


F1 has never been about marathon, that's Le Mans 24 heures


I'd say Le Mans 24h is more an iron-man triathlon.


Exactly. There is a reason F1 races are contested over a distance of 50 to 70 laps, not just one qualifying lap.


Very interesting. How big is that ECU? Difficult to judge from the pics.


Stephen Johnson

I love articles like this, so thanks James. I have a pretty large interest (personally and professionally) in microprocessor design and it's application, so this is right up my alley.

If there's interest, I would be great to see you delve deeper into this topic.

Stephen Kellett

750 billion items in one Grand Prix? Per car. 500 sensors per car. A Grand Prix lasts about 1.5 hours so that makes for 500,000,000,000 items per hour.

That is 138,888,889 items per second or basically 139MHz.

If you've got a processor running at 200MHz you can't process the amount of data you are claiming. The processors can't read sensors that fast AND process the data (you can't get throughput of one data item per instruction, it isn't that simple). Let alone read 500 sensors with the delay processors have accessing external data (sensors).

Something is wrong with these numbers.

Did you mean to write per "Grand Prix Weekend" rather than per Grand Prix? Or is it per Grand Prix but the 750 billion spread across 24 cars - that would still be 5.78Mhz data gathering.

I don't believe these numbers.


Stephen good catch, thank you. The article should actually have read 750 million numbers. As each number is a 16-bit value the total data received per car per Grand Prix is 1.5GBytes. The processor mentioned in James' original article is also the processor directly involved with engine control. There are other Freescale processors within the ECU that handle a lot of the data processing, which off loads this task from the Freescale MCU.

Stephen Kellett

Makes much more sense. Thank you for the clarification.


750 million items, 16 bits (2 bytes) per item

1 car

1 Grand Prix distance

Easily store than on a flash card or stream it.


Apologies, the data given to us on the fact sheet from MES/Freescale was wrong! It said 750 billion. As Peter says, it should have said 750 million.

Makes sense in light of the exchanges on here. Smart lot, JA on F1 readers!!



For those interested in the ECU have a look at the MES website spec, and those of the data transmission units(telemetry). The connector pin-out will give a brief idea of the interfaces. Ksps= kilo samples per second. The "CAN Bus" is a multiplexed wiring system used to connect intelligent devices within the car.


Those MIL spec connectors are very rugged. You have to be a real gorilla to damage them.


James Clayton

"They are based around Freescale’s 32 bit MCU, which is built on ****four****, 200 megahertz Power Architecture cores"


you beat me two it 8), ost modern cpus are mutlicore these days, just look at the latest phones and tablets. The is also the assumption of one thread per core as well. Take a look at the oracle t3 chip below, you can have 128 threads per chip. Add to this there may also be some specialized SIMD instructions.


They are also unlikely to transmit the data raw as well and who knows what the compression ratio would be there, it could be quite high. There also could be data aggregation happening as well eg taking an average of x results.

Basically theres far to many unknowns to make any meaningful calculations.

Stephen Kellett

Luckily I have some data on this. In the early 1990s a work colleague and her husband left to form a company providing hardware that would compress a data stream before transmission (on the fly compression) and do the reverse at the other end of the data pipe.

This was when a T1 was an outrageous luxury (whereas now a T1 is nothing to shout about) in terms of data pipes.

They had the best hardware you could buy for doing the streaming compression and lots of customers including large telcos.

Approx performance? 2x. They effectively double the bandwidth of any data pipe streaming data.

So as rough approx you can assume 2x compression on any on-the-fly compression for streamed data. If they can compress larger chunks prior to streaming then if lucky you can get more. I suspect with all the parameters and variables on the car the data stream may look rather random which would hurt the compression ratio.

Anyway without knowing the time period for this data the whole exercise is fraught with problems.

Stephen Kellett

Still not fast enough. Just multiply my calculations by 4 (actually less because you get contention between the processors). 139MHz then becomes 34.75 - so 35MB/s.

1) Processors not fast enough to move that much data (reading the sensors is slow on processors - as soon as you leave the cached memory on the CPU you are down to the speed of the main bus (with all the contentions on that) and then speed of the logic gates connected to any sensors).

2) Wireless is nowhere near fast enough to stream the data from the car even if you could collect it that fast.

Even fibre optic broadband isn't fast enough.

Consider that fibre optic cable is 100Mb/s that is 12.5 MB/s - in reality more like 10MB/s by the time you've taken out the TCP/IP error correction and timing packets (10 bits transmitted, 8 are data on average). But even if this data that is gather is only 1 byte per item you need to be moving 138 MB/s if these figures are for a 1.5 hour race. So how can you squeex 138MB/s (or 35MB/s if you prefer the alternate number I showed at the top of this reply) down a 10MB/s pipe - and that is fibre optic, not wireless which is nowhere near as fast.

You can get cable data connections fast enough, but I've used fibre optic here as an example because some of you can purchase this from BT/virgin so you can relate to it - you've all seen the adverts on TV.

These numbers are wrong and meaningless without qualification. I suspect these numbers are for 24 cars for the whole race weekend.

Stephen Kellett

I'm British. I stopped using the British billion (million million) years ago because no one uses it. No point using our version when the rest of the world thinks billion == 1000 million

and trillion == 1 million million.

1GB == 1 billion bytes (well not quite, its a bit more) that is 1024 x 1024 x 1024 (or just of 1000 million)

1TB == 1000 billion bytes (1024 x 1024 x 1024 x 1024)

I've been using the US billion for all my calculations (and so have the people responding to me from what I can see). Using a British billion makes the numbers even less likely to work.

Just read in another reply that it should be 750 million not 750 billion. That changes things quite a bit. Much more feasible.


Is there some confusion over the American "billion" which is 1000 x 1 million and the million x million us Brits use?

Personally read this to mean over the course of the 3 days of the GP, which would mean about 5 hours of running time.


eh and also when they speak about billions, it could be american(10^9) instead of british (10^12) ...


Would be nice if we have more detailed spec, I would say that those parameters are not changing that quickly per second so lot of computationally cheap (eg. delta and similar) compression can be applied if we are talking of 750GBytes I wont be surprised if it compress to a level of 7.5GB. Still it's large amount of data. Also receiving end would be interesting given that we are talking 24 cars simultaneously. May sound funny but wireless on 54Mbps = 23.7GB per hour which averages 1GB per car. Also they might be talking bits not bytes.


i believe fibre optic is faster than 100mbit/s ;P Regular LAN = 1 gbit/s 😉


I believe this post deserves a reply, preferably from someone at MES. Not James, he is just passing on the numbers quoted.

I do like to see someone actually reading such Press releases instead of just accepting them blindly.


It just a guess but maybe what James said, is that the telemetry stream contains 750Giga bytes. It still sounds a bit too much as that means the telemetry communications stream is indeed 138Mbytes/sec which is kind of too much for current wireless technology ...


Maybe F1 is running some military grade stuff 😀 😀 😀


They already run military grade gps kit so not totally out of the realm of possibility.


Beautiful paper James! Extraordinary but...

No mention of the word "sport" in this article!

ECU and Pirelli the tools to murdered Formula One as an automotive sport!

Many thanks to FIA, FOTA, FOM !



Dear sir, what you have been watching since the late 60' is business.


Can you elaborate in that please. You mean since there's sponsorship on cars, maybe. Can we establish since when F-1 is more a business than a sport. Any particular year or meaningful fact.

Thanks from CAN!


It has been quoted by Frank Williams and many others in F1, that the only time F1 is a sport is for 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon.

The remainder of the time it is a business.

Sponsorship or advertising is what runs the event.

Don't misunderstand, I love being track side watching these incredible machines and drivers at the absolute limit.

The drivers are sportsmen and athletes, but the teams lost that particular tag many years ago.

Back in 1982, Pironi had a huge accident in Hockenheim. Enzo Ferrari's reported reaction was "Addio Campionato" (Farewell Championship)


The technology in F1 is so cool...and the push pull is getting even better when it comes to new technology !!


Mr James as always a superb article on behalf of many I thank you.

However reading the thoughts of Jacques Villeneuve about his late father Ferrari BT12

where the was not 100 buttons to press no Computer screen but a beast that you need to


I wonder Sir, have the real thing been left

behind in today F1 world.

Your thought perhaps.


Hi Onko,

In my view the buttons on the steering wheel are a side issue.

The average F1 car of Gilles' era had a much less rigid chassis, a higher centre of gravity and much less advanced tyres. An analogy would be to compare a DTM car with a NASCAR or V8 Supercar (ignoring the tyre differences).

The chassis rigidity and CoG both make a large contribution to handling, reducing and controlling weight transfer to the outside tyres. Hence the "beast" references.

The current F1 cars are dominated by the aerodynamics. This means that precision and accuracy are vital in driving and "brain speed" is important to be on the limit in fast corner complexes (e.g Degner 1 and 2 at Suzuka where the second turn preparation starts in the previous high speed turn). In the older cars reflex is prioritised slighlty more.




Dear Martin.

I thank you for the ( tech info )I must say

though in life I have had many a success

failures to, but when it comes to Motoring

and its racing I am not ashamed to admit to

you that I am a yesterday man.

In my younger days was fortunate to atend a

number F1 meetings inclunding one where

Rony Petersen lost his life.

To hear Ferrari 312 fully gun down it gives

you goose pimples for many years after.

Yup,no refueling,one set of tyers,manual

gear box and let the race begin.

Martin once again I thank you for the above

Have a nice day



Villeneuve - Ferrari 312 T4, the BT12 was a 60's Brabham.


My apology, you are spot on

have a nice day.


...and talking of the future, have you seen Adrian Newey's new "F1 car" the X1? I have to admit it looks really good! Pity the regs won't allow it, but it's nice to dream isn't it!

Here's an example website


(It's only a model but Seb Vettel has already driven it in the simulator!)


Not really new, was a collaboration with Polyphony Digital for Gran Turismo 5 back in 2010.

It also got renamed to the X2010 (something that barely any GT5 player even attempts to take note of) and was then succeeded by the X2011.

Its not an issue of building the thing - although I do recall a GT TV clip of Horner or Newey estimating it would cost 1 Billion dollars to produce - or the technology in it; thats all around now. (Chaparral 2J from 1970 had the fans, 1500bhp V6 turbo was done by F1 in the 80's, aero level in GT5 is identical to the Ferrari F2007).

The issue, is its speed...



This was for Sony's grand tourismo.


with Bridgestone tires?


Interesting, I wonder however how the teams are going to store all the streamed data. This year's rules require teams to not only keep all the streamed data but to allow the FIA to come and take a dump of it onto their laptop at any time. (must be laptops with huge HDs) So we are currently talking 750 Gigs per race unless a "piece of information" is a bit not a a byte in which cast it's only 75 Gigs and well within current laptop HDs.

Stephen Kellett

I suspect the pieces of information are anywhere from 1 byte to 8 bytes in length. Most likely 4 bytes (32 bits) simply because you can't get 8 bit processors to run at 200MHz. But you can get many 32 bit processors to do this easily. An M68000K Dragonball is used in many road cars. NO idea what is used in this ECU.

Freescale is a semiconductor house - so probably one of theirs. The numbers are wrong though:

Assume its 1 byte per info that is 138 MB/s streaming from an F1 car. Thats 7 times faster than fibre optic cable broadband and much faster than any wifi can do. Even if its 1 bit per item its still the same speed as fibre optic cable broadband.

The numbers are wrong, or at least meaningless without a timescale. If James meant "race weekend" then we have 3 days worth of data.

I suspect its 3 days data for 24 cars. The numbers get more managable and usable then.

You couldn't write a dashboard display (which you see in the pits) that can process that much data coming in per second - you;d have to post-process it if you could get it (which as I've shown above you can't)


Processor speed isn't really the issue with a telemetry system. Gathering 750 billion "pieces" of info in 90 minutes is not hard. There is 8GB flash memory to record it all. What intrigues me is the delivery system. The MES website lists wireless data rates of 2Mbits using L-Band as standard but makes reference to a WiMAX system with little or no detail. In an optimised system over short distances (regularly placed antennas around the track) it is technically possible to get the required data rate of 139MB (90 minute race) using some fancy WiMAX solution but I'd need to see more detail.

A good R/T system will store all the data and then each engineer can look at just the parameters of interest. In essence they each get their own dashboard.

That being said, that is still a huge amount of data for one car in just 90 minutes. There must be a point at which there is a trade-off in weight to genuine-sensor-need and given the use of high-viz flow paint on Fridays I would guess that less data is the choice. If by the term Grand Prix, MES actually mean the whole weekend, the required data rate comes down to 32Mbits/s over 390 minutes which is a whole lot more feasible and well within a simple WiMax installation.

Stephen Kellett

"Processor speed isn’t really the issue with a telemetry system. Gathering 750 billion “pieces” of info in 90 minutes is not hard. There is 8GB flash memory to record it all. "

This is wrong. 750 billion items, if 1 byte per item is 698GB. If 1 bit per item, its 87GB. If 4 bytes per item, its 2793GB. Even at 1 bit per item, how are you going to compress that into 8GB to store it on your (very slow) flash card? And the likelihood is the data is more likely 1 byte or more which pushes you back up to 698GB+ which you'll never store on board even in a large flash card. Too slow, too small.

What about storing it on an SSD? SSDs were initially designed for use in fighter jets, so military grade SSDs could stand the G forces and vibration. But if you haven't got something large and fast like an SSD, you're down to streaming all that data off the car in real time.

I think the numbers are for a race weekend, for 24 cars, not one car for the actual race.

Your WiMax comments are interesting but its never going to be an optimized solution - the cars are travelling too fast for that.


This is true relevant innovation in F1, the capabilities and robustness (as far as tolerating data errors, if not environmental conditions) compared to the $#*&*^ CAN-bus in a modern passenger car is like comparing a serial port to USB. The limit on the road cars is less about memory or processor speed as it is with accepting input from multiple sensors simultaneously.


James, just wondering vacuously: we must be very near the stage now when an F1 car can have a pre-installed optimised robotic steering control programme specific to each circuit, ie, programmed to find the shortest way round the track, avoiding bumps and collisions and adverse road surface.

It can be supervised from the pitlane even, repeating optimum laps till the cows come home, free of human error. No need for a driver, except maybe to act as an overriding supervisor for when things go slightly wrong.

I dunno. Just a thought. Hope it doesn't happen.


Nuovolari, unless the rules prohibit it, one day a GP car will line up without a driver in it, the driver will be sitting in a simulator with live feed. With a big weight advantage the car might even win, but the tech will be banned (rules changed) immediately after that race, if not before (on safety grounds)


would take some effort but defo possible with todays tech to have a driverless car do a complete lap of a circuit. Could this solve the present dilemma at Ferrari?

I would guess the human will still be faster!


We had that with active car in 1992!!


Thanks James, I can only find in my searches the Newey FW14B with 'active' auto suspension, could that be it?


And a pre-installed, optimised robot did win that year too!!



I'm struggling to identify who you meant.


What will happen to the regulations on fuel samples with the new regulations? Currently I believe you need a 1 litre sample at the end of qualifying/race. Already you have people pushing it (as seen recently) but with the new efficiency people will fuel their cars less and shrink their fuel tanks so I can see it being more of an issue. Will the FIA reduce the sample size by 33% as well?

James Clayton

And will the penalty be reduced by 33%? 😀


The sample will be reduced to 0.5 liter.


Interesting. So do they reprogramme the ECU for 6 cylinders w/ turbo instead of 8 w/o? That seems like a whole big task in itself. Does that mean they designed the hardware with that change in mind, meaning there will be some overhead in both situations?

Question about this phrase:

it streams live data via telemetry back to the pit garages

I was under the impression that the telemetry _is_ the data, or at least the human-readable presentation of that data? The way that sentence in the article reads, telemetry is the process of converting the captured data into useful information or some such? Sorry if that sounds daft, I'm just trying to make sure my limited knowledge and understanding of what goes on in F1 is correct 🙂


Well, telemetry is something you measure remotely or, in this case, gathering data from sensors. How you transmit that info could be made in several ways, basically wired or wireless. The greek origin for the word is: tele (telos)=distance and metry (metros)=measurement.

Forget the process of converting, that's done by the computer. The info travels as binary data (one and zeros) and the computer (processor) makes the data readable into human understanding information.

Max Nalborczyk

Hi James,

I am a student in year 12 studying the International Baccalaureate, for which I have to write an Extended Essay. I am writing my essay on Formula One, and my topic is centred around how fuel consumption could be reduced through alternative means to changing the regulations in 2014. As I read your blogs regularly, I have got some information from there, such as this one, however, I was wondering if you would be interested in advising me on this? I am a dedicated F1 fan and as this is a topic I care about, I want to make a very good job of it, and I feel that I could benefit supremely from you expertise.

Many thanks,

Max Nalborczyk


Having two children who have just gone through the IB Diploma in New Zealand, I know only too well what a huge task the Extended Essay is. Very best of luck with it, Max, and James - if you are able to help Max combine his passion with his studies, or can introduce him to someone who can, I encourage you to assist.

Max Nalborczyk

Thanks Simon


By means other than those in the 2014 regs?

suggest you look at the proposed cost cap regs that were issued by Max. These allowed increased KERS limits and 4 wheel energy recovery/drive.

Other ways to save fuel,, obviously go slower, or reduce drag. Reduce weight (not allowed under the regs) thus inertia and momentum.

Change fuel type, change engine mapping.

Max Nalborczyk

Cheers. I am trying to look at ideas that do not alter the cars themselves, as my idea is stemming from the fact that F1 is so competitive at the moment, so why change the rules again?

Andrew Barker

Hello James

A great article as always thanks,but one for you i wonder what formula 1 cars would have on them and look like if we had 1993 tech and aero regs today? Maybe you get Gary Anderson to do a Jordan 193 for 2012 have always been intrigued how they would look like today.

For me mid 80's to early 1994 had the best style of cars.

Kind Regards

Andrew Barker



Just wondering...how powerful are these new engines supposed to be? I fear an F1 that is slow but am hopeful the genius people within the teams will make them work.

I also wonder what the sound of a 1.6 V6 engine will be like?

Grayzee (Australia)

if they are anything like the 1.5lt turbos other racing series have, they will sound like a cat on steroids being put through a bandsaw!

Meeeeoooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!! 🙂

( ahem..sorry...)



But then I love cat jokes. I once gave my sister-the-cat-lover a book entitled '101 Uses for a Dead Cat' with oddly predictable results.


Great article James, as always. This article made me wonder if we will ever get to see a lap time comparison between a top F1 driver versus an identical car driven autonomously by a computer, such as the google prius, or the autonomous DARPA competition vehicles. Engineering difficulties aside, if it were possible, it would be interesting to see which would drive a faster lap? A computer could be programmed to perfection, no traction lost, perfect braking points and pressures, absolute perfect racing line, but could it ever make a car dance around the track like an in form Hamilton can? I don’t think an AI driven car would be competitive in racing conditions, but a qualifying lap would be a good comparison. I have a feeling that the human driver might win that fight, due to the adaptability required to push to the maximum…

Someone should mention it to Red Bull, I think that might be one of the only things they haven’t tried sponsoring yet?


I guess you could equate it to playing chess against a computer.

Computers are only just being taught to avoid looking at every possibility and work like a human player who anticipates and doesn't even bother thinking about pointless possibilities.

With 120 sensors all delivering data to the ECU the relevant data for each decision will come from only a few - but how do you make a computer understand which ones are relevant at any one point?

I once heard of Jackie Stewart describing what happened to an F1 car during a 10 second video clip. It took him 15 minutes to talk through it. Obviously during 10 seconds a driver has to work in real time and will make many adjustments to what he senses.

As you suggest ultimately the computer should perform better. Getting to that point is the all but impossible task. At a simple level automation has to be more reliable. The biggest increase in safety for the London Underground system would be to take away the drivers - something they had possible in the 1960's. Obviously that would only need a few data channels - a free roaming car needs many, many more. If it was the only car on the track it would be a lot simpler - racing other cars means modifying the perfect route and that is what the driver is really needed for.


If it were up to me, I would reintroduce unsynchronised shifting.

What should matter is driver skill.

Since the days of a mechanic with a straw hat siting on top of a petrol barrel smoking a cigarette, we have not had real racing.

I agree with Lou diMonti when he says that mechanical performance should count more than aero


Well, then why not just watch a different formula? F1 is F1, always pushing and innovating. It's a team sport where the driver is just part of the package and it always has been!

If you want to see driver skill being the main factor and no aero then you should be watching Karts or Forumla Ford.

The top drivers who end up in F1 have already dominated all of the lower formulae where driver skill is the biggest determining factor in the outcome of a championship... This is why they are now in F1. The teams want the best drivers they can get to be a part of their package.

If F1 cars were changed so that there was more reliance on mechanical grip than aero suddenly they would be slower than GP2 and probably GP3 and F3 too!


For mine, I would do away with rev limiters - let the driver judge matters with his right foot - press too hard and bang!

At present, at the start line, all the drivers just jam their foot down hard and the resulting noise sounds like a bucket of bolts - no finess required - no skill required either.

A red line on the tacho or a good ear is all you need.


I'm a bit torn, I really believe F1 is about innovation and technology but at the the same time,do we want it to become an economy run? The tyres already cause this a little bit. the regs need to be carefully thought through to make so the driver still goes hell for leather whilst the team manage the fuel Etc. Maybe let the driver go for it but give the teams extra points/financial rewards for using the least fuel to achieve wins. Lets not lose sight of what F1 is ...RACING


The problem is that, with everyone working so hard to make the cars faster, we have reached a point where the cars can be too fast for the tracks they race on or for the drivers to be able to cope with the G forces exerted.

For many years now we have seen the cars slowed by artificial means. The Williams ground effect cars were massively fast - but it got to the point where the slightest problem causing the effect to be lost meant the car took off and many more drivers would be dead.

As everyone complains about the latest effort to slow the cars the FIA look for the next acceptable way to achieve this. We should never forget that the top speed has not changed significantly for decades.

As we reach ultimate limits we may as well tackle the problems by demanding fuel efficiency and, at least, placate the green lobby for the moment.


Cars of old are made of machined/processed steel, brass, copper wood etc.,

The oldest car now still runs and if some parts need replacing, they can be machined (CNC), re-installed and all is fine.

Cars now, specially the coming 2014 Formula 1 is so reliant on electronics, PCBs, computer chips, etc.

What if PCBs, chips become obsolete and not manufactured anymore ? Would we (in the future) be able to replace the ECUs of these Formula 1 cars 80 years from now and get it to run ?

We might be modernising/'high-teching' our way to auto-oblivion ?

Just someone who loves the old ways, and detests the 'throw away/planned obsolescence mentality, thinking out loud.

Cheers and God bless,

Tom Borromeo


Throwaway society is getting closer in every technical sphere.

I remember a few years back reading that Nasa was having to buy components off of Ebay to be able to service the Space Shuttle.

It always humored me that everyone thinks of Nasa as state of the art, or ground breaking technology, yet their design dates back to the mid 70's!


I agree wholeheartedly with this concern. How fantastic is it to see the old cars still running and racing. Tyrell 6 wheeler, Mclaren M23's, Ferraris etc...

I can't even copy a 2.5 floppy disk for a client now and that was current technology only 10 years ago...not to mention zip disks, 3.5" floppy and other standardised equipment, anyone remember flashing/burning eproms?

These cars have every possibility of not running in 10 - 15 years due to a failed or incompatible ecu or KERS unit.... What a MASSIVE pity that would be unless steps are taken now.....


Wow James !

Finally you have given us real insight into the brains behind an F1 Car. This is what F1 is at the core. Forget drivers, aero, and tyres etc.

I cant believe how many pins there are on those 3 connectors in the image !

Fascinating stuff, so thanks.


To quote you Dufus, "forget drivers"

I'm staggered.

I'm interested, do you listen to computer machine code as music or do you listen to an artist who spent years learning an instrument?

Do you watch oscilloscope traces on your monitor or do you watch films, comedy and sport on the TV?

When the human input is thrown away, what are we left with?

Maybe James Cameron was spot on with his 1984 classic, "Terminator"


Adjustments should not be allowed to be made via telemetry. When you hear "there is a problem with KERS, we are working on it", this is just wrong.

Sure, teams should be able to monitor things and inform the driver, but no external input to the car from the garage should be allowed. If something on the car fails and cannot be rectified by the driver, then too bad, it has failed. A pitstop? OK that would be fine, where the teams hook up a computer directly to the car.

I personally think technologies like traction control, active suspension and the like should be permitted but should not be allowed to be adjusted externally to the car.

In terms of the racing, IMO drivers push harder, especially in the wet when traction control and active suspension are in use. This makes the action on the track much better.


Wade, you have the boot on the wrong foot: the regulations do not currently permit adjustments to be made by radio. When the team says "....we are working on it" what they mean is that they are scratching their heads for something to tell the driver to do, not that they are physically fiddling with it.


They fiddle with it wirelessly, there is a number of cases where they did most notable Hamilton's failure in Spa remember. What they should do is ban anything apart from radio communication with the driver, if it fails it fails same as tyres and aero...


Great article James but a couple of things to ponder.

McLaren Electronic Systems is a member of the McLaren Group that controls Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

In 2007 McLaren Mercedes was fined $100 million Thursday and excluded from the constructors' title in the spying scandal.

If I were one of the other teams I would be wondering if there is a mole buried deep in the ECU.

Has the FIA just given the fox the keys to the hen house?

Thoughts James?


MES have supplied ECU's to F1 Teams since 2008 with no issues raised by the other teams. Red Bull, Brawn and Ferrari appear to have managed extremely well so far!

James - Off Topic. I'm enjoying the connect site, well done!


Thanks, tell your friends


If this were the case (some type of attempt at cheating), it would have to be considered a massive failure on the part of McLaren because they have not won a constructors title in well over a decade.

I don't think there is anything sinister or underhanded with regards to this ECU. However, interesting that it was McLaren that got the contract to supply it rather than an independent and completely impartial firm.


Thoughts are that's a conspiracy theory on steroids.

Not sure what else to say.


The device would have to be storing or transmitting data which would be easy to detect


A very informative post. Thanks James


"750 billion pieces of data are sent in real time by each car during every Grand Prix."

750 billion pieces of data? What is that? 750 billion bytes? 750 billion bits? 750 billion kilobytes?

Data doesn't come in pieces, you know. I am an IT professional and that statement is absolutely meaningless to me.


Great information James, thanks!!!

Now going to buy opinion I'm against this... I think is making the f1 spec cars.... Regulations should "limit" for safety not make all the components equals.


James, a bit OT. The connect website doesn't seem to be optimized fot ipad. Cannot scroll content in the pop up windows...:-)


We have a fix for that on dev site

Hope to bring across very soon

Shane Pereira

James...you mention 1.6L turbo engines in the original article for 2014...However, I thought 2.0L, V6 turbos were agreed as the new engine for 2014 onwards?

Apologies if I've got this wrong...but I'm sure I read that 2.0L V6 Turbos with increased KERS power recovery was agreed???




So! 100kg of fuel and 1.6l engines. F1 is not what it should be. It has become a dumbed down endurance race.

What it should be is a showcase of power, speed, and technological innovation, with the best drivers in the world.

I have followed F1 for 40 years, and all that has happened is that it has become more and more sanitised, and boring. From the cars, to the tyres, to the PR speak of the drivers.



James ,Would appreciate clarifIcation of these figures. I think this is over a whole GP weekend. Other formulas are starting to quote data figures. Sure I heard the above quote GP weekend -don't recall which one.I'm guessing it's 750 billion bytes per weekend for all teams.

I m glad 2014 will see the cars carrying less fuel.What's happening now is ridiculous- almost 1/4 of cars starting weight is fuel. I believe Kimi was the only driver (albeit ex) who stated this as the biggest single effect on car performance differential over 2009 and obviously then -tyres.


This is the figure we were given by MES and Freescale in their briefing notes. It says just the race. I've asked them to look at the questions here from readers



What's the size and weight of this device and average energy use (in watt).



Specs are on the web site:


QC/Av/Peak 4ma/3A/5A at 13.8V


Interesting article James,

If I can chuck in my pennies worth.

The connectors are military spec, made from alloy, you don't even get near the pins. They are designed for field use by squadies! they don't break.

I've worked on many ECU's design and modification. Engine data generally comes in two types, slow and fast.

Things like water temperature doesn't get measured 1000 time a second, just once/sec in more than enough, same goes for oil pressure, ambient, engine and brake temperature, maybe a little faster for car speed. Fast items with high data flow would be gforce, ignition timing, intake airflow, injector performance.

Because of the bandwidth restriction, great care would be taken to sample the sensors only as fast as required.


Love the tech stuff James... keep it coming

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