How Monza is helping to shape a revolution in automotive world
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Sep 2012   |  6:36 pm GMT  |  52 comments

[Updated] Something very unusual happened during Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix – the telemetry failed in the Ferrari garage between laps 17 and 24, so the team had no information from the cars on temperatures, pressures or any of the vital information on tyre wear.

As this was in the window for making the one and only tyre stop of the race, this was quite a critical issue. An electrical problem had knocked it out. Luckily they were still transmitting data back to the team’s factory in Maranello and so the engineers on the pit wall had to liaise with them for data updates via mobile phone and made their decision from there, pitting Alonso on lap 20. He went on to finish third.

“It’s never happened before, “ said team boss Stefano Domenicali.

It is indeed rare that a problem occurs with telemetry, but it serves to remind everyone of how much the teams rely on it.

Telemetry started in the late 1980s when teams were sending data in bursts as the car went past the out buildings. It moved on to continuous high rate data in the early 1990s, but on tracks like Monza where cars pass through trees, there would be sections of coverage they would lose in terms of real time data. There were around 30 seconds when teams couldn’t see anything.

Into the 2000s, teams fixed that limitation by retransmitting data as soon as the car got back into and areas of coverage. By the time the cars went past the garage, all the data for that lap had been seen. In 2002 two-way telemetry was permitted so engineers could change settings on the cars from the pits. This is no longer allowed, but much was learned.

Nowadays they use multiple antennae around the circuit. McLaren Electronic Systems, the supplier of the F1 Electronic Control Unit, place antennae that are available for all the teams to use.

As the cars go around the track, as they move out of site of one antenna they come into sight of another and use that to send the data across. This manages the transition between antennae, which is how a mobile phone network works.

What that means for F1 is that on any circuit, including the difficult circuits like Monaco and Monza, you get almost 100% full-time coverage and at the same time high bandwidth that the teams demand.

There is a growing demand for faster connectivity and bi-directional connectivity which will allow teams to send data back to their factories more efficiently and do more with the data.

Beyond that, what is very interesting is that McLaren Electronic Systems and Freescale which makes the micro-controllers, are using the learnings from F1 telemetry to play a part in a revolution in the automotive world, with the “connected car”; external data coming to the car is going to be used to affect the way the car is driven to make it safer and more efficient, two goals that it shares with F1.

Currently we see the “connected car” concept in technology like dynamic traffic management systems, which link in with Sat Navs to reroute cars away from congestion. But looking further ahead things like anti-collision radar technology and more sophisticated vehicle-to-vehicle communications will make motoring safer and more efficient.

Underpinning the connected car concept on the road is a robust infrastructure. How do you connect cars that are travelling at speed, through tunnels and forests and so on in order to build intelligence between the vehicles? F1 has already had to crack that problem over the last 20 years and still has to crack it every two weeks in a completely different environment.

Every two weeks F1 gets to test, develop, improve and evolve with 24 very fast moving vehicles.

F1 needs to get the details right, ironing out the imperfections to ensure a robust connection. F1 is one of very few test beds for this technology. Also F1’s cycles are very fast, it changes from race to race and season to season, there is pressure to innovate and get it out there, whereas automotive development cycles can be six or seven years.

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Hi James,

I remembered having entered a reply to comments 8 and 9, explaining why this was not a ‘REVOLUTION’ and how mobile networks support and would be used here, but don’t see it anymore….



Have Tata been involved in all this James? Because Bernie shoved/sold his responsibility in providing hard wired connection at the tracks over to Tata. The online FOM timing page had TATA writ large upon the bottom of the screen, suggesting it is involved in the timing data provision/transmission. It seems pretty obvious to me that if there is an outfit there already laying cables round the track, for marshal comms and signalling lights, it would have been easy (at the time) to include some extra fibre optic cabling from antenna stations/amplifiers back to the pits.

The rules this year allow the FIA at any time, to require a download of all/any data including live stream onto and FIA laptop. All live/streamed data has to be recorded and kept in case the FIA want to look at it later.


I guess this explains why Pat Fry and Andrea Stella were looking pretty flustered halfway through the weekend.


Interesting stuff James. I’m presuming the Ferraris were still able to transmit data from the track using the phone network & satellite when the team encountered the electrical problems?

Exciting stuff. It would definitely be worth paying for live streaming of your favorite driver/s

Directly to your phone via an app. Would have no problem paying for that – I’m guessing that’s not too far away.


Kimi in military training


I wonder how long it will be until road cars are made to carry a ‘black box’ carrying all their data, and possibly even transmitting it in real time.

Imagine if, after a car crash, insurers and the police could review all the telemetry and determine the speeds cars were travelling, and any steering and brake inputs – in order to determine fault – in the same way they do in F1.

Or if you could get done for speeding without ever being seen by a speed camera…


This is why nobody wants it – it’s a violation of human rights in many ways and would need some significant changes to road fund, tax and insurance laws for it to a) work and b) work fairly.

Don’t forget – people who want to speed fool the speed cameras by doing simple things like wrapping their plates in cling-film. They’ll find a way past any black box ‘the man’ makes them carry and the rest of us will pay for it.

There’s also the question of who is going to pay for every car to have one – I can guarantee it won’t be the government or the insurers. Road Tax or Insurance won’t go down either.


This has existed for some years now.

Many ECUs in modern cars log data on a rolling basis, and a “roll-up” of the data can be downloaded when the car is serviced. It’s not a stretch to expect this same download to be done in a post-accident scenario.

Further, many insurance companies now offer the option of reduced rates if you have one of their “black boxes” installed.

Further still, the “road pricing” lobby in the UK has been attempting to mandate such boxes for a while, in order to bill people varied amounts for using certain roads at certain times.

Oh, and if you have one of those EZ-Pass “instant toll payment” devices on your windscreen, you’ve already joined that club 🙂


How does the data get to the factory when it fails to reach the pit wall?


It’s called a network… 🙂


Because the actual failure was other than described by those unversed in the minutia of IT infrastructure engineering… Instead, the explanation was one that the team management, journalists and viewers could readily accept and move on.

(I mean no disrespect to any of the above listed – however, in-depth discussions of IT infrastructure issues tend to be incredibly tedious and dull for anyone other than those who understand it)

The telemetry data is actually fed in the first instance to racks of servers in the back of each team garage (you can sometimes see them on the post-race garage walk-throughs). From there, the raw data is stored locally on big disk arrays and also undergoes an initial processing, after which it is fed to the factory and the prat perch.

The most likely scenario is that the data feed to the PP failed (cable, switch or router failure), which is why Rob Smedley and Co. disappeared into the garage for a few laps where the data was still visible (while people like me got the “technical” things working again)…


Reading this article, and the associated comments, just leads me to believe that there is a huge opportunity for someone to integrate this data into a premium Formula 1 product. Formula 1’s live timing system goes part way with only timing data and the app provides details on where cars are on the track. If the service was available with HD video, timing data, and car data as well I would certainly be in line to pay money for it. The NFL makes money selling a yearly online subscription to NFL games with added features that the TV networks don’t have, and Formula 1 is missing out by not doing the same.


Already been done, several years ago. As I remember, you had the main FOM broadcast channel, one dedicated to live timing, and several other secondary channels (one cycling through on-board footage of various cars, etc.)

All this was available on a pay-per-view basis and was awesome and engaging for fans.

Evidently, it seems like it did not work financially because it only lasted for a year or two.


Ralph P, from your days at ESPN says hello James, and loves this high-tech insight discussion.


Hello to Ralph! Give him my regards thanks!


Thanks for this insightful article, James 🙂

Tornillo Amarillo

Awesome information!



Do you have any information on the use of two way telemetry back before 2002?

There were rumours (untrue i suspect) that Honda used to use it in the 80’s and 90’s to turn engines down etc.


More of this technical insight please James.

I find it fascinating.


That’s why we’ve created this Innovation and Technology section


squeaker – is that the right english word? A few squeakers, with lacking imagination in this article, it seems.

The two way car communications would really have made a difference for this season, had it been present. No GRO-HAM crash in SPA, no need for GRO ban, ALO +18 WDC points. Not bad at all.


How would two-way comms have prevented an inexperienced French driver crashing into someone else at a notorious F1 accident spot?


James, very interesting article. This shows how F1 really is a platform for innovation in may areas!!

Small correction, telephony works even at speeds way faster than 60mph. The exact speed depends on many factors, network implementation, environment, etc. but I think most of us have gone in the car at that speed and we had no problem with reception..

Sterling Mindenhall

“Once you go beyond 60mph telephony doesn’t work…”



Talking about judging an article by its title. Please read the content before making a judgment call !

James, thanks for your invaluable insight.


The fact that it only affected Ferrari makes one assume it was a Ferrari problem. How this relates to ‘Monza is helping to shape a revolution in automotive world’ is beyond me.


Read the story! The difficulty of getting data through in a place like Monza has taught engineers lessons that are being rolled out in automotive


I read the story and to me it’s obvious that “is helping” should have been written as “helped”. BTW, some scientists did a study of the effect of electro-magnetic radiation on animals and concluded that even every-day levels of it either initiated or increased the level of their mental and physical problems. One can safely conclude that it does the same to humans.


Electromagnetic Radiation, what like visible light or x-rays or radio waves. How much, how intense?

Yes Electromagnetic Radiation could quite possible cause problems, but that’s just simply because of it’s thermal nature. EM Radiation is absorbed by cells and they are heated up, but this could cause cell degradation.

However you must remember that every day we are bombarded by absolutely huge amounts of EM radiation, the majority of which is completely “natural” in its source. Be careful of what you read, I’m not saying those scientists are wrong, but analyse it sensibly to get a real picture of what they are saying. Don’t just take the Daily Mail-esque snippet and believe we are all doomed…!


Electromagnetic radiation and mental problems in animals…? How did “some scientists” investigate this, references please.


It’s an on-going process, changing all the time…so ‘is helping”.


Unless they’ve done all that can possibly be done, and there will never be any improvements to the system ‘is helping’ is correct since it is a continuing effort.


Was there not a telemetry failure on one of the Mercedes powered cars in Practice at a GP last year (or 2010). I only remember as the car affected was not allowed to do any running until it was fixed. Mercedes do not allow their engines to run if there is no data being trasmitted; at least that was what the audience was told at the time. Ferrari may have a difference stance, but it made me wonder. What if a Mercedes powered car lost telemetry like Massa in a race, would Mercedes demand the car stop or let it continue?


The cars were not the problem – The problem was the pit wall. As James says in the article, the cars were still transmitting to the base in Maranello, so there was just a delay in getting the live information (via mobile phone).

I guess it was just lucky they were only a short (relative) distance to their home base – any other race and they’d have been screwed.


With 4G mobile networks the infrastructure is in place. Many companies, such as security firms, use mobile networks to track the whereabouts of their vehicles and to transmit data


Do you reckon the fans will ever get to view the realtime telemetry feed, or components of it at least?


You could try asking Lewis Hamilton 😉


No, it’s secret info I guess that gives away details about the car.

There must be a basic level that can be visible


I remember back when we were running the F1 Digital+ service a decade ago we tried to get telemetry for the coverage & teams refused to give any to us.

In the end what we did was bring in a guy who’s name I forget to help develop a system where we could generate Rev’s based on engine audio from the microphone used for the in-car camera system.

We began using the system on the TV broadcasts in 2000 & were told by engine manufacturer’s that the readings were were very accurate, So accurate that we were occasionally asked not to show the rev counter at the end of some of the longer straghts.

From around 2004 we ended up been given live real time access to some telemetry (Revs, speed, throttle, brake, G-force & now kers & drs) which is why we have the more advanced telemetry display on TV now.

FOM do have access to more telemetry info, I remember we came up with graphics for tyre temperature, Brake bias & Brake temperature just before I left at the end of 2007 & I think briefly used them on TV in a race or 2, Not sure why that wasn’t used further or why more info hasn’t been used on TV.


It went back earlier than that. I was working for ESPN in 1993 and we had on screen graphics from Ford of the engine, gears etc on Schumacher and Patrese’s cars.

In those days TV companies could direct there own coverage – cut in and out of the world feed with on board camera feeds and their own pit cameras etc.

We used to cut up an ob-board shot of Schumacher and then overlay the graphics.

Those were the days….


“Once you go beyond 60mph telephony doesn’t work”

Actually, this is not true. Mobile telephony works at speeds in excess of 100MPH – just look around the next time you’re on a train…

The issues that the motor industry need to address are security and privacy, in neither of which they have a good track record (pardon the pun).


Updated this, thanks


You’re welcome 🙂


Dear James,

modern mobile systems do support speeds higher than 60mph. In fact, the current 3GPP standards guarantee high-speed data connections for users traveling at 350km/h. I have personally had several non-interrupted phone calls while traveling on high-speed trains at 300km/h, with my 3 years old mobile phone connected to networks built years ago.


Interesting. So the MES team go round each circuit and set up the transmitter/receiver system. How far in advance? How long does it take? Is the crypto like PGP in that each team has a key which they set? I’m assuming the data security is implemented consistently across the units.

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