[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 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.