Insight: Inside McLaren’s secretive F1 operations room, “Mission Control”
Innovation
McLaren Mission Control
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  11 Jul 2016   |  8:04 am GMT  |  62 comments

“Formula 1 is the probably the world’s most secretive sport and McLaren is known as one of the most secretive teams,” were the opening words on a tour down the McLaren Technology Centre’s history lined boulevard.

During FP1 for this weekend’s British Grand Prix, JAonF1 was offered the chance to take a look behind that secrecy and inside McLaren’s famous “Mission Control” centre at its Woking factory.

A few months earlier, the British team had opened a small viewing gallery next to the private communications room that live monitors the system’s of the McLaren cars competing in Grand Prix events around the world.

McLaren Technology Centre

Viewed from the adjacent room are three banks of desks, staggered upwards in height from front to back, which are manned by 13 McLaren engineers, with several screens at the front of the room showing the various FOM TV feeds of the on-tract action at Silverstone. Although a Grand Prix practice session is only 90-minutes long, during the long hours of winter testing these engineers will work in shifts to cover the duration of the day’s running.

We’re told to think of Mission Control along the same lines as NASA’s famous set-up in Houston, although the F1 equivalent is obviously smaller. The first row of engineers is dedicated to checking the health of the two cars as they traverse Silverstone’s 5.891-km layout and they will alert the race team to any problems they see occurring from the data.

McLaren Mission Control

The back row of three engineers is dedicated purely to race strategy. Both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have one strategist each, and they are separated by another, who is purely concerned with picking the best plan for the overall result of the team.

A Grand Prix Friday is the busiest day for the engineers inside Mission Control as they chase the best set-ups and strategy for their drivers to use during the race. It’s quiet inside – none of these analysts will speak to the drivers directly and to avoid unnecessary radio clutter, a lot of the communication takes place via a secure instant chat messenger system.

McLaren has a similar set-up known as the “war room”, where a separate team of engineers study the aerodynamic data sent back by the cars to check it is matching what the team’s simulator and computer systems have indicated.

Jenson Button

Inside the viewing gallery, which will mainly be provided to McLaren’s partners, three screens are divided to show the pictures of the action on track, live timing and a visualisation of the reams of data coming from the cars.

On the third screen, two maps show the position of all the cars on the circuit – one large circle and one map of Silverstone. The circle is deliberately simple to show exactly how many seconds separate the cars currently running, while the track map is there to make sure the engineers only talk to the drivers when they on the straights and not in the corners. During a race, the circular map will show the engineers precisely when a pitstop window is opened.

Visitors to the gallery can listen in via headphones to the team’s communications at any track. During FP1 at Silverstone, when the drivers are sent out of the pits, the majority of radio calls are to inform them of gaps to other cars – “Fernando, plus six to Palmer on a timed lap.” Button is warned he will be near to Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes when he leaves the pitlane and the short gap between the labels on the circular map is translated into the length of Silverstone’s National pit straight on the track guide.

Jenson Button

When the drivers return to their garages after a ten-lap run mid-way through the session, both Button and Alonso spend time giving detailed feedback about the handling of their cars. “The circuit is very bumpy this year,” reports the Briton, “it’s unsettling the car.” Alonso suggests the team prepares a “special toggle” for Turn 3, presumably to help his passage through the tight right-hander.

Although F1 team radio has been massively restricted in 2016, McLaren’s engineers can still be heard giving orders in codes. These are changed for every event, just in case another team is listening in – secretive indeed.

McLaren announces new data partnership

Every F1 team sends a vast amount of information across the world from a racetrack to their own live monitoring set-ups at their own factories, and this requires a safe, reliable, and above all, fast data transfer network.

Shoji-san and Ron Dennis

McLaren recently revealed a new technology partnership with the NTT Communications Corporation, the ICT solutions and international communications business within the Japanese NTT Group.

The initial three-year deal will provide McLaren with network, cloud, data connectivity and systems for the team’s IT strategy, which it says is concentrated on “cloud, mobility and people centric services”.

Speaking when the partnership was announced, McLaren boss Ron Dennis explained how data transfer systems were invaluable to the worldwide operations of an F1 team.

Jenson Button

He said: “Data plays such a key part in motorsport. Our team could be anywhere in the world, it happens to be at Silverstone [this weekend]. But one thing that is very apparent is that the heart of our team is our partnership with Honda.

“We have to have the right people in the right places and inevitably, if we were not blessed with high-speed communications, these people would all have to be collectively hubbed around Silverstone.

“But they’re not, they are connected in real time and Mission Control is a very imperative entity. We have a duplicate version of it at the circuit and [another] at Honda’s R&D facility.

“We are simulating something approaching 300,000 races per second during the course of a Grand Prix and that data provides us with the ability to optimise the strategy and optimise the configuration of the car.”

McLaren wheel hub

Dennis also illustrated the huge amount of information that is measured by every F1 car as he described the processing power of an MP4-31’s wheel hub, which he called “small beer” compared to that of the complex ERS systems in today’s V6 turbo power units.

He said: “Each wheel hub has its own processing power, we don’t even take data from the sensors that surround the wheel [that measure] brake temperatures, brake wear, tyre pressures, G-Forces – all of this gets processed actually in the wheel hub – it doesn’t even get transmitted to the central ECU, the Electronic Control Unit.

“If driver locks a brake or the wheel throws itself out of balance, we’re monitoring the vibration that creates against a model that says, “if the driver continues with this level of vibration the suspension will fail,” or the opposite, “we can cope with this vibration”.

“And that is small beer – very insignificant compared to the Energy Recovery Systems on the car.”

Fernando Alonso

Speaking alongside Dennis was Tetsuya Shoji, President and CEO, NTT Communications, who said: “I am thrilled that NTT Communications is now a Technology Partner for McLaren-Honda, a symbol of innovation for motorsport fans worldwide.

“The NTT Communications technology repertoire is wide and deep, and McLaren’s excellence in Formula 1 is world renowned. With innovation a part of the DNA of both companies, this partnership will help McLaren-Honda transform how it manages the data generated during Formula 1 races and transcend hitherto established boundaries in motorsports racing.”

What do you make of McLaren’s Mission Control and how F1 teams transmit huge amounts of data around the world during Grand Prix events? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

This article sums up all that is wrong with f1. What a huge waste of resource to achieve what a smart, trackside manager could do without batting an eyelid…

Nobody watching the track action gives a flying $%^&k about how many computers are analysing every pebble on the track…

Time to call a halt to this stupidity…

2

Nice setup but kind of depressing when you have no hope of winning a race. Maybe they should’ve spent the money on making the car go faster?

3

Not sure of I’m too late to comment on this article, but I for one love all this “techy stuff” and it’s one of the main reasons I will always love F1

You can’t be seen to be the pinnicle of motorsport by the wider public if you dont keep up with technology.

I know most of the comments on here thus far are tongue in cheek re the amount of tech versus actual current results but I still think (whish/hope /dream) that the Macca/Honda pairing will come to fruition and they will be back to their winning ways.

A couple of points / questions

1) It would be great to do a feature like this on all the teams on the grid…then we can really see the disparity between the major players and ‘the rest’ – I fully understand that this is dependent on the willingness of teams to showcase their operations so to speak.

2) Given the intense nature of the sport, I am guessing there us almost a ‘cold war’ being played out between the teams, especially the big teams with big budgets… ie always trying to be in the lead and bend the rules the fruthest without breaking them. My point is, with all this technology…is “cyber warfare” a thing in F1? Do teams try to hack each other/ is their online espionage? I only ask as recently I saw a clip on the BBC about how, at Wimbledon there is a designated area where they are constantly battling hackers etc trying to either hack or bring down the main website to buy tickets or bring down the live streaming…they showed one screen where you could see the attacks happening real time….and it looked like that scene in “War Games” where WOPR starts attacking and Matthew Brodderick’s character has to counter.

4

James, do you feel honda are now starting to catch up and do you sense alonso will extend his contract with mclaren?

5

Can someone explain why the monitoring of the wheel vibration is done on the wheel hub? The power of cloud computing (which they understand, hence their deal with NTT) is such that the sensors should just upload all their data. This would reduce the weight of electronics on the car.

6

Yes, now I fully understand why McLaren is among the slower cars….
Too much data, too little brains!

7

Trying so hard to stop laughing. Your comment is is hilarious.

8

Is all these neccessary? Yet they still dont appear to have a wining car in the immediate future. Sad for an iconic team. Same with Williams two very good teams now hopelessly trying to regain lost glory but failing.

9

Great Article. Could we get a similar article on Ferrari, please?

10

It’s clearly absolutely vital. That’s why they win every Grand Prix…..

11

I suspect that all teams have similar operations as McLaren, If not, they will soon follow……while McLaren take the flak here for attempting to optimize their decision making.

12

Ground control to Major Ron…

13

@random
Commencing meltdown
Engines gone
Take your protein pills
And put your sneakers on

14

I imagine to some degree all the teams have this sort of thing albeit not at this level. Just seeing the picture of the building you can tell there is a lot of money spent on F1. They say you have to spend money to make money. I’d guess McLaren is making money.
PS: Ya think Ron Dennis is enjoying the drama at Mercedes? I’ll bet!

15

With the results they are getting i doubt that their methodology need be kept secret for any reason but to hide their embarrassment at wasting such an abundance of resources to achieve so little.

16

Looks like it was about time there is limit on data send/received and cut this ugly money adsorbing umbilical cord that is messing up F1. I bet the thing can even calculate if driver has a dump just before the race he’ll finish 4.2 seconds faster! So really drivers are becoming a manager of systems. …… 🙁

17

fantastic edifice to a dying company built on false hopes with other people’s money…time to change has gone they are now in a death spiral. .Two old old ex champions living off yesterday’s dreams..Emperors new clothes mate..they need be told. It’s embarrassing and disgraceful how this once iconic team is on its ass and flogs its dead horse drivers to produce dead horse results then scrape the horse sheet and feed it to the public who seem to lap it up ask for more every week and we sure get it..mission control…space age technology is being piloted by stone age drivers…dam shame.

18

Mission Control? Verrry McLaren! As we are talking about Ron’s mob being the most secretive team, does anyone remember a story from a few years ago about a few old MP4 cars that suddenly came up for sale, and were then quickly bought up by McLaren? There was definitely something strange going on, but I don’t remember the story ever coming out.

19

This is what causes outrageous costs in F1, not (or not only) use of exotic materials and new technology in the design of the car. I would ban real time pits-to-HQ communication; make the engineers at the circuit figure out the strategy, and limit the number of track personnel to level the playing field.

The comparison to NASA is apt. The Apollo space craft was highly automated for its time, being fly-by-wire, a computer necessary even for ‘manual’ flight to interpret the pilot’s inputs and control the appropriate thrusters. The system was too complex for the astronauts to diagnose, and navigation performed from the ground as the on-board systems were not trusted. That’s precisely what we don’t want in F1 – we want the drivers in control with some advice from at-circuit engineers, not cars driven essentially by remote control.

20

The funny thing is McLaren adopts all this communication technology from NTT Docomo but it’s head – Ron Dennis – still uses a fax-simile machine as main message mean. xD
“Do as I say, don’t do as I do.”

What McLaren does is called the paradigm of information.
You have so much data, but you don’t know what to do with it.
McLaren-Honda have so much resources but doesn’t know how to improve the car, lying in the back of the field for years already.

21

It was revealed on the weekend that Ron’s favourite movie is “The Matrix”…

22

Easy to understand – Just like McHonda the original was great, the sequels less so…

23

Good sequels? Knock it of with Godfather Pt.2. We know. Any others?

24

“McHonda” xD
McRonny Dennis
Macaroni Ronzoni, the most italian of british managers.

Instead of the Kiss of Death or Concrete Shoes, Ronzo invented the Window of Shame.
Bad employees will make company to Nemo and Dori in lost & clueless aquarium so the whole world can see them on how-not-to-do-it.

I already can hear: “Paragon we have a problem”. xD

25

No doubt because it’s the best explanation of Deja Vu he’s ever seen. Ron is fond of Deja Vu, as we can clearly see.

26

Maybe RD is gearing up for the whole F1 series going virtual one day. Would save a fortune on travel,wages,cars,drivers etc.
Drivers already coached to be as bland as possible for a seamless switchover.

27

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up as a Force India driver and wear your shirt anyway you want to wear your shirt, say whatever you want to say. You take the red pill, you stay in McLarenland, tuck in your shirt and we upload RonSpeak statement book into your head and I show you how deep the podium-less championship-less rabbit hole goes.

28

You take the red pill if you sign a Maranello contract!

29

I know Pirelli tyres get a lot of criticism, but who scrawled ‘Bo**ox’ on the one in the picture?

30

Ha ha, well spotted. from now on if we don’t agree with someone we can now write 501104 !

31

You would have to wonder, with all this secrecy, if Honda would ever seek to supply their MGU/ICE with another team? ( Probably not.)

32

Honestly, this straight up turns me off F1… Makes the “show” seem less interesting.

Either the recent furor over radio comms, I think radios should just be banned. You have a pit board with X characters on it, the driver has to figure the rest out. Done.

33

better facilities than mercedes and are not ashamed of their performance.
even walker is fed up of mercedes winning. mercedes have only won two years in a row. red bull won four in a row yet walker wasn’t fed up. shame!
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/formulaone/article-3679379/Murray-Walker-Mercedes-winning-boring-fun-gradually-sucked-F1-love-sport.html

34

You know we’ve jumped the shark when Murray says something negative about F1.

35

all very impressive and reminds me of many places I have seen in my time. Not sure they have made many good decisions during a race lately so maybe the stultifying atmosphere you get in these sealed chambers is not conducive to outfoxing the opposition.

36

Gentlemen, You Can’t Fight In Here! This is The War Room!

I don’t know if to be impressed with or afraid of Ron Dennis after seeing this. Is this team just a front for some 007 plot?

37

Yes a big evil plot to steal the WCC trophy from Mercedes. Good luck with that as they seem to have it locked up pretty securely at the moment… But always next year right?

38

If we are declaring them as evil, then we have to agree that they have all the component. However, at no point entering a 007 film do you ever wonder if James Bond makes it out on the other end – hence the reason for you not to fear that MI6 will be overcome. MI6 stands for Mercedes Insurmountable for 6 seasons by the way.

You know, McLaren do meet a whole bunch of evil criteria.
– Behind the scenes the have a out of sight leader who paid 100million fine…woah ha ha ha ha (in an evil way with pinky up to corner of mouth)
– They have a driver who “unknowingly” benefited from the most evil race fixing ever staged as their leader.
– The relationship between the above two is interesting love/hate to say the least. This year when Alonso asked Ron “Do you expect me to talk…to the media Mr. Dennis?” The answer was “No, I expect you to die!”
– They have an innocent triathlete as a distraction to their evilness.
– Since 2014 their cars have been equipped with time travel technology, as demonstrated unintentionally by Alonso when he put the “car” in the wrong mode.
– They have an evil lair, with a pool in front that no doubt reveals a secret tunnel helicopter landing pad entrance, and likely holds man eating sharks <- as if they would have any other kind.

39

Sebee,
Come over to the dark side……search your feelings.

40

I think you’ll find that the pool is full of sharks with frickin’ lasers.

41

Bloody hell. As an F1 fan you are either in the camp who are genuinely inspired by all this stuff – or you belong to the camp who think that for each part of the car that gains its own ‘processing power’ (wheel-hub indeed) a little something inexplicable dies…

Is it not getting gratuitous? Looks like a case of engineers encouraging engineers…

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