In the latest of our occasional series of interviews with interesting players behind the scenes in Formula 1 we meet a Russian scientist, who is keeping the Toro Rosso safe from cyber attacks and who has big plans for using quantum computers to create new F1 materials.
Acronis is a data support and protection business that was founded in 2003. It reportedly has five million personal consumers and 500,000 businesses using its technology in over 145 countries and offers services such as cloud security, data back up and recovery support.
Here James Allen interviews Acronis CEO Serguei Beloussov, who has a PhD in physics and sits on the board of directors at the Russian Quantum Center and Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, about why Acronis has decided to spend its money on F1.
Q: We hear increasingly about cyber attacks in the outside world, is data encryption and security a first order priority in F1?
SB: I am surprised there are very little security concerns in Formula 1, so somehow I guess Formula 1 is not a big target, for now. It is surprising for me because I am very familiar with the underworld of computer security and everybody is a target. For example, us, we get security attacks every day [as do] Microsoft, Google, anybody.
It is relatively easy to attack sensors (on cars). I technically and mechanically understand how to do it and I’m surprised that nobody hacks in. I’m on the white side of this, but I think it will be a concern and there are definitely [needs for] encryption and protection of data to make it better for Toro Rosso and hopefully for other teams.
But protecting their networks and protecting their systems, I think that should also be a concern [for the teams] and it is not right now.
Q: You are very interested in quantum computing, how is that changing F1?
Serguei Beloussov: I’m a physicist by education and I studied at one of the top institutes for physics so I understand the quantum mechanics field well. Quantum computers was originally proposed by the Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman [who] wrote one of the most popular books about physics.
The problem that he was trying to solve at that time was that in order to model a system of atoms, you need to solve a Heisenberg equation and it’s impossible to solve [that] on a classical computer because [with] the computational complexity on a classical computer you can solve it [with] a ten spin model but say for example [on] a several hundred spin model – several hundred atoms– you cannot solve it anymore. This is because you require a computer that will have two and three hundred times [the] spin.
Now, on a quantum computer at the time of Feynman, [and] he wasn’t thinking about it as a universal computer, you can basically make any system and you can simulate matter and that way you can make material with a necessary quality. For example, if you simulate steel to [have] exactly the [same] behaviour of steel in the case of when you pull it out [and] pull it in. Then you change it a little bit and see what happens.
[With a quantum computer] you can simulate steel and change it a little bit and see what happens in real time. You don’t need to actually make the steel to see what happens. Not only [that], but you can also see how it changes. Basically you can simulate matter and so that’s why you can make new materials.
Q: So let’s bring that to Formula 1 and why you are here.
SB: It’s not exactly related. I think quantum computers for Formula 1; they can do a lot of things because this sport is about new materials. For example they can make 100 times better batteries or ten times better conduction of heat to electricity.
Q: So are quantum computers going to help F1 innovators to build 100 times better batteries?
SB: Yes, because a battery is a set of physical processes that today are instanced like in the old days of alchemy where people change it a little bit and they have some formulas that provide approximate behaviour [but] it’s not fine-tuned. With the quantum computer you can actually simulate the processes precisely and you can make a better battery much faster.
What happens every year with batteries is that people make a battery, measure it, look at it and then they change it a little bit and it gets worse so they change [another] little bit and it gets better, and then the next case is a little bit of a better battery. [But] with a quantum computer you can do all of this at once in one big step and you get to the ultimate final product. Everything in the F1 cars is materials so quantum computers can change them a lot.
Q: So it that your interest here, marketing and materials?
SB: Quantum computers have relatively little to do with Acronis. [But], we are interested in quantum computers because there is some application in quantum technology [and] also it is my personal interest.
For Formula 1, we are interested because there is a lot of data. Almost every sponsor in F1 has a lot of different products that have some relation to F1, but [they] have a lot of other products that have no relation to F1.
Red Bull, people can drink Red Bull, but there is not a direct relation. Banking is another one; there is no direct relation. But for us, we have five products at the moment: back up, recovery, storage, file sharing and monitoring [and] every product can be used in Formula 1. Two products are used; the other three will be used before the end of next year.
They can be used to make the sensors more reliable. Everything in [F1] is computers. Everybody has some kind of computer [and] everything is modelled, and if the computers break that is bad.
We can make everything faster – that is also important because you can collect more data and send more data to [the Toro Rosso factory at] Faenza and they can analyse it better. And we can make sensors cheaper. And cheaper is very important because if you look at Formula 1 in the days of Niki Lauda, IT budgets were one per cent, [maybe] 0.1 per cent. But if you look at Formula 1 today it’s like ten per cent because you have all of the systems that simulate the behaviour of the car.
You have computational fluid dynamics that simulates the behaviour of the car, so it is a very significant part of the budget. So, every part of the budget that you can save you can spend on engineering.
Q: Formula 1 is technology driven sport – is that what attracts you?
SB: Yes, I like it. It is good. It is a little bit sad that the regulations do not make it more competitive, and I’m not sure why because it is not difficult. They talk about it and one thing they should do, I think, [is] that for all of the teams you should limit their budgets. That’s a main parameter – I think it’s not fun when you have teams with completely different budgets trying to compete. It can be different, but let’s say you [used to] have 150m-100m and now you have 50m to 500m.
Otherwise it is a good sport. I think something that is sad is that there is not enough attention [paid] to designers and to engineers. There is [some], but not really enough I think. [With] the engineers – how many people know the names of the drivers? Many. How many people know the names of the constructors? Very few. In fact in many cases constructors are more important that the drivers.
[But] I think it is a good sport. Although I think all of the teams need to beef up their security. Personally, I am puzzled how the teams are not really caring about security. It’s very strange.
Q: But Ferrari has a relationship with Kaspersky, presumably everyone has a relationship like that?
SB: Not everybody. Even Kaspersky, I don’t think they do too much for security. I know Kaspersky very well personally and they are a big partner [of Acronis] – they sell our products and we sell their products, and their head of security research is working for me and they employ many people [from us].
We have 1,000 people but 500 are in Russia and in Russia we are one of the top three employers for top engineers. Kaspersky is another one, and so we definitely have a lot of exchanges and so I don’t think it’s used as much for Ferrari.
What do you make of Beloussov’s comments? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.