Analysis: How Mercedes has one-upped rivals in pitlane data-sharing

Mercedes' F1 dominance is not limited to the hybrid power units that long ago proved themselves to be the cream of the 2014 regulations' crop, as Kate Walker explains.

Analysis: How Mercedes has one-upped rivals in pitlane data-sharing
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 Team W07
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 Team W07
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid celebrates in parc ferme
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid in the pits
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
The damaged nose of the Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid of Lewis Hamilton
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 Team

Far from the watchful eye of the public, Mercedes and technical partners Qualcomm are hard at work maximising their high-speed data transfer capabilities, giving the Silver Arrows a unique advantage over the competition.

The Qualcomm-Mercedes 5GHz data-sharing project was first unveiled to the media as a proof-of-concept at last year's US Grand Prix in Austin, although at that point the technology was effectively in active beta testing.

"We were proud when Mercedes came to talk to us a couple of years ago about the gathering of the infrared data of how the tyre was performing," recalled Graeme Davison, Vice President of Technology at Qualcomm.

"At that time [they] were plugging in and pulling data off, same as the other teams are doing now, and they asked if we could come up with a wireless solution to do that. Within a couple of weeks we had dreamt up a completely new way of using WiFi.

"Because we were using our own chips, we could get down to the core of how they actually functioned.

"We ripped them back to core level and built them all back up again to a WiFi that doesn't look anything like you have at home, hence the phenomenal speeds.

"The original vision we had was that when the car was rolled into the garage, we'd get the data while it was stationary. But we discovered that we actually connect and start downloading as the car comes into the pits.

"We can pull up huge amounts of data in a couple of seconds, and it's a great benefit to the team to be able to get that - instantaneous use."

"Through this project, we have learned new ways to use Wi-Fi in the automotive environment," Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm Incorporated, said of the launch.

"Innovation in motorsport often drives the advancements seen in the consumer auto industry, and we believe this technology, as well as other advanced wireless technologies, has the potential to shape future developments in Dedicated Short Range Communications, Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communications.

"These types of technologies will lead to increased driver safety and provide important data regarding the vehicle's journey."

The competitive edge

Where the technology pertains to Mercedes is in the team's currently unique ability to begin pulling session data from their cars while the vehicles are still moving down the pitlane.

On Thursday in Monaco, this allowed the team to get to grips with the ultrasoft tyre compound despite not having run the rubber in pre- or in-season tests.

The amount of tyre data alone generated during a single practice session is equivalent to two full seasons of Game of Thrones, and there are significant advantages to be gained by beginning the process of data analysis while your rivals are still downloading their data.

"The faster you make that process, the faster you find new directions," explained Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe.

"In the past, to get a download you would typically have to delay your car [in the garage] which you don't want to do in a practice session. We may only have five or six unique runs during a practice session and this means we can make every one count.

"One of the nice things about the new tyre rules is that not only have we got a much softer tyre to run, which is the ultrasoft. It actually works around [Monaco], switches on properly," Lowe added.

"We were right on it from the minute we started P1, as you saw. We were able to immediately think of laps and start gathering the data, start learning about where we were.

"We started that process of gathering the data to analyse how [the ultrasoft] worked, and how it compared to the supersoft."

Speaking to the media on Thursday evening in Monaco, Nico Rosberg had high praise for the strategic advantage Qualcomm's wireless communications technology was giving the team. "All our focus is on that one qualy lap because that's all that counts around here," he said.

"It's all building up to that one qualifying lap in Q3. It's an exciting challenge to see if we can extract a bit more from these tyres. We have so much information on the tyres with sensors here, there and everywhere so that we can capture an accurate picture of what the tyres are actually doing. We have a huge data gathering and that is where Qualcomm come in.

"They send the information from the car to the garage before we actually get to the garage - as I'm coming down the pitlane, all the engineers have everything already. Whereas other teams… for sure we're ahead of the game on that.

"We have everything when we get to the garage, while other teams have to wait till they download information [over] cable. They've provided us with some superfast data transfer systems, and that's been helping us for sure."

Progress

While the speed of data transfer has been impressive since initial testing got underway, in the six months since Austin, significant progress has been made.

What was once the size of a takeaway pizza box and cobbled together with off-the-shelf components has been refined with customized parts and is now the size of a matchbox - far better suited to integration into the narrow confines of a Formula 1 car.

"In Austin the proof of concept we ran was actually an off-the-shelf development board - we just needed to see if we could get the thing working," Davison explained.

"The [size] gave us humongous nightmares over where we were going to put it in the car - there's not a lot of spare space inside a Formula 1 car!

"Once we proved the process worked, we started thinking of the architecture of the radio, made a whole bunch of changes to that.

"Then we looked at changing the board and developing our own. [The current version] is made out of automotive-grade components, while the [proof of concept] was made from consumer-grade, as we just wanted to get it in and working.

"We've made it smaller, we've made it much more robust both mechanically and physically, and we've increased the speed at least three to four times."

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