Racing in a Grand Prix requires control, precision, and making the right choices at the right time. When you add inclement weather to the mix, strategic decision making becomes even more crucial. But as with most elements of the racing equation, using data to facilitate those decisions can be the ticket to the podium.
NetApp’s cloud technology helped partner Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One™ Team secure their best team result of the 2022 season in Singapore, Lance Stroll finished sixth and Sebastian Vettel came in eighth.
Weather 20/20 uses Spot by NetApp® to extract weather data and apply their wisdom to forthcoming races using advanced weather simulation and modelling systems. For teams like Aston Martin F1, having weather updates in real time can mean the difference between success and failure on the track.
“There are many ways that weather influences the performance of a race car on track,” says Peter Hall, Head of Race Strategy for Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team. “Whilst extreme weather can influence whether or not a race takes place at its scheduled time, any weather condition influences strategy decisions and car setup. So it's something we are always monitoring, in the build-up to a Grand Prix, over the course of a race weekend, and then minute by minute over the course of a session, particularly during qualifying or the race.”
Wet or Dry?
You don’t have to be a professional race car driver to know that wet roads are slick and often unpredictable. A wet track is harder for tires to grip, and cooler air temperatures can impact tire pressure. For the typical driver, maneuvering in wet driving conditions just means slowing down—but that’s not an option when there's a race to win.
“Wet weather gives us the biggest challenge, but these conditions also frequently provide the most exciting races,” says Hall. “For the driver navigating a wet track, not only is it more difficult to tread their way along the fine line between slip and grip, the penalties when they deviate from the racing line are greater, too.”
Drivers and engineers need to consider a number of factors when preparing for a rainy race. The rate of rain, wet areas on the track, tire selection, and setup and strategy all need to be calculated and investigated—and then changed and adjusted as the rain slows or stops.
According to Hall, “Grip levels do change on a dry track, but nowhere near the magnitude of variation that can be seen in wet conditions. This means looking to the cloud for the best data on demand to determine the best course of action when clouds beckon.”
Over the course of a Grand Prix weekend, even wet practice sessions followed by a dry qualifying session or race can cause conundrums.
“The practice sessions in this sport are used for data accumulation,” explains Hall. “If you have any wet practice sessions, then you don’t have the same amount of contemporary data that you would otherwise, so then it’s even more data processing as you’re modelling with historical data and the information you have been able to accrue in the sessions.”
The right tire is the key to winning a race. But knowing when the right time to move from slicks to inters can be a tough call. Make the right decision, and you’re a hero; make the wrong call, and you quickly go to zero.
Data from previous race weekends, practice sessions, and live monitoring can help engineers make strategic choices.
“A wet race, more precisely, a mixed conditions race, is the most difficult on the pit wall. You need to be able to access data immediately,” says Hall. “In a sport where lap times are measured to thousandths of a second and pit stops take place in around 2 seconds, being on the wrong tire for the conditions can cost as much as 10 seconds or more in extreme cases.
“The worst scenario is being on the wrong tire and ending up in the barriers or stuck in the gravel, retiring from the race. It really is crucial to be able to make the right call, or at least avoid making the wrong one.”
There are two temperatures a race engineer needs to keep an eye on: ambient and track. Ambient temperature—the temperature of the air—impacts driver, car, and tires. Track temperature has a direct impact on tire performance. Tires need to be kept at their optimum operating temperature to deliver their best. Too cold and there isn’t enough pressure, but too hot and they can blister, chunk, or delaminate.
On sunny days, engineers need to be aware of how the track is heating up and how cloud cover might affect pockets of heat or cooler temperatures on the track. It’s also crucial that they pay close attention to how the air temperature is affecting the car itself, including engines, brakes, and batteries, which are all particularly prone to overheating.
The drivers themselves are also at risk of overheating. A driver can lose as much as 3kg of fluid during a race and risk dehydration.
“Even small changes in temperature during the course of a race can have an impact on performance,” explains Hall. “In a dry race, when the choice of which tire strategy to use is marginal, a small change in temperature can have a big impact. It’s another parameter we monitor very closely.”
Formula One™ cars rely on aerodynamic technology to maximize the pace potential of the car package, but how the car slices through the air can be difficult to determine away from the laboratory environment of the wind tunnel. The wind is much harder to predict in its natural environment.
A headwind can assist in downforce generation, whereas a tailwind—especially an erratic one—can make gauging braking points a challenge.
“How a Formula One car cuts through the wind is something that occupies a tremendous amount of resources for the teams,” says Hall. “In the wind tunnel, we control the direction of the wind, but on the track, we’re looking at real-world information to help us make decisions for wing level and setup. Strong and unexpected winds can make a car very difficult to drive, so anything we can do to mitigate against this is beneficial.
“In 2022, controlling the level of porpoising is critical to keeping the car both legal and driveable. Predicting changes in wind that may affect the level of porpoising the driver experiences can allow the team to get closer to the race day optimum setup.”
Historical data can serve as a guide, but in this era of climate change, past performance is not necessarily a guide to future potential. Nevertheless, it assists in the decision-making process.
For example, Austin, Texas generally has dry and pleasant conditions come race week—but there have certainly been instances of unpredictable weather. In 2015, conditions were so wet on Saturday that qualifying was rescheduled to Sunday morning. In 2018, rain on Friday afternoon confined the teams to their garages for the first 45 minutes of FP2.
Even dry climates can cause issues. The Dallas Grand Prix in 1984 saw temperatures of 38°C (100°F), causing many issues, including the track surface breaking up. Tire supplier Goodyear recorded the highest track temperature in their 20 years of F1 racing at 66°C (150°F).
As a team, Aston Martin F1 harnesses NetApp’s solutions to gain speed on and off the track. And just as racing conditions require constant adjustments, NetApp’s cloud solutions are evolving as well.
“For all of these scenarios, we rely on the flow of data to enable decisions to be made and problems avoided, [so that] success can occur,” says Hall. “NetApp helps us make decisions; it gives us a platform to access data anywhere. Data is essential for us to improve.”
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