How Formula 1 turns 3D printing, big data and crappy bandwidth into sport

Sectors | Sports   |   
Published November 22, 2013   |   
Stacey Higginbotham

What draws people to engineering and technology is generally the effort to create the best possible product within a series of technical or physical constraints. That same effort to solve a problem underlies the technology behind a Formula 1 race team, although like a race car, engineering decisions have to happen quickly and there is enough tolerance for risk to make a wild experiment every now and again.

After talking to the Lotus Formula One team last Thursday before the team took second at the Formula 1 US Grand Prix, it honestly seems like the best job in the world. Every two weeks during the season (or sometimes every week), the race team is out testing their hunches on the track after hours of testing in computer simulations. Then on weekends those hunches are tested on a racetrack. The whole effort brings together technologies as diverse as computational fluid dynamics and 3D printing. Even big data gets a day in the sun, although the one lament heard repeatedly was about poor bandwidth.

It seems that while the cars can achieve speeds of 200 miles per hour, the Lotus F1 team has to endure a data rate of just 10 Mbps feeding the servers and exporting that data at the track. That’s right, your broadband is probably faster than what these guys buy at the track. When I visited the track last week I was a guest of Avanade, a technical partner of the team. Avanade, a Microsoft consultancy, provides about 20 full-time staff members who work directly with the Lotus team. They are about half of the whole Lotus IT shop, which eats up about 10 percent of the team budget.

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