Tension, Numbers and Timing: The Life of a Telemetry Expert
In Formula 1 there is much talk of telemetry, of how sophisticated and indispensible it is. It is however a very complex topic. To try and understand it, we spoke to Andrea Beneventi, head of Electronic Product Management for Scuderia Ferrari. 47 year old Andrea has been with Ferrari since 2000 and is a true expert in the subject.
Thousands of parameters. “Telemetry is generally understood to be a system that gathers data and parameters linked to the working of the car and making it useable,” he explains to www.ferrari.com. “Each component is monitored continuously. This is of vital importance for the engineers and drivers, because it allows them to more easily find and problems and to correct them for certain.” However, there are still choices to be made. “Obviously, it is impossible to continuously check all the data from the car, because the monitoring channels are limited to a thousand, but there can be twice as many parameters and sensors fitted to the car. Therefore one needs to be able to very quickly find the useful information. It can be for example that a driver complains the car is handling in a strange way. In this case, the engineers try to find what could have caused this, targeting data from the components that are likely to have caused this malfunction. The quicker and more able the engineers, the quicker the problem can be found and solved.”
Impressive numbers. Telemetry has advanced enormously. Up to twenty years ago, the data from an entire Grand Prix could be loaded onto one floppy disk, whereas now, it takes an entire hard drive. On average, for every lap, a Formula 1 car produces 35 megabytes of data, while over a race weekend with two cars, one has around 30 gigabytes. “No other form of motorsport uses telemetry as efficient as in Formula 1,” claims Beneventi. “For example, in GP2 there is probably 35-40% fewer parameters monitored, because the complexity of the telemetry is linked to that of the car. Today, for example, cars competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours have a very sophisticated telemetry system.”
Vital tool. Over a race weekend, there are no fewer than a hundred people at the track and in the remote garage at Maranello studying the data from the cars’ electronic control units and analysis continues in the week after the race. The information arrives via radio in real time, with an actual delay of just 2 to 4 seconds. The large number of engineers that monitor the data therefore provide the driver with the most precise answers to his questions. Therefore it is essential that the driver knows how to read the telemetry. Helping him in this task are the race engineer and the performance engineer, who in a very short space of time and very accurately, have the ability to interpret the most important data when it comes to setting a good lap time. During practice and qualifying, the engineers show the driver the data from the previous laps, indicating where he might be able to go a few hundredths quicker. To do this, they develop an almost symbiotic relationship, with the race engineer, performance engineer and driver having real trust and confidence in one another.
Being a telemetry expert. Mastering telemetry is not easy. The amount of data, its complexity, the frenetic pace at which it functions, the ability to react to the difficulties that present themselves, mean it is a real art and not at all an easy one to master, before one can work in this field. “Usually, the people who do it are computer engineers or specialists in control systems. At Scuderia Ferrari we do a lot of tests, in specific rooms where we simulate many different situations. “It is used for those who work in this field, but also for the entire team, because it should never happen that anyone is stumped by a real problem. Normally an engineer must undergo an apprenticeship of at least six months, but it might even last a year. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that everyone will finish the course. On this front, a person’s character also comes into play”, reckons Beneventi. “It is very complex and the telemetry guys are among the first to arrive at the circuit. They help to set up the garage and then fit it with all the necessary cabling. They live their weekend alongside the drivers and for them too the race is a marathon for over 90 minutes without pausing for breath.”
Source: Ferrari Media