Infiniti Red Bull tells Techworld how it made its historic defeat in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix – beating Mercedes for the first time - using new technology developments that gave its drivers the best chance possible on the Formula 1 track.

The Infiniti Red Bull car boasts speeds of up to 100 miles an hour and back to zero in ten seconds – but that power alone is not enough to win the Grand Prix. A combination of big data, speedy network and a sneaky boost from Sky TV’s broadcasts provided the perfect combination for the team to take advantage of Mercedes’ slip-ups during the Belgian Grand Prix, stealing its crown for the first time in history.

Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo drive for Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo drive for Red Bull

Now it’s hoping for a greater victory with a freshly ramped up network from AT&T so it can collaborate with pit-side engineers and operational teams in France and the UK.

Virtual laps

Like other formula 1 teams, Red Bull models virtual laps using data streamed from the car so it can adjust things like the suspension geometry digitally, for example. The model is sent to the pit-wall engineers so they can make physical changes, equating to around 20,000 design alterations over a single season, meaning the car is effectively entirely redesigned four times over.

The team also use all the extra information they can get their hands on to ensure that they have a good race strategy in place – something that can change within split seconds if information about a competitor becomes available. This can range from live GPS data from the track, aerodynamics and thermal sensing technology, as well as tyre pressure.

But in the case of the Canadian Grand Prix victory, it was live broadcasting that gave Infiniti Red Bull the upper hand.

Listening into rival's communications

“We can listen to the communications from other teams that are aired over the television mid race to help our strategy,” said Al Peasland, the Head of Technical Partnerships for Infiniti Red Bull Racing at their Formula One operation in the UK.

The ten dedicated data analysts sit in the telemetry room at Milton Keynes watching these different feeds including the slow motion footage. This allows them to see competitors fly over a part of a race track that Infiniti Red Bull has already scanned for geometric detail and know exactly how their car works in that apex.

This allows the team to gather how the competitor is performing: how the car is coping, how much pressure in its tyres. Ultimately, “because we understand our car intimately around that bit of the track we are able to compare that with competition. That helps us build a strategy around the race.”

During the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Lewis Hamilton suffered a collision with fellow Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg’s and the driver's communications were broadcast over Sky. 

Rosberg was told to "hang it out" by the Mercedes engineers which means Red Bull, currently in fifth place, knew their competitors were keeping to their usual strategy and knew when they would take a pit stop, but knew that they would struggle to get there as the car was not performing right following a collision. 

Infiniti Red Bull got a glimpse of the strategy and where able to predict when Mercedes would be pit-stopping and the damage the car had suffered.  “The strategy team could see in to the future”, Peasland added.

The team stores its data in an on-premise software defined datacentre with an ecosystem of various hardware and software suppliers including Siemens PLC for computer assisted design. It has a larger IT team that offers support as well as writing some of the strategy software in house.

Mobile thermal imaging devices

While Peasland admitted that the win was down to picking holes in Mercedes strategy rather than being the very best car, it is working with other technology partners to improve its motoring. One example is thermal imaging, which can quickly tell engineers which parts are too hot or too cold.

Some components could reach 1,000 degrees while sat beside composite body work – a recipe for disaster if not monitoring. The team is currently trialling mobile thermal imaging with FLIR cameras on Bluetooth devices. This eliminates the snail trail of devices used to upload photos taken on a digital camera and then edited and emailed to the engineers.

No more gut feelings

Without a strong network to supply real-time data, Infiniti Red Bull would struggle. It has extended its sponsorship deal with network provider AT&T who provide wireless network at the pit wall and in the garages as well as connecting to the global AT&T global VPN and the guest wifi at each circuit.

Latency is at its worst during the Australian circuit, and even then data is sent from the car to the UK within 300 milliseconds, Peasland said.

It has ramped up its network now that it is using Renault’s factory operations to monitor engine data in real time too. With the extra speed, reliability and data to pool, Infiniti Red Bull hopes it’s on to a winner on July 26 in Hungary and back to its former glory, despite recent struggles. 

“Nothing in this sport is done on gut feeling anymore,” he added.

Al has been with Infiniti Red Bull Racing for eight years, during which time he has managed several large scale PLM and CAD software upgrades, as well as driving the PLM solution forwards and increasing the companies use of advanced design and management technologies.