In 21st century business, companies that effectively leverage their information resources – thrive. As it turns out, the same is true in Formula One racing. Information – and the insight gained from it – gives racing teams a competitive advantage.
Red Bull Racing offers a fascinating example. After only twelve seasons in Formula One, Red Bull Racing (RBR) has already racked up 58 pole positions, 128 podium finishes, 49 fastest laps, 51 race wins, and four double World Championships. The way the RBR team leverages data, analytics tools, and their high-performance computing (HPC) cluster have been key elements of their success.
Gaining competitive advantage from data collection and analysis is crucial leading up to race day. On the race track, the RBR team analyzes data from more than a hundred sensors to make real-time decisions about car optimization and race strategy. “On Friday and Saturday, we run simulations to help optimize the setup of the car prior to qualifying, and during the race we run simulations to optimize the performance,” notes Matt Cadieux, CIO at Red Bull Racing. “We get multiple data inputs and use advanced analysis tools in order to have a data-driven approach to making optimal decisions.”
But at Red Bull Racing, the power of information is put to work long before race weekend. In its factory in Milton Keynes, UK, the RBR team designs, manufactures, tests, and refines practically every component of its highly sophisticated cars, preparing them to compete in 21 global Grands Prix races. Zoe Chilton, Senior Technical Partnership Manager at Red Bull Racing, explains: “Our success and failure is measured by milliseconds on the track. That means when we’re making decisions, whether it’s here in the factory or on the circuit, we have to be incredibly precise and data-driven.”
Computer-aided design and simulation are hugely important in Formula One racing, where regulations strictly limit the amount of real-world wind-tunnel and track testing the teams can undertake. In fact, the sport’s governing body even limits the number of teraflops that can be used for virtual testing within an eight-week period, so Red Bull Racing must squeeze the greatest possible efficiency and performance out of its IT resources in order to keep evolving its cars throughout the season.
“Within Red Bull Racing, everything is about speed,” states Matt Cadieux. “We need to be fast on the track, but also our business processes need to be fast. The car has about 7,500 unique part numbers on it and evolves so we actually design about 100,000 parts over the course of a season. The speed of the company requires us to have very aggressive product development processes.”
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD), physical testing, and racing telemetry together generate enormous quantities of data for processing, analysis, and storage by Red Bull Racing. Both for CFD and analytics applications, the team must have fast, dependable access to these huge volumes of data. And while the value of this data tends to peak at the moment it is produced, the team may also need to refer back to it days, weeks, months, or even years later.
Red Bull Racing has chosen to base its HPC infrastructure on IBM Spectrum solutions, including IBM Spectrum LSF to handle the scheduling and management of jobs on its HPC cluster, and IBM Spectrum Elastic Storage Server with IBM Spectrum Scale as the hub for data storage and retrieval. The IBM Spectrum solutions also work seamlessly with IBM Aspera to optimize big data file transfers between race tracks and the factory in the UK.
[Learn more about the complete IBM Spectrum LSF workload management solution.]
Matt Cadieux explains: “IBM Spectrum software is used to automate our workflows and provision and schedule our supercomputers; without it, we would significantly slow down car development processes. Equally, we use IBM Spectrum Scale to manage our most critical simulation data. IBM has great products and great engineers that help us get the most out of the products.”
Computational fluid dynamics plays a major role in both the initial design and the constant optimization throughout the course of the racing season. CFD software enables Red Bull Racing to test virtual models of new components, assemblies, or even the entire car to see how the all-important aerodynamics will work. By analyzing the results of CFD computations executed on its IBM Spectrum LSF cluster, the RBR team can refine components much faster and more flexibly than physically prototyping them.
“As generally there’s no silver bullet in F1, you have to iterate to get to a better component. IBM Spectrum products allow us to move new applications in and out of the workflow very efficiently, even when workflows span global distances,” states Nathan Sykes, Head of Numerical Tools and Technology at Red Bull Racing. “We can run them side-by-side so we can understand what the differences are, and then provide ourselves with a workflow which is a step forward. This means that our components get better and better for every iteration that we run.”
Zoe Chilton adds: “When we’re designing cars that have to carry a driver at around 200 mph around a racetrack just millimeters from the tarmac, we really have to be confident the designs we’re producing are going to be robust. The value to Red Bull Racing of having IBM as an innovation partner is that it allows us to make the very most of the computing power we have here on site. The ability to run more simulations of how the car will behave on track allows us to know more about how the driver will be experiencing the vehicle, and it allows us to be more confident about safety and performance.”
In Formula One racing, as in business, crossing the finish line first is rarely a matter of raw speed. Instead, judgment, precision, insight, flexibility, and superior strategy are also required. When the rubber meets the road, this is where IBM innovation drives success.