Formula One is a sport driven by timing and precision, is very tech-focused and a lot of activity takes place behind the curtains. A number of companies work behind the scenes to make FI cars, drivers and pit crew perform at their peak. Within this, a large responsibility lies with providers of digital connectivity, which is a major enabler in F1.
One company that provides digital solutions to the entire F1 ecosystem is Tata Communications. It covers the entire ecosystem, from the company that runs the sport – Formula One Group, to the team that wins – reigning world champions Mercedes F1 team, as well as many broadcasters who take the sport to the fans globally. In an email interaction, Mehul Kapadia, Managing Director, Tata Communications F1 Business, tells us about the company’s solutions for F1, other ventures, as well as about its F1 Connectivity Innovation Challenge.
Kapadia said that the company’s unique partnership with Formula One Group has evolved over the last five years, as it works together to transform the sport by harnessing the latest digital innovations. As the official connectivity provider of F1, Tata Communications has enabled seamless broadcast of races to tens of millions of fans across the globe with a complete end-to-end solution. This includes connecting each race location to the company’s global network in two-three days and dismantling it in three hours, which is a process that would traditionally take weeks, he explained.
Additionally, Tata Communications’ partnership with Formula One Group helped the team in reaching the wider F1 ecosystem. An example of this is the signing of an agreement with Mercedes-AMG Motorsport in 2013, to bring the team three times faster track connectivity from the Silver Arrow cars to the team’s UK headquarters, noted Kapadia. He said that this allows engineers to make data-led decisions using 400 sensors in each car, thereby helping the team perform better on track. This is especially useful since FIA regulations limit the number of staff from each team at a Grand Prix to 60, and the team needs to be highly-efficient in the way it works.
Tata Communications also, in association with the Mercedes F1 team and Formula One Group, organises the annual F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize. This event crowd-sources ideas from technology and F1 fan communities around areas like big data analytics and virtual reality. The first challenge of this year’s competition, focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) was unveiled, with the most creative idea standing to win a cash prize.
Everything that Tata Communications does with F1 is underpinned by its superfast fibre network, Kapadia observed. He said this is the only network of its kind that stretches around the globe, which enables data transfer from any race location to Formula One Group’s headquarters in UK, in less than a quarter of a second. As the role of data in the sport continues to grow, the company carries more than one Petabyte of data over its network every season.
F1 is arguably the most technologically-advanced sport in the world, but there is a huge opportunity for the sport to transform itself through the latest digital innovations, noted Kapadia. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) could transform how people engage with each other and the world around them, and the environment of F1 is an apt place to explore the full potential of these technologies, he said. Kapadia added that in line with this idea, Tata Communications has set up the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize inviting fans to develop ideas for how VR and AR could enhance F1 and help teams work more effectively. Kapadia also said that the company’s work in F1 has enabled it to demonstrate to current and prospective customers on how technology is being pushed to the limits.
The F1 Connectivity Innovation challenges have resulted in the presentation of several innovative and interesting solutions. One of them was an idea of a user-centric solution that could empower fans around the world to contribute to the process of cataloguing over 60,000 hours of video in Formula One Group’s digital archive. This solution understood how race fans think and act, and how the sport can develop ways to connect with its fans at the race tracks and at home. Another was the ‘F1 Prediction Application,’ which was based on the concept of data analytics. The solution used a simple drag-and-drop interface to enable fans to tap into track, weather data and practice results to predict the outcome of each Grand Prix for each driver.
The winning idea of the 2016 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize was a live, 360° virtual trackside experience that transports fans to the world of a Grand Prix. The VR application is enabled by a group of roaming commentators with wearable cameras, capturing the trackside to make fans thousands of miles away feel like they are part of the action. The application also harnesses AR, encouraging fans to collect ‘hidden stars’ at the trackside, and enables them to seamlessly gain additional insights they see around them in the virtual Grand Prix environment, explained Kapadia.
Kapadia concluded that innovation and data analytics define F1, andh added that Tata Communications’ network has trebled the speed of data transfer for the Mercedes team, enabling critical race car telemetry and sensor data to be transferred instantly from any racetrack to the team’s factory and vice versa.
Tata Communications believes that the future of the digital world lies in enabling a large number of people and things globally to become seamlessly connected. The company also believes that this will open up tremendous opportunities in how people engage with one another and everything around. Kapadia also said that as F1 enters a new era of digital transformation, Tata communications wants to drive innovation in the sport through IoT solutions. These IoT solutions have the potential to not only take the teams’ execution on and off the track to the next level, but also enhance race experience for fans, he concluded.
TEXT: Naveen Arul