Formula 1 speed and performance

While investment in ICT is widely viewed as one of the key drivers of innovation and productivity, a number of inhibitors place ICT update on hold in many businesses. Budgetary constraint, decentralized decision-making, lack of time and staff bandwidth, as well as a determination to leverage existing infrastructure may all play a role in an organization’s deferral of investment in technology that under the right circumstances could provide competitive advantage. It is’s belief that hesitation also stems from a lack of familiarity with the art of the possible – with the how and why of IT implementation. To provide some vision around the mechanics of ICT adoption, develops case studies outlining the business case, implementation processes and the outcome of technology deployment in real-world businesses. In this example, we look at how AT&T is enabling collaboration between the Infinity Red Bull Factory and track side team members to deliver victory in Grand Prix racing.

Infinity Bull Racing – AT&T partnership

In a ‘business’ where split seconds — literally hundredths — can mean success or failure, AT&T’s advanced communications services are making a difference.  Last spring, the global network service provider stepped up its long term sponsorship of Formula 1 racing with a multi-year agreement to act as Official Technical Supplier of high speed broadband connectivity to the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team. Through a secure VPN, AT&T enables collaboration between engineers at the U.K.-based Infiniti Red Bull Factory headquarters and team members who staff the Paddock during Grand Prix race weekends.

Sebastian Vettel, Infinity Red Bull driver
Sebastian Vettel, Infinity Red Bull driver

According to Alan Peasland, head of the AT&T technical partnership for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, race strategy is highly dependent on the real time communication of text, telemetry data and video information on the car, driver behaviours and track conditions, and collaboration in turn reliant on the supporting network. Collaboration is critical, he explained: “It’s absolutely fair to say that we have gained extra points on a race weekend, and possible even won races as a result of the engineers in the Factory being able to monitor the car, its health and performance ….We have definitely won races on the back of having a fast and reliable network that is helping engineers in the Factory support the race team.” Network performance must have been on game this June — Infiniti Red Bull racer, Sebastian Vettel was declared champion of the Montreal Grand Prix, to widen his point lead over the next ranked driver in Formula 1 standings by 36 points.

Sourcing reliable connectivity

Prior to its relationship with AT&T, the Infiniti Red Bull team sourced connectivity through local market providers in race venues that could be anywhere in the world. Broadband was often cobbled together via satellite and other services, and an end-to-end solution more challenge than reality. The problem with this approach was performance. Peasland noted, “Any break in networking, or any delays in getting data back to the Factory is lost time. So while we need the car on track to have great performance and reliability, we need every other area of the business to be the same – the networking solution is a classic example of that.”

Reliance on multiple service providers was also more expensive, and for Infiniti Red Bull Racing the shift from an existing customer relationship with AT&T to a more formal partnership was a natural progression. “We pride ourselves on having relationships with our suppliers and sponsors. We like to work together and innovate together… But we do check the market and look at cost comparisons. We looked at quality of service and it made sense to go with AT&T.”

But the key attraction of the partnership with AT&T was the provider’s ability to deliver a robust, end-to-end solution on a global scale. Essentially, AT&T supplies a VPN with point of presence at the team’s headquarters in Milton, Keynes in the U.K. and service to a point of presence wherever the race is being held. Establishment and management of the service are the responsibility of AT&T, an important benefit, Peasland added, given the fact that “we are only in a circuit for three, four or maybe five days… Sometimes just at the next weekend we are in another country somewhere else in the world and we rely on AT&T to make that connectivity happen for us. We no longer have that burden.”

Service delivery

AT&T maintains a dedicated team to manage network connection and maintenance trackside. According to Pia Jensen, AT&T sponsorship spokesperson for Formula 1, the company has two temporary points of presence that they take from from race to race, and these rotate across global circuit locations. The weekend before a race begins, the AT&T team establishes a live connection on location to deliver what Jensen calls “a plug and play solution”: “it’s our responsibility to make sure that it’s not just set up, but that we’re managing it onsite to make sure that connectivity is consistent throughout the whole weekend.”

Currently, AT&T provides broadband connectivity to Infinity Red Bull Racing. Going forward, wireless services may be in the offing; however, security concerns mean racing teams are not anxious to send sensitive information over WiFi — “it’s all about protecting IP, whether that is telemetry from the car, or communications when we are talking on radios,” Peasland explained. And, as Jensen pointed out, “when you come to a Formula 1 race, there are literally hundreds of WiFi signals, and it may be difficult to get a big, solid WiFi signal because there are so many in completion.”

Since downtime is unacceptable in a racing environment, AT&T works to ensure the reliability of its broadband services through deployment of an onsite track team, a dedicated, U.K.-based group devoted to service optimization and through traffic monitoring enabled by the company’s Global Network Operations Centre in New Jersey. Global enterprise customers, such as Infiniti Red Bull, are provided with an “escalation service” that monitors and manages connectivity in critical times. According to Jensen, for race weeks, “there are processes that we go through to make sure we have a 24/7 team focused on performance. We monitor to the point where we look to see a likely outage before it even happens. The [trackside] team also has a backup system on their end, though I’m pleased to say that that has not had to be put into use at any time.” This approach is “quite labour intensive,” Jensen noted, however, “in an industry where you have a mission critical need for a network, it is necessary.”

According to Jensen, AT&T likes partnering with Infinity Red Bull because “they are quite creative and aggressive in how they use the network to achieve their goal of winning races.” Peasland was understandably reluctant to divulge too many trade secrets. He did point, however, to challenges that have evolved in Formula 1 racing over time. For example, there is less on track testing time and limited opportunity for a separate team to travel in advance to the circuit to test new parts or designs. As a result, race weekend is an event, but also represents the team’s opportunity to test performance with new designs — and to respond to performance checks.  This all happens very quickly. Test data taken from the car in a Friday practice session, for example, forms the basis for innovation that can make a difference in the Sunday race. “Understanding the telemetry from the car, sending that back to the Factory in the U.K. for processing and analysis, and then bringing that information back to the circuit in a timely fashion — that’s really where we think we’re doing things differently from our completion,” Peasland added.

Infinity Red Bull Racing on track team

On race day itself, the Infinity Red Bull team also monitors the health of the car as well as the competitors’ lap times remotely from the Factory in the U.K. in order to make very fast strategy decisions about how the team will operate during the race — another example of the way the team takes advantage of fast, resilient networking. As example, Peasland cited the Infiniti Red Bull Grand Prix win in Monaco two years ago, which he attributed in part to a change in strategy around pit stops, based on the analysis of information on tire wear. Peasland also noted the importance of speed in messaging to race administrators: “we know from looking at historic events, that the time it takes us to get information to the circuit can make a difference. The time between monitoring a car to lodging a complaint with race stewards about a competitor’s infringement [is important] — the quicker we can get the information to the circuit, the quicker we can have decisions made and change the outcome of a race.”

The information and applications that Infinity Red Bull Racing relies on to inform strategy are extremely data intensive. HD video footage, communications data for two-way radio, and car telemetry for CAD and other engineering software used by Factory staff can put strain on networks. However, Infinity Red Bull’s contract with AT&T contains SLAs that guarantee maximum latency on each circuit, and Peasland noted that up to now, AT&T has always exceeded its contractual requirements: “less than 40 milliseconds from Monaco to the U.K. is what we can expect.”  At the same time the network is replenishing data in near real time as the car drives around the circuit, it is also supporting the organization’s general business system requirements so that the team on location can carry on with normal business requirements.

Assessing the benefits

AT&T supplies connectivity to multiple Formula 1 teams and is pleased that so many have confidence in AT&T network delivery, but also in the provider’s ability to ensure the complete confidentiality of team communications and data. Security protocols and how they apply to the network, Jensen noted, may be of interest to other businesses with similar needs. Formula 1 racing is not the only environment that could potentially benefit from some of the networking capabilities showcased by Infinity Red Bull Racing partnership. From Peasland’s perspective, a key benefit of AT&T’s network service lies in its flexibility and versatility, and the level of service delivery that the company can provide.  While this service level is available to all global enterprise customers, as Jensen explained, its application can be customized: “the way in which we are having to deliver the service to accommodate our clients within the Formula 1 industry is very unique. The industry is very dynamic — it’s challenging and it’s global. In essence, we move office locations for the teams we supply every two weeks, nine months of the year. We are learning a huge amount about service delivery, and we can then apply those learnings to other customers that have a similar requirement.” Work with “early adopter” such as Infinity Red Bull, she added is an “interesting proposition” because they are always looking for “the next big thing” in order to stay at the forefront of technical innovation.

Speed banking anyone?

Infinity Red Bull Racing pit stop


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