The Ferrari race team that dominates Formula 1 racing puts a shroud of secrecy around many of the key components in its red racers. But it's shedding a little light on one component of next year's entry—a data logging system.
While it's not highly publicized or understood, the recording device is a crucial component. "It's not possible to make a Formula 1 car run without a data logger. If it isn't working, the car cannot run," says Roberto Dalla, department head for electronics at Ferrari Gestione Sportiva in Modena, Italy (http://rbi.ca/3849-530).
That unit is constantly monitoring every aspect of the vehicle. "In our Formula 1 car, there are about 150 physical sensors and 500 to 600 logical information points," Dalla says. That number went up dramatically a few years ago and continues increasing by about 10 percent per year, he adds. The data logger handles plenty of bits in a lap time of 90 seconds or so. "We're sampling this data at a high rate, 1,000 times per second. Every lap, we're storing around 2 Mbytes of data," Dalla says.
Remaining at the forefront requires constant evolution, which drove Ferrari to update its data logger. The company began working with Infineon Technologies in Munich, Germany, in May, 2003. "We're in prototype status, planning to get into the car by the middle of the year," says Andreas Pechlaner, Head of Motorsport Electronics at Infineon (http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-529). The data logger will then be tested for about six months before it makes its debut on the racing circuit next year.
Two years ago, speed and directional telemetry systems could analyze data, then engineers in the garage could use bi-directional telemetry to tweak the electronic setups out on the car. Rulemakers became concerned that this could evolve to the point where engineers were largely driving the car from the garage, while the driver did little more than steer. "The regulations changed last year, and now we can only transfer data from the car to the garage," Dalla says.
Today, the steering wheel is full of rotary switches and buttons that the driver adjusts (see sidebar). Some times the driver will decide to make changes, other times engineers communicating by a radio link will tell the driver which adjustments to make.
This responsibility puts much more pressure on drivers, who need to be pushing buttons and switches while driving at 300 km per hour (186 mph) in race traffic. "We're looking at ways to give more possibilities to the driver to make changes without using his hands, which he needs to turn the steering wheel," Dalla says. Voice recognition is one of the techniques currently being tested.
Information from the data logger is sent over a proprietary link using "home-made encryption" to ensure no one else can use it. Not that it would really matter much. "The data »being transferred in real time is valid only for a specific moment. No one could really understand much about it," Dalla says.
Two ways to go
During the race, there are two types of analysis. "One is in real time while the car is running. There's a radio connection between the data logger and the garage," Dalla says. In the garage, there are a number of computers used by engineers during the race. The other type of analysis comes after the race. Then any problems that popped up can be analyzed and fixed. "Some of this analysis can't be done in real time," Dalla says.
Making data available at the factory makes it easier for design work for the racer.
For both Infineon and Ferrari, the leading edge facets of Formula 1 vehicle design provide some input for the engineers who design commercial products. But there's an emphasis on that word "some." While Ferrari makes some of the basic information from these vehicles available to the designers of its commercial vehicles, specific data is kept secret.
At Infineon, the racecars provide a testing ground for the latest chips coming out of corporate research labs. "From the microcontroller side, the chips are not yet on the market, and the tools aren't error free today. We're getting feedback on the chips and tools like the compiler and debugger," Pechlaner says.