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  1. Technology
July 8, 1993


By CBR Staff Writer

As the fuel burns off for Sunday’s British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone racetrack, the tension in the pits is likely to match the nerves on the course. For it is in the garages behind the pits where the guts of the cars are visible, on the computers that scan their every shift of gear, or gulp of fuel or lurch off-centre. Like doctors standing over an electro-cardiogram, the engineers are attuned to every change in the car’s performance, and stand by to apply whatever remedy is required. Formula 1 racing has changed a bit since it started back in the 1950s. There was little technology in evidence but drivers soon learned the art of multi-tasking, by absorbing the skills of mechanic and engineer. But it was clear a fast car and good driver is not enough to win: technology gives the edge.

Colin Chapman

Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, was quickly on the scene, by putting the first aircraft black box in his car in a 1966 test race: it didn’t do him any harm as Team Lotus then clinched the championship with Jim Clark driving. Porsche and Matra soon set to developing recording systems and at last the driver did not have to remember all the vagaries of the race track. In 1985 Lotus Renault fitted a black box into Ayrton Senna’s car, but information could be retrieved only by plugging it into a portable computer at a pit stop. Things have moved on significantly since then, with the advent of telemetry, where the engine can be monitored while the car is racing. Compagnie des Machines Bull SA defines telemetry as remote measurement, or the system that provides what amounts to a remote X-ray analysis of the engine by means of radio transmission. Bull should know what it is talking about since through its partnership with Renault Sport it runs the telemetry system for Williams Engineering Ltd. Williams won both the driver and the constructor championship last year, and is on course to repeat that this time. The British Grand Prix is predicted to be closely fought between the Willliams number one and two drivers, Alain Prost and Damon Hill, son of the late champion Graham Hill. Hill’s comment on telemetry is :You can make the car do anything you want, so you can get the best out of your car. With the Bull system, sensors go onto the car’s key areas, to monitor functions like the engine, radiator and pressure gauges; up to 100 coded parameters are monitored. The data is transmitted by an antenna on the front bodywork, and each time the car passes the pit, an HF signal triggered by a radio signal sends the data to the Bull STX 4D workstations. The systems sit in the pit garage, in an UKP8,000 box on wheels customised by Bull.

By Kate Potter

On the two screens, one each tracking Prost’s and Hill’s cars, up to 25 of the 100 parameters come in, monitoring vital performance differentiators like active suspension and traction control. The engineers scan the screen, adjust the parameters as necessary, and input the changes into a Zenith Data Systems portable. This portable is then connected to the car’s central engine management system when it makes the next pit stop. These cars can cover a lap in just over a minute, so the entire process is extremely rapid. Williams’ closest rival, McLaren International Ltd, is using a new telemetry system this year, developed jointly by its sister company TAG Electronic Systems Ltd and Sun Microsystems Inc. Unlike the Bull system, the Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System operates on both burst and continuous transmission bases. TAG developed an Sbus board based on the Sun environment which plugs into six Sparcstation 2s. The data comes in via a microwave link as the car flashes past the pits, so long as there’s a line of sight between car and system antennae. Around 10Mb and 15Mb of data is relayed per lap, depending on the length of the straight. At Silverstone this is long, so about 15Mb comes through, to be stored direct onto optical disk, in a drive attached to the Sparcstation. Three workstations are dedicated to each of the two race cars. Each workstation focusses on dif

ferent areas, such as engine and chassis, which is primarily suspension and aerodynamics. The workstation can issue instructions to a car during the race, but generally a fail-safe state is assumed, and it operates only on test runs. However in freak weather conditions, sensors might play up, and the system would then come into use. But the splendidly-named ATLAS may not get the chance to hold up the McLaren world for long. The sword of Damocles hanging over technology advances is the threat of a ban on how far it can go. There is an increasingly strong lobby in the Formula One world that says the technology has been taken too far, making winning the championship an impossibility for all but the richest teams. And as the contest was established as a platform for leading edge car design that could be applied to everyday cars, the lobby feels a lot of the new technology is inapplicable to what you and I drive, and therefore not a valid part of the competition. The Formula One governing body, FISA, will convene an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on July 15 and 16, to finalise the 1994 regulations. Semi-automatic transmission will probably stay, but active suspension, traction control and Advanced Braking Systems may be headed for the chop. The implications of this Luddite tendency are grave: will sponsors like Bull and Sun continue to pump funds and ideas into the sport? But anyway, none of the Formula One teams can afford to restrict or delay research and development now in case the bans do not happen.


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Alain Pajot, Bull’s technical manager, argues that in Formula One, he and his colleagues simply take the technology available in everyday cars and the aerospace industry, and perfect it. So Renault uses the same technology in its Safrane model to monitor emissions, fuel injections and air-conditioning as in the race cars. And advanced braking systems are a regular feature in many family saloons. The argument against the bans is unsurprisingly supported by Ian Cunningham, Williams business manager, who said, The money spent on R&D and technology pales into insignificance compared with a driver’s retainer. But the passion behind motor racing means teams will find any which way to come first. Bull is already considering Artificial Intelligence as the latest weapon for engineers and drivers, and is jointly into research and developement with Renault Sport at CEDIAG, its centre for the development of artificial intelligence. McLaren International’s head of systems engineering Dieter Gundel points to the spur at each team’s heels: Of all the cars that line up on the grid at the start of a Grand Prix, the worst car is capable of 95% of the performance of the best car. Our labours and the technology at our disposal are consequently aimed at achieving and maintaining the 5% differential that is the world championship.

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