Turbocharging Formula One fortunes

The F1 season isn't just a race between the giants of the automotive world but also an important testing ground for the likes of BlackBerry and Microsoft.

Beneath the pomp and pageantry of Formula One witnessed over the weekend lies a precision-built mini-universe, a world inhabited by engineers, technicians -- the silent force propelling these magnificent machines on track.
 
The progenitor of this world is Bernie Eccelstone -- a man who has single-handedly created the biggest monopoly in the history of sport.

And what a world it is -- full of secret rules and rituals, all fundamentally underpinned by technology.
 
In fact, the F1 season isn't just a race between the giants of the automotive world but also an important testing ground for the likes of BlackBerry, Microsoft and SAP to name a few.
 
A walk through Mercedes AMG Petronas’ team garage is a lesson in professionalism. Not a single moment, not a single word is wasted. Within this self-contained environment every aspect of the device -- diagnostics, design, performance -- is measured, and re-measured.
 
With a constant hum in the background, mechanics and engineers pore over the screens -- data, telemetry and every nuance of the vehicle is tracked.

New rules nerves

Initial testing in Melbourne was a nervous affair. Lewis Hamilton's car was out of action on the eve of qualification -- not that you would know it.
 
The pit is calm -- eerily calm -- but underneath the surface lies an intense anxiety.
 
"Everything is up to Nico’s (Rosberg) car," a Mercedes AMG staffer informs me.
 
"We will get nothing out of Lewis' car this session."

Hamilton did manage to get pole position in qualifying and his teammate Rosberg took out the race in Melbourne.

But the early hiccup highlighted just how much is on the line for the technical teams, plying their trade behind the scenes.   

This year the stakes were even higher as new rules came into play.

With teams only allowed to use 140 litres of fuel per race (30 per cent less than previous years) and the engine rev limit reduced from 18,000 rpm (revolution per minute) to 15,000 rpm, every scrap of performance data can mean the difference between staying on track or disqualification.

The switch to 1.6L V6 engines has come with a greater emphasis on hybrid technology, with the power units working in tandem with a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (K-ERS) and a new Energy Recovery System, or ERS-H (H for heat).

Both systems are designed to harness the energy (mostly heat) expended during mechanical processes (braking) and turn it into electricity to provide the extra muscle to the V6 engine.

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System, introduced in 2009, can purportedly provide an additional 120KW of power, and together with the recovery systems (ERS-H) look to pick up the slack as F1 vehicles come to grips with lower fuel loads and restricted fuel flow rate to the engines.

Miles and miles of data

With new engines in play, engineers and mechanics of every F1 team are reliant on reams of data produced during the testing phase and that’s where the likes of BlackBerry, Microsoft and SAP get involved as technology partners.

For example, the Lotus F1 Team utilises Microsoft Dynamix and EMC-powered technology to transfer the data from a multitude of sensors on the vehicle in real time to analyse performance. This isn’t just going into the engineering team present at site. Across the globe, teams of data analysts burn the midnight oil to sift through the data and tune the car for the big day.

While McLaren has a partnership with German heavyweight SAP solutions, Mercedes AMG Petronas has decided to back BlackBerry and its BlackBerry 10 operating platform. Not only does the Mercedes AMG team use about 180 BlackBerry 10 handsets, they run a mixture of iPads on BlackBerry’s secure MDM platform (BES10) and use BBM groups, video and voice (over wifi) to share images and data from any location in the world in real-time, saving on costs.

BlackBerry strives for pole position

BlackBerry managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Matthew Ball, says that security is the paramount priority for F1 teams, and that’s what makes the BlackBerry-Mercedes AGM Petronas partnership a perfect fit.

Security is BlackBerry’s natural strength and the recent deals struck with the Australian National Audit Office and professional services company Questas highlight its ability to leverage its multi-device management capabilities.

But Mercedes’ success on the race track holds the key to another important direction in BlackBerry’s roadmap. Ball says that QNX is already making significant inroads in the automotive sector and will be integral to the machine-to-machine transformation of the sector.

QNX is also powering Apple’s CarPlay initiative and the technical expertise gathered at the race track is worth its weight in gold for BlackBerry.

Innovation at the highest echelon of motor sport inevitably makes its way down to the commercial world and BlackBerry is striving to ensure it wins pole position.

Supratim Adhikari attended the Melbourne Grand Prix as a guest of BlackBerry . (This article was updated on March 18)