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The incredible storage capacity of F1

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of storage? Probably implementing clever storage hacks to enable you to tidy and organise more of your belongings than you ever thought possible in the space you have or perhaps investing in a storage unit to find the extra space you simply don’t have at home.

But while this provides adequate space for your requirements, it is nothing compared to the vast amounts of data that flies around the Formula One track in a split second or the sheer amount of storage on the supercomputers at the team factories.

Regardless of whether you are a glued to the screen during Formula One or have no interest in at all, you are sure to have your mind blown when you discover just how incredible the storage capacity of F1 is.

If you have ever seen the likes of Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel racing around the track you will know that they can often exceed 200mph and sometimes brake so quickly that their tear ducts squirt into their visors. But while the racing is going on, there are huge amounts of data that need to be stored and analysed.

So, ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix in May and the British Grand Prix in July, we take a look at just how much data is transmitted from the cars and how this is stored back at the factories.

 

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How much data is transmitted from the car while they are racing?

Each car sends back around 2Mb of data via a telemetry link – it streams a subset of the data rather than everything that is collects because tens of thousands of samples are being logged per second. Across a race of two hours, not to mention the qualifying and practice sessions that make up a race weekend – this is an awful lot of data.

What data is being captured?

There are sensors all over the car (around 150 in fact) located everywhere from the tyres to the brakes, measuring everything to do with how the car is performing. This includes how the car is coping with corners as well as temperature and pressure on oil, water and tyres – to name just a few. Over 500 different parameters are recorded to ensure that any problems are spotted as soon as they start to arise. A team can transfer over 2.5 terabytes of data over the course of a season, which is the equivalent of around five million photos on a smartphone.

How much data is being analysed trackside?

A race weekend generates around 30GB of data – that’s enough to fill a smartphone, should you remove everything from the messages and music to apps and images that you currently have stored on there. Bear in mind that despite taking pictures and downloading apps or music daily, it can take months, if not years to fill that storage space. Meanwhile, a Formula One Grand Prix is over in a couple of hours.

How much storage is needed trackside to analyse all this data?

Trackside you will often find that teams use a converged ‘half-rack’ formed of servers, storage and connectivity. This can consist of 30 virtual machines, 10 ethernet switches and 25TB of storage on server platforms.

Besides the half-rack there can be around 100 laptops and 20 high-powered workstations being used by each team. It’s also worth bearing in mind that any laptops used in the garage near the F1 car itself have to have solid state hard drives – without these the laptops would simply break due to the extreme vibrations and noise of the car. When laptops were first used in pit garages in the ’80s and ’90s, it wasn’t uncommon for them to explode for this very reason.

On top of this and just to be on the safe side, there is often a disaster recovery system so that the teams can continue to run their cars even if the half-rack fails due to technical reasons.

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How long does it take for this data to get back to the factory?

The F1 calendar takes in races as far and wide as Melbourne, Singapore, Austin and São Paulo, while the majority of the teams on the grid have their factories in Oxfordshire. Nevertheless, even though there’s 10,000 miles between southern Australia and the middle of Britain, data can still be transferred from track to factory in the blink of an eye. From the race in Silverstone it would take no more than 10 milliseconds to send data back to the factory, but from Australia it only takes 400 milliseconds.

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What are simulators?

Racing cars are continually evolved and updated to ensure they are working to the very best of their ability; in fact, an F1 car changes constantly throughout a season. Teams used to be allowed to test their cars during the season to try out new parts in an attempt to make them faster, but that was banned to cut the sport’s huge costs. Now, they use simulators instead. You can find these back at the factories and they are one of the most critical pieces of equipment as teams constantly search for ways to increase speed – while also allowing drivers to practice.

Not only do they allow drivers to familiarise themselves with the nuances of forthcoming or new circuits, they also help to develop and test new parts.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of the simulator is how accurate the track is – it shows every bump and kerb of the track exactly as it is in real life.

The driver will sit in it, which means it has to be as realistic as possible – this is where the wraparound screen and PC gaming desktops play a vital part. The screen, a 180-degree, semi-circular piece of carbon fibre, enables the images to be projected onto it. To keep the pictures on the screen sharp the desktop computers often use 4GB graphics cards, making it around 20 times more powerful than your home games console.

How much data does an F1 supercomputer churn through?

Formula 1 has become as much about technology as it has about the driving itself and the speed and scale of a supercomputer – or High Performance Cluster – in terms of processing capabilities is one of the most impressive parts.

The HPC is capable of at least 17,000,000,000,000 operations per second, and in order to complete this the HPC works 400 times faster than the average home computer – it can perform in just 12 hours what a normal computer would take five months to do. To make this possible, many factories will use around 200 servers and 1500 cores.

What are the storage capabilities at the factory?

As well as the HPC churning through an insane amount of data you will also find additional computers at the factory, with 100 terabytes of storage.

You might not need this much storage for your day-to-day life, but if you do need a little extra space, we have a range of various sized storage units to suit your need.