Formula 1 is not just about fast cars; crystal-clear communication between the driver and the team is vital too. Vijaya Cherian went on site for an exclusive look at how Riedel enabled communications at the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix I always thought Formula One was a simple racing game, where little men sat […]
Formula 1 is not just about fast cars; crystal-clear communication between the driver and the team is vital too. Vijaya Cherian went on site for an exclusive look at how Riedel enabled communications at the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
I always thought Formula One was a simple racing game, where little men sat in posh cars and raced each other on a dangerous course. Turns out it isnt that simple anymore and its not just about racing but about data and communications. Today, on average, each team works with up to 450 people, of which 60 are permitted on-site while the rest sit in various locations across the globe, disseminating advice to the driver, making recommendations and communicating with each other across continents.
One key element that determines the success of a driver, alongside his racing skills, is his ability to communicate his challenges as he is driving, listen to recommendations from the strategists and follow them precisely.
Communication binds the driver together with the men in the garage, the strategists and the rest of the team. For the last 20 years, communications at all F1 events has been handled by Riedel Communications.
Last month, I had the pleasure of witnessing some of the final preparations for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit.Apart from the excitement of wearing a headset to listen in on some of the comms between the team players and watching men change tyres a hundred times until they perfected the art of fitting all four in one second instead of ten, I made several other discoveries. For instance, I discovered that four people from a weather company accompany F1 everywhere to study whether it will rain or remain sunny, as their verdict helps teams determine what tyres their cars will use during the race. We also learnt how much it costs to purchase a radio frequency from governments around the world, which country is more expensive and which one less, and more importantly, that within the space of just three hours over a weekend, 60 terabytes of data are exchanged at any F1 race.
The Abu Dhabi race track, where the Grand Prix was held last month, is one of the finest in the world and therefore one of the most exciting, explains
Dario Rossi, who heads the Motorsport Division at Riedel, and is an ex-racing driver and a communications specialist.
As one of the newest race courses, Abu Dhabi boasts the latest infrastructure and fibre to support an efficient communications system and, more importantly, ensure a fabulous F1 experience for everyone involved.
Abu Dhabi has one of the best race tracks at the moment in the world, because it is one of the newest, Rossi explains.
Some places like Monaco are also very beautiful, but they are extremely challenging because they take place on the road itself with people surrounding temporary structures, and that makes it more complicated. With Abu Dhabi, the track is spot-on.
How Riedel came to be supplying comms systems to the Olympics and the F1 is the stuff that dreams are made of. The Olympics came first through an acquaintance of Thomas Riedels many, many years ago, when he was running a tiny outfit with two other people in Germany. He used the opportunity to build a prototype that the Olympics team immediately approved. Then, an interview on a radio station that an F1 personnel happened to hear on a drive brought F1 knocking. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and today the company has more than 400 people at its German headquarters and 13 locations in Europe, Australia, Asia and the Americas and develops products designed specifically for F1.
We develop bespoke products for the F1, or when we work on new products, we always keep the F1 in mind because we have been working with them for the last two decades, explains Rossi.
He adds that F1 races usually occur from early March to late November and take place on five continents, so the varied climatic conditions in each location, transport conditions and harsh RF environments call for a robust communications system that is capable of working at its optimum level in any weather condition, whether rain, extreme heat, extreme cold or high humidity.
FIA team rules permit only 60 crew on-site per track, but up to 450 might be at the factory at home or even split over three continents at certain races.
Some of the strategists and the people who study the aerodynamics of the car dont come here. They stay home and send the strategy here during the race. There are many different elements they can check.
For instance, there might be a discrepancy in the consumption of fuel and therefore a need to change the setup, or a sensor in the car can check if the simulation they run before the race is close to the actual race. Whatever the change, the readings are based on the data that is gathered from the site and the consequent analytics that are performed. Everyone is connected, so when the driver is in the car, all of the team members listen in. We send the telemetry, their martial impositions and all the video from the cameras on the circuit. Each team can only follow their respective car and we have developed software to enable this, explains Rossi.
We also do supply quite a lot of cameras for the races. These cameras help directors to review footage if there is any conflict. In some other events, they have to wait as long as a week to review the footage and issue a penalty. For the F1, we are able to provide the ability to instantly review everything.
The time for communication between team members is equally significant. Typically, a communication from, say, Australia, which is the farthest from Italy, takes around 200 milliseconds round trip, the head of Motorsport Division explains.
Via an MPLS, which is a high performance telecoms switching network, which runs on RiLink, teams can respond instantly. The delay is 300 milliseconds from overseas and just 10ms in Europe, which is handy given that lap times are often decided by that amount. We are pushing to improve this, but we have to be careful not to lose reliability. If you do 90ms and the signal drops, that can be dangerous. You have to find the balance between performance and reliability, and that balance is critical.
On average a driver talks 80% of the time during a race, and a lot of instructions are passed on from his team.
Its almost like they split their brain in two during the race, where one part focuses on driving and the other part talks, explains Rossi, adding that around 20 Riedel engineers are on-site for each race.
All team communications are handled through Riedel Artist intercom mainframes and panels. They are interfaced seamlessly with around 1,800 Motorola TETRA digital radio systems, to ensure that engineers, crews and drivers have clear communications.
For the uninitiated, TETRA combines the advantages of analogue trunked radio with those of digital mobile radio to provide optimal frequency usage, high transmission quality for speech and data, maximum security against eavesdropping, and flexible networking and connection management. Beyond that, the digital trunked radio system supports full duplex communication, GPS positioning and connection to the public telephone network. The system offers the option of operating different virtual channels and can leverage IP connectivity to support wide-area operation.
The comms can make all the difference between winning and losing for a team, says Rossi.
On-site, Riedel Motorsport Solutions Specialist Jörg Schäfer takes care of the TETRA base station and the radio range of the FIA, as well as the safety car and the medical car. Hes also responsible for the radio communication of German broadcaster RTL and the mobile radios of Formula One Management (FOM), which produces the world broadcast feed. Schäfer also takes care of frequency management on-site.
Riedel provides the same digital radios for safety and medical personnel, as well as the safety car drivers. Safety is a primary concern at F1 and the ability to communicate with safety personnel positioned around large tracks is of vital importance, explains Schäfer.
At the garage of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One team, we meet Marcin Jakowczyk, Motorsport Solutions Specialist at Riedel, who takes us on a quick tour inside.
The major purpose of our job is to provide all means of communications between the engineers and the mechanics, and also with the car.
Most of the important people from the team are connected via fibre infrastructure all the way to the race control and all the teams. Thats the way we have it linked with the garage, he says, demonstrating the headsets, how the different teams communicate, telemetry rights and so on.
Jakowczyk shows us a drivers helmet fitted with mics and earpieces, which in turn are connected to looms attached to a wire in the car and the
We take a closer look at the comms systems involved in the entire event. Riedels Artist intercom matrix has been adopted by the FIA. In addition, F1 teams use Artist as the standard communication platform. The teams use different configurations of intercom equipment including 32, 64 and 128 port Artist mainframes with 40-50 control panels per team. This amounts to 500 panels in total for each race. High quality intercom audio is absolutely essential on and around the race course, where peak noise levels can exceed 130dB. Artist is deployed to connect FIA stewards, pit crews and drivers.
Signals are routed to a radio base station with three antennas, including two receivers and a transmitter. The signals are then routed over Riedels RiLink global fibre service to its own data centre in Frankfurt, which serves as the hub for its worldwide operations, supported by a NOC, also in Frankfurt and maintained 24/7 year-round, and then on to teams and broadcasters.
We use approximately 10-14km of our own fibre at each race. We install and uninstall for each Grand Prix because we have three fibre sets travelling around the world during the racing season. From this season, however, we have been using Neutrik’s opticalCON MTP cable connector. That fibre is then split into specific channels for each of the race teams. We also have permanent installations at race tracks such as in Sochi [Russia] and Mexico City and are collaborating closely with Formula Medicine to supply them radios. Under the direction of Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli, the team manages health as well as the mental and physical care of a number of F1 teams, explains Rossi.
For video, Riedels MediorNet system leverages permanent and temporary fibre paths to provide feeds for the FOM and FIA while also providing and routing HD CCTV feeds for multiple uses around the tracks and in viewing areas. Riedel has 32 CCTV cameras in use.
Riedels RiLink Global Fibre Service provides bidirectional links between the race circuit and the broadcast station, allowing not only the transport of 3G/HD/SDSDI broadcast signals, but also return video feeds, full-duplex communications, VoIP telephony and IP data. Furthermore, RiLink provides higher bandwidth connections than regular satellite links, which directly translates into better video quality. RiLinks latency is also significantly shorter and its transmission is completely independent of weather conditions. Various redundancy layers within the network provide maximum reliability and QoS for this real-time network.
The rights-holding broadcaster, RTL Germany, transfers the international programme signal and additional signals from its ENG teams on location from all race venues to its playout centre in Cologne, Germany via RiLink. The move to IP connectivity for communications, video delivery and file transfer requires a robust network. During off-peak hours, when there is no signal transmission, RTL uses the additional capacity for other purposes, such as uncompressed file transfers to its archive in Cologne.
The command centre is a single complete flyaway system. It is a fully redundant unit with its own generator and contains routers with servers (60TB) loaded with Riedel software, which pulls in all of the information for the FIA race control. Once it leaves the track, just the fibre and the power cables have to be unplugged, concludes Rossi.