The everyday computing behind F1
It’s properly, seriously hot here at Monza. This is, many would say, the most theatrical of the Formula 1 weekends and in the 30-plus degree heat, there’s a vast amount of technology on show. Most of it’s related to making cars go round at over 200mph, and this is the province of items like a solid tungsten nose-weight, or a £200,000 steering wheel — and that’s what you’ll hear about when the big TV stations walk around the pit lanes or chat with the drivers and managers.
I didn’t do that. I went to the quieter truck back in the pit lane and met Anthony, who is the sole IT support man for the whole Team Lotus presence here at Monza. He showed me the calm, unassuming and cool-running short rack that is the heart of the telemetry and on-track analysis system.
It’s 22 VMs and a couple of iSCSI SAN boxes, one SSD and the other spinning disk, and there’s a little rack with colour coded RJ45 cables in it. Such is the pervasive nature of Team Lotus’ WAN that the colour codes aren’t your usual subdivisions between floors or departments: some of them (red, as I recall) lead straight to the car. There is of course a wireless radio somewhere back there, shared antennas servicing all the teams and all the cars — but data flows only inwards. They can’t remap the car out on the back straight on the fly.
What really struck me looking around all the kit on display (when I wasn’t being annoyed by the tyrannosaur snorts of those little car things) was just how ordinary it was. You might imagine that everything is cast from spun unobtanium, suspended on the wings of angels or something, but in reality what is inside the rack and even in the broiling-hot trackside seating for the team owner and team manager (this has a special name but I want Anthony to have a good appraisal this year, so…) are all standard regular everyday bits of Dell hardware.
Part of the reason for this is that the maintenance of the kit fits into Dell’s mildly elevated service platform, no matter where in the world the team goes. The other part of the reason is that the Optiplexes driving the screens, read by the multimillionaire owner of the Formula 1 team, manage perfectly well in 50-degree heat.
And to prove my point, here’s a screen-snap I wangled out of Anthony, probably against his better judgement, of the entirely regular and normal IP-based network monitoring utility he uses to keep track of all the things on his WAN with an IP address.
The red blob, top right? That’s a Formula 1 car that happens to be turned off at the moment.