Alpine CIO puts data science to work for F1 team Computerworld

Nathan Sykes, IT Director and Data Science Director of the Alpine F1 team, aims to demonstrate the return on investment of data science and challenge perceptions about IT. Since taking up his post, the team has equipped all its F1 cars with sensors in order to collect as much data as possible. The objective: to be the fastest on the circuit.

With its legions of fans around the world, and a Netflix series, Formula 1 is experiencing a boom in popularity. This is reflected in particular by a doubling of its revenues to 360 million dollars (M$) in the first quarter of 2022, and a net profit of 19 M$. During the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed the 2020-2021 season and during which motor racing took place without supporters, Formula 1 saw its racing schedule become overloaded. Results ? Car manufacturers and independent teams competed for championships and countries fought to ensure their circuit was on the racing calendars.

Meanwhile, on the track, rule changes have tweaked the aerodynamics of 2022 cars to deliver closer racing, while a budget cap has been introduced to close the gap between race leaders and the rest of the peloton. According to Nathan Sykes, CIO and data science director of the Alpine midfield team, achieving high performance on the track is all about proving the return on investment (ROI) of data science, adopting low-code to improve performance. efficiency and redefine the value of computing.

Reinventing IT as a business system

Mr. Sykes has held the position of CIO and data science director at Alpine F1 since the days when the team was called Renault Sport Racing. He says he deliberately chose to work in the business systems field because it offers a wider range of responsibilities: “I spent sixteen years [en F1] as an aerodynamicist, through engineering, to management and data collection. Data science has become its own differentiator. At Renault Sport Racing, he first arrived as data science manager before being promoted to CDO, then director of IT and data science business systems. In doing so, however, loopholes emerged. The team’s data was in bad shape, costs were skyrocketing, and IT seemed like a back-office function. Its impact in the business was minimal as Renault Sport Racing offered services and products ranging from motor racing, to road vehicles and equipment. “The IT department was neglected,” admits Sykes. “They were trying to help the company, but without success. In addition, they had many external contractors, which contributed to the increase in costs. To make matters worse, the management did not give us any indications as to how they wanted to work. As a result, the IT department was trying to do its best in providing the requested solutions, but was actually having trouble figuring it out. »

Nathan Sykes thus sought to change mentalities, by giving the members of the team the means of working in collaboration with the various departments. As well as highlighting enterprise systems that he says have given the company an unbiased view of what it wants from IT, based on current and future data and needs. Thus, teams had to integrate management requirements into projects of all sizes and make them coincide with business processes. Which in turn were to feed the data system. “It’s about taking ownership of the needs we need to meet and the processes we need to put in place, to the point of getting to visualize the project before we start developing it,” says Sykes.

Create low-code Power Apps to optimize workflows

From race simulation and production to data visualization and collaboration, Alpine F1 leverages Microsoft technology to improve the performance of its race cars and teams. Among other things, the motorsport team uses Dynamics 365 and Power Platform to accelerate decision-making and Azure for cloud infrastructure, data consolidation and analysis. Using Dynamics 365 and Power BI dashboards, as well as large Surface Studio displays, the team gets an overview of their production cycle. However, it is the low-code Power Apps that proves to be a real lever for growth. The motorsport team now has ten Power Apps developers, eight more than a year ago, and workflows have been developed on the app to improve a range of processes, including non-conformance reports on parts. At the time, Alpine F1 staff had to take photos of the components and send them to the designers to ensure they were compliant. Now that process is simplified, thanks to a combination of Power Apps, Office 365, and Microsoft Teams. “It’s one of our best software,” says Mr. Sykes, “It’s really just dragging and dropping a few things into place. »

Cost Cap and Data ROI Challenges

Alpine’s F1 racing cars are equipped with some 200 sensors that collect more than 50 billion data. These help the technical staff improve the car’s aerodynamics, handling and performance. The Renault team prides itself today on being able to get a head start on the circuit. Take for example tire degradation. Previously, the performance of a tire was analyzed over a single qualifying lap. Now, Alpine F1 teams are using data systems to make up for the lack of information on tire degradation. A solution that proves to be more than useful when you know that the regulations stipulate that the manufacturer Pirelli only has the right to share information limited to the ten automobile teams.

Proving the return on investment of data science, however, remains a challenge. In the era of cost caps, where teams must spend no more than $140m in a single season – with a further $4m cut for the 2023 season. expenses should be linked to the performance of the staff, even the speed of the cars. But in an industry where team leaders don’t necessarily understand the value of data, it’s hard to argue for it. Capping costs remains a key priority, despite much kudos from big teams trying to balance the competition in a World Series, with less money and limited resources. “Not only are we trying to get the cars to go as fast as possible, Mr Sykes told a conference in London, but we’re also trying to get the costs under control. We try to be as efficient as possible and understand the reasons why one car drives faster than another. »

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Alpine CIO puts data science to work for F1 team Computerworld


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