Analysing Telemetry: Improving performance

Will Gray

View photo


Each driver has his own race engineer to delve into the data but it is no longer just that one person doing all the analysis – there is now a team of people behind them, looking into literally thousands of data points to spot trends, flaws and performance differentiators that could give clues to that ultimate flying lap.

“We have about 10 people per car at the racetrack,” explains Simon Lock, the electronics engineer on Giedo van der Garde’s car. “Some of them focus on maintaining good reliability but there are others whose primary function is to find ways of making the car go faster.

“On the performance side, each car has its own dedicated real time performance engineer who looks at key performance elements and feeds that back to the race engineer. Then you have the strategist who’s looking between car comparisons, so as you go through a race simulation what’s the right tyre to be on at a certain point in time, and there is also an aero engineer who is purely on aerodynamics.”

The most familiar telemetry data comes in graphical form with the main factors being car speed vs time (or distance) over one lap, along with overlay information such as throttle angle, braking pressure, steering angle and gear selection.

When Lewis Hamilton tweeted pictures of his telemetry graphs last year, his then team McLaren were furious. Understandably so, because this information is top secret – and even revealing the way in which they set up their graphical display could give something away.

When the car is on track, the performance team scans the live data for trends like how much downforce the car is producing, how the tyres are degrading and how they can keep improving the car.

But there is little they can change at that time – it is more a case of gathering initial understanding ahead of the main debrief, in which the race and performance engineers will stare at their Dell computers for hours, sometimes late into the night, to seek answers.

Some drivers love to be a part of this, while others prefer to leave it up to the boffins to sort out the problems and tell them what to do in the briefing the following morning.

One of Michael Schumacher’s greatest advantages was that he both understood and was interested in the data – and he was always spending time with engineers trying to go one step better.
“At the end of the day, the driver is the person driving the car, they’re the person who can make it quick, so their opinion is very, very valuable,” says Lock.

“The performance guys often look at the data with them to find points where they can improve. It may be that they’re not carrying the right gear for a particular corner or they’re slightly lifting or they’re doing something unusual – and when they analyse it’s generally to look at the driver inputs rather than the car performance inputs.

“Quite often they are looking at the comparison to their team-mate, seeing where their team-mate is better or where they are better, and sharing that sort of information is very useful for a team because it can obviously help get the best out of both drivers.

“They’ve effectively got the same car so they know, ‘ok, I could go through this corner faster if I held a certain gear’, for example. They can spend hours on this if they really want – and you get some who like to do that and others who just come in and do a bit.”

Sometimes these sessions can have a positive effect on the driver – but sometimes they can also leave them red faced when an excuse for a mistake is revealed by the data to be a little white lie.

“Basically, all this data should just be backing up what they think, and hopefully the trends in it match exactly what they say and you can improve together,” says Lock.

“It’s when you have a mismatch that it becomes more difficult – like the age-old story of where a driver says ‘the car broke away and I hit the wall’ but actually the data shows they’ve applied too much throttle and they’ve spun it. They’ll usually admit to it then!”

View Comments