Alpine’s DSI puts data science at the service of the F1 team

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 his post, the team has equipped all its F1 cars with sensors to collect as much data as possible. The goal: to be the fastest on the circuit.

With its legion of fans around the world, and a Netflix series, Formula 1 is experiencing a surge in popularity. This is particularly evident by the 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 where motor racing took place without supporters, Formula 1 saw its racing schedule 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 tweaked the aerodynamics of the 2022 cars to deliver closer racing, while a budget cap was introduced to narrow the gap between the race leaders and the rest part of the peloton. According to Nathan Sykes, CIO and data science director of the Alpine midfield team, achieving high performance on the track is about proving the return on investment (ROI) of data science, using low-code to improve performance. efficiency and redefine the value of computing.

Reinvent 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 field of business systems because it offered a wider range of responsibilities: “I spent sixteen years [en F1] as an aerodynamicist, through engineering, in management and data collection. Data science has become its own distinction. 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. However, in doing so, holes appeared. The team’s data is in bad shape, costs are rising, and IT seems like a back-office function. The impact on the business is minimal as Renault Sport Racing offers services and products from motor racing, to road vehicles and equipment. “The IT department was neglected,” Sykes admits. “They are trying to help the company, but without success. In addition, they have many external contractors, which have contributed to the increase in costs. To make matters worse, the management has not given us any indication of how they want to work . As a result, the IT department is trying to do its best to provide the requested solutions, but is really having trouble figuring it out. »

That’s why Nathan Sykes seeks to change mindsets, by giving team members a way of working in collaboration across departments. As well as highlighting enterprise systems he says gave the company an unbiased view of what it wants from IT, based on current and future data and needs. Thus, teams have had to integrate management requirements into projects of all sizes and make them synergistic with business processes. Which is 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 building it,” Sykes said.

Create low-code Power Apps to optimize workflows

From race simulation and production to data visualization and collaboration, Alpine F1 uses Microsoft technology to enhance 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’s the low-code Power Apps that prove to be a real lever for growth. The motorsport team now has ten Power Apps developers, up from eight a year ago, and workflows have been built into the app to improve a range of processes, including non-compliance reports parts. At the time, the Alpine F1 staff had to take pictures of the parts and send them to the designers to make sure they were compliant. Now that process is simplified, thanks to a combination of Power Apps, Office 365, and Microsoft Teams. “This is one of our best software,” said Mr. Sykes, “It’s really just dragging and dropping some things into place. »

Cost Cap Challenges and Data ROI

Alpine’s F1 racing cars are equipped with around 200 sensors that collect more than 50 billion pieces of data. It helps the technical staff to improve the car’s aerodynamics, handling and performance. The Renault team prides itself today on its ability to start on the circuit. Take tire wear for example. In the past, a tire’s performance was evaluated in a single qualifying lap. Today, Alpine F1 teams use data systems to fill the lack of tire wear information. A solution that proves more useful when you know that the regulations state that the manufacturer Pirelli only has the right to share information limited to ten car teams.

However, proving the return on investment of data science remains a challenge. In an era of cost caps, where teams must spend no more than $140m a season – with an additional $4m cut for the 2023 season. Costs must be linked to staff performance, even speed of vehicles. 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 top priority, despite much praise from the big teams trying to balance competition in a World Series, with less money and limited resources. “We’re not just trying to make the cars run as fast as possible, Mr Sykes told a conference in London, but we’re also trying to control costs. We’re trying to be as efficient as possible and understand the reasons why why does one car drive faster than another. »

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