Winning ways in Buenos Aires

Wow, what a weekend! Amlin Aguri’s first win in the FIA’s first fully electric championship! It is an amazing feeling to get a result after all the work put in by the team over the last three years.

“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”

Plus it takes a lot of work to start a new team in a completely new championship – but it’s worth it when all the effort is rewarded! Many people have asked what we did to get to the front, what has changed, how did we do it?

The build up to the race win really started after all of our troubles in Punta del Este.

The series test, on the Sunday after the Punta race, was the first time that Antonio (Felix de Costa) and Salvador (Duran) really had a chance to test the car after Antonio had missed much of the pre-season testing and the first race in Beijing with BMW DTM duties. This, coupled with the fact that race weekends are so short which restricts running, means that when you haven’t got the car in the “zone” it is extremely difficult to do anything meaningful with regard to setup or finding solutions.

Our race pace has been quick from the beginning with Takuma setting the fastest lap in Beijing. So what we were looking for was time to get a proper qualifying setup and thereby increase our race pace accordingly. You must remember that if we hadn’t had an issue during the pit stop in Malaysia, then Antonio could have finished in the top five and potentially on the podium. The engineers worked over the break between Beijing and Putrajaya and then over Christmas before Punta to get our models and understanding of the car to a point that we could validate this understanding during the Punta test. The result was a fastest first sector on the final run of the day before a Red Flag which showed that we were going in the right direction for the next race in Buenos Aires.

Antonio arrived in BA with a quietly confident attitude focussed on making the best of our great Punta test and determined to have a great weekend: everyone arriving on a high and following through is a good indicator of the picture of the weekend.

So how did the weekend go? Well in Free Practice 1 the car was quick straight of the box. There was good work carried out during the session, getting everything done that was on the plan; another good step. Some cars were running maximum qualifying power; hence the large gap at the front of the pack but P9 was respectable, showing of potential to come.

Then in FP2, it was maximum at- tack, our final preparation before qualifying and we were immediately quick with our final position of P3 only 0.4s off the leader which showed that our ultimate potential for qualifying and race performance was within reach.

Qualifying is always a lottery. Antonio drew Q1 while Salvador was in Q3. The elusive Q4 without red or yellow flags is the name of the game with a rubbered-in track and potentially better track temperatures, but we made the most of the quicker car and got ourselves in the top 10. Antonio felt it was better to aim for a top 10 position and wait to see how things went in the race instead of necessarily going for pole and having a problem. Starting P7, 0.5s from pole position showed again that we were in the right place for the race.

The race was quite chaotic, but Antonio and Salvador drove sensibly, both overtaking a number of drivers and making the best of battles going on around them. As the race went on we had a great pit stop which resulted in gaining positions for Antonio and a safety car which caused some confusion with everyone waiting for the screens to update with the final order to be clear.

As we moved up the leader board it became more and more stressful for everyone in the garage as there was more to lose with each increment Antonio gained! By the time he was in a podium position, the tension was showing on everyone’s faces! And as each problem happened on track we were increasingly on the edge of our seats! Salvador was also making up places and looked like he would get into the points as well.

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At that stage we could see that Antonio had plenty of battery life left over and
he was therefore in a great position to push all the way to the end of the race and catch Nick Heidfeld before the chequered flag. When the drive-through came for Nick we almost couldn’t believe it, we just had to hold our breath and bite our nails till the end of the race.

Some people might say that there was some luck involved, but you can bring up many old adages about finishing first that you must first finish, and that goes for every element of the car, our team work, the car setup, the drivers’ management of the car’s batteries, the control systems, our pit stop practice and also how the other teams run their cars. Every part of a team is important and we have proven in previous races that we too could have technical problems such as electronic control systems with Takuma at the first race and pit stop problems that cause issues.

Were we lucky?

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation,and we certainly had the pace to take the opportunities delivered to us over the weekend.

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Whats next? Miami, where we should make some improvement on all aspects of the team operation, the car setup, our race strategy and some driver training. We have the pace and now it is a matter of building on success and doing a better job at each race and chipping away at the championship points to move ourselves up the grid. After all we love a challenge; otherwise we wouldn’t have entered such a unique and brand new championship!

Following my last column I have been very interested in the questions that we are being asked in our pre-race press conferences, especially at Buenos Aires where they are big fans of motorsport. One of the most common topics was, ‘how will the technology find its way into the world?’ The best example I could see was the bus rapid transit system they have in the city which is a great example of where electric drive, regenerative systems and wireless charging will find its way quickly into practical everyday applications.

You should remember that Uruguay generates 45% of their electricity from hydro
with a target of 90% in 2015 coming from renewables. The intermittent nature of some renewables will benefit from the “Energy Cloud” that will be created when more electric vehicles connect to the network and allow off line storage in the night for solar and during low wind conditions for wind.

Reprinted from Mark Preston’s column Racing to the Future in Motorsport Monday

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Race to the future

A year from now, climate negotiators representing countries worldwide will be in Paris. They hope to finalise international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Success will depend heavily on economic policy, and the new technologies to usher in a carbon light world.

“Unlike treaties of the past, the Paris agreement needs to speak as loudly of economic transformation as it does of carbon emissions targets,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. The Bank wants new clean technology investments. It wants energy efficiency, performance standards for vehicles and clear economic remit for change.

Motorsport seems an unlikely partner in all this. But the silent technologies being developed in Formula E are ideally placed to put the Bank’s vision on the ground. The Formula, a hotbed for excitement and intrigue, is also a key testing space for sustainable batteries, systems and futurist thinking.

Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014
Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014

“The future I see is for energy companies to become energy carriers,” says Preston. He has 12 years top level motorsport experience with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri F1 teams. Electric motors and reimagined transport are central to his vision. It involves carbon-light urban mobility in the cities of tomorrow.

“Fuel, batteries, hydrogen; they are all just carriers of energy. The energy is just stored in a number of different forms. Each has relevance to future transportation and we are working on all within SAFE Racing Technologies, our technology company that support the Amlin Aguri Formula E racing team.”

Finding more reliable energy storage is key. Preston believes legislation is a strong force to help. “If one mega city in China changed its rules to have zero emissions in the city, this could support three new, sustainable electric car companies, all using futurist batteries and storage tech.” he says.

“I think one of the reasons this hasn’t started yet is because the local companies are not quite there with the technology, so the government won’t start until the local companies can support. This is where Formula E comes in.” Motorsports has traditionally driven development in clutches or computer controlled suspension. Now it provides a testbed for advanced EV technologies.

“Once one city does EV successfully, it is possible to start a snowball effect with cities such as Los Angeles perhaps trying again; they tried in the 90s if I recall,” says Preston. In another shift in sustainable thinking, he explains how Formula E is exploring parallels between energy and cloud-based computer systems.

“When software is based in the cloud, individual upgrades in server speeds or software tweaks see all users on the system benefiting immediately,” he begins.

“I think the same could be true of our electrical grid. Today we have coal fired powerstations, but as soon as one of them is upgraded the whole system would be simultaneously. The concept is the ‘Energy Cloud,’ as some people are beginning to call it.

“As more renewables come online, this energy cloud is naturally and automatically upgraded. When more energy carriers connect to the smart grid, and electric cars plug in, the intermittent nature of some renewables is dealt with automatically by the Smart Energy Cloud.”

In this way, cohesive cloud systems could alleviate shortfalls in solar or wind power through scale. “Some more radical ideas could be carbon sequestration at the source of the power generation,” Preston continues.

Returning to the Formula E circuit, he hopes to see static batteries, ready at each race track one month before the race. These would be charged using solar and other renewables, from the smart energy cloud ready for use on race day.

“After the race they would be used for legacy projects; emergency power backup systems for hospital and schools. Cars need only be one part of the modal mix. The design will have longevity. I see Formula E providing a showcase for technology to encourage early adoption of new ideas by making the technology cool and relevant.”

Such Formula E technology might feature in tomorrow’s cars, trains or buses, depending on market dynamics. Preston points out that F1 flywheel technology is finding its way into buses at the moment. “Routes to market can take different paths. Formula E will develop technologies to push overall electrification of the transport industry.”

Widespread takeup for EV may well need direct wireless charging, which Preston discussed at a recent sustainable transport forum in Cologne. “Many bus projects are up and running where a bus will charge at every stop on its journey, effectively giving it limitless range using an electric drivetrain.

“Formula E is developing battery charging, packaging and programming of usage patterns. We are set to  really showcase what a cool and interesting thing electrification of vehicles is.”

Jim Yong Kim believes decarbonising energy sectors over time, while maintaining energy required for development constitutes a challenge no developed country has faced in its history.

“Getting to net zero emissions before 2100 will require a continuing shift in the direction of our energy portfolio, to support energy access for all and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

“It will require continued support for clean transportation and building low-carbon, livable cities, particularly in the fast-growing cities of the developing world, where development today will lock in growth patterns for decades to come.”

Such green transportation may seem light years from the race tracks of Putrajaya or Uruguay. But perhaps, as electric race cars whizz quietly around, the answers are coming.

Formtech launches the E1 research concept EV

Formtech created a vision of EV when they launched the E1 atFrankfurt’s IAA Motorshow in September.  The research study provides the base for a number of concepts in lightweighting technology using composites, high-end materials and machining.

Formtech’s EV started out as a concept for the companies CEO Franz Hilmer, “I wanted to develop a car that would provide me with a second vehicle that I can use to commute to work, but be stylish and provide the basis to exploit the technologies that Formtech is developing in lightweight materials, high-end precision manufacturing and other technologies.”

Designers: Satoshi Nakamura, Tomas Beres, and Rafael Gross, were given the brief to develop a number of concepts, “The chosen concept of the E1 came from the idea that a secondary car; where the customer already owns a vehicle, and considering an eco-friendly alternative especially designed for short commute, with the capacity to carry 4 passengers, should be simple and take full advantage of the electric drive train. The limited top speed and range will create a lighter, more efficient vehicle, perfect for a second car. The design features a short overhang at both ends to create maximum capacity within the given wheelbase dimension. The side surface wraps around to the front and rear end, creating a sense of security and strength to the overall form. “, said Nakamura.

“The future of EV’s will be based around a number of game changing technologies”, says Mark Preston, ex-F1 designer, “I forsee a change in the way EV’s are perceived with lightweight carbon composites and vehicle dynamics technology such as torque vectoring driving exciting new areas of customer interest.  We created the research study in order to create a platform from which Formtech can develop these new technologies and provide solutions for all areas of EV development”.

The Formtech E1 forms the basis of further development studies by Formtech into the exciting new area of EV’s.  Further studies will be released from Formtech that follow up on the beginnings created with the E1.  “Formtech is committed to working towards the future and welcomes discussions with interested companies and investors from the green sector“, says Hilmer.

Randomness and Excitement – Part II

As a follow on to my blog last year where I discussed how randomness drives excitement in F1, the first few races of 2011 certainly provided some interesting racing with KERs, DRS and Pirelli providing a set of variables that the teams have not yet completely mastered.

However as I was watching the German GP recently I noticed how the number of different tyre strategies is starting to narrow.

It is inevitable that the engineers will eventually remove some of the biggest unknowns in tyre prediction.  It was interesting to hear Mark Webber comment that Sebastian had mastered the tyres more quickly than he had.  As the teams simulators start to match the reality of the track, drivers like Mark will be able to experiment back at base to coach themselves to make the best use of the tyres.  At this point the number of variables will again narrow reducing randomness in strategy.

In fact the German GP gave a few more ideas about how the teams might be combining the simulators with drivers and strategy software.  The first hint came when Alonso said over the radio that Webbers tyres were starting to drop off and requested an update of the strategy to reflect this change.  This shows that the teams models are starting to get quite accurate but they still need an empirical “trigger” or tipping point where the driver helps to recognise a change in the tyres that the engineers can use to re-correlate their models real-time.  Once this correlation has been done the strategies can be updated with more accurate information for predicting forward.

The cold track temperatures at the German GP seemed to favour the McLarens and they were able to predict the change point of the tyres for last stint to perfection.  If the tyre performance curve can be mapped accurately there should not be any benefit from what people are calling the “undercut” as this performance anomaly should be accounted for accurately in any strategy software: leading to no advantage or randomness.  Lets see how their models fair in the hotter temperatures in Hungary.

The DRS works in combination with the randomness generated by the tyres.  Theoretically if the fastest car leads from the front there should be no need for DRS.  But, as the tyres provide unpredictable performance variations on each car and with each driver the DRS allows cars to pass each other should one team/driver be lucky enough to find themselves with a different performance envelope in the race in comparison to qualifying.

Again, as the tyres become more understood the randomness of the race vs qualifying performances will become less and DRS will become less of an exciting tool.

Hopefully the tyres change at a faster rate than the teams can match with their understanding!

Visit to Autodromo do Algarve

I had a visit to the Autodromo do Algarve, Portugal, in between Christmas and New Year to say hello to Paulo Pinheiro and the team and see what new things the circuit has introduced since I was here for the A1GP race earlier in 2010.

Although I have know the team at the Autodromo since before they started building, I hadn’t had a chance to do a few laps: I got a chance this week.

If you haven’t ever experienced the circuit, you should.  With many blind corners and rises, it’s quite a fun track to get to know.  I only had a few laps in a BMW 5 Series GTR and I was hooked.  OK, I am a long way from being flat onto the main straight and also completely dedicated through some of the blind corners, but I could have easily been convinced to stay all night and keep perfecting it!  Maybe next time…

Check out more pictures of the track at their website: http://autodromoalgarve.com.pt/index.php?lang=english

Randomness and Excitment

After the first race of the Formula One season in Bahrain there was a multitude of articles in the press and on blogs about how F1 was broken. This was quickly followed by an amazing race weekend in Melbourne where the complete opposite was seen.

Is F1 broken? Can races be made more exciting? These are the questions that seem to be continually asked. Part of the answer lies in the following statement: increase the likelihood of Random Events.

Lets start at the beginning. If you read the previous blog on First Order Performance variables you will see that engine power, aerodynamic downforce/drag and tyres drive the performance of the car.

Engine power is not really effected by any events that happen around them. As long as the engine receives fuel, air and electrical power, there will not be any random events. The only issues that can then effect the engine are failures, perhaps caused by errors such as cooling and ancillaries.

Aerodynamics can be effected by other events. Again, other than failure of a part, the next biggest effect comes from other cars disturbing the air that the car travels through. The only other real effect comes from weather. High winds can also disturb the aerodynamics, in a similar way following another car.

Tyres are probably one of the biggest changing factors in a race. They are highly non-linear. Their performance changes with a large number of variables making them very difficult to predict: track temperature/surface (which work to define grip)/condition (water!), heat input (driver style, car downforce level, engine power, etc).

Then there is the “software” element: the driver and the team! This is one the the largest areas for randomness. However, Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports, so the level of skill is the best available, they don’t really make many mistakes (I realise this is a little controversial!): not compared to many of the series that lead to F1.

Teams in Formula One work very hard to reduce the risks in any of these events causing them problems. I think this is summed up in an interview with Ron Dennis in “Director” magazine (2009), ““When I came into motor racing so many things were a black art,” “But black art was a cloak for ‘we really don’t know’. It was intuitive engineering. I decided to make it a science. We will develop science to take away uncertainty to make winning a certainty”. This comment was reiterated when Martin Whitmarsh responded to criticism in Malaysia (2010), “The weather radar has been pretty reliable here. It predicted that it would pass through and we thought it would be dry by the end of the session. If you send a car out to do a banker, there is a risk”. McLaren focus’s on reducing uncertainty, sometimes it doesn’t pay off but you don’t notice the other 1,000 times that it delivers results.

An interesting part of this focus on reducing uncertainty is that smaller teams can focus on these events to gain! When I ran Super Aguri F1 Team, this is exactly what we did. Probably the best example was in Canada in 2007 when Takuma Sato famously overtook Fernando Alonso. This occurred because we were able to switch onto a different, non-standard strategy in order to get onto the better tyre. McLaren had to follow their predetermined best strategy. Why? Because in general, changing strategy in the heat of battle does not deliver results. In general reducing risk, sticking to a plan and focusing delivers results. But it certainly makes for interesting racing! So at SAF1, we planned specifically for these events.

Another interesting example is weather. At SAF1 we also knew that at a track like Bahrain, the weather would not vary much from year to year. In fact we would plot a chart showing the temperature over the previous 10 years, every hour, for the race weekend and 5 days past and previous: there were a number of tracks where nothing really happens year on year. With this level of statistical analysis applied to any variable that could provide a difference, it is easy to see how much effort is applied to reducing randomness!

Bahrain (2010) – predictable weather, temperature within predicted range (hence engine cooling, tyre choice etc all within the expected “window”), predictable buildup to qualifying (all previous preparation on simulations and simulators within the expected “window”) resulted in the grid order fastest to slowest: as expected.

Melbourne (2010) – unpredictable weather and temperature, unforgiving “walls” that punish small errors. In these circumstances it is easy to see that all of the preparation in the name of reducing uncertainty are thrown into chaos. With the race thrown into chaos, mistakes are made as the permutations and combinations increase the randomness of events.

Is it possible to reduce the preparedness of the teams? Probably not. Only incredible reductions in funding could achieve this. With more people looking at more problems in more detail (specialisation), the understanding that Ron Dennis targets is achieved. It would be hard to go back to the “old days” when the team owner also drove the truck and the race engineer was also the chief mechanic! However, this is where some of the racing series such as Formula Fords, F3 and others are. This is some of the reasons that racing is often more exciting in these series.

So how do we increase the chaos? Increasing the permutations and combinations of the event.

Can we predict the results of a race? In Bahrain, following qualifying, yes, we can be fairly accurate. The permutations and combinations that feed into the teams race simulations are not too far wrong. Baring mistakes by the driver or the team and failures, the variables discussed above are dominant: tyres. How well the tyres performance is predicted is related to how well preparations are made on Friday testing and previous testing. Now that testing has been banned between races the focus has moved to simulators: but it does increase the chances of errors.

This made me think of sports and games that have a large number of permutations and combinations. They are hard to predict. One thought I had was that games where the teams oppose each other, i.e. they have to go head to head. Like football or chess. The fact that the players clash when they pass through each others area on the way to the goal (or other winning area) results in a large number of possible interactions and hence permutations and combinations. Obviously in football, teams practice and practice formations and plays to reduce errors. In a game like chess, the number of possible different moves is constrained slightly by the squares on the board, but the theoretical number of outcomes is in the order of 10^27002 (http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=389840) even though there is a maximum of 12,600 moves. First hypothesis: can we somehow introduce more ways in which the drivers interact more?

It is easy to see that tyres have a large effect and so many people say that the tyre war should be brought back into the sport. But the problem is this increases spending as the budgets will increase in order to minimise the variables associated with the tyres. Others want Bridgestone to make the tyres more on the limit, but this hurts their brand image and sometimes the tyres could be made too close to the limit and make it impossible to race! But effecting the tyres predictability will produce more variables. Second hypothesis: have races in places and at times when weather is more variable! (Like Melbourne and Britain!)

What about artificial random events like pace cars, reverse grids, push to pass buttons and different racing lines? Pace cars have become acceptable in Formula One, but reverse grids are seen as too artificial. Bernie Ecclestone recently suggested having 5 chances to take different lines around the track to pass people they are stuck behind. Go karts often have a number of races where drivers line up in a number of separate races where they get different grid positions each race and receive points based on the number of cars they pass and positions in each race. These points add towards the final race where these points decide the final grid. Many chances for the cars to clash in order to provide different possible permutations and combinations for the final race.

No real answers, but a look at many of the questions associated with randomness and how it effects the excitement of racing.

More thoughts to follow