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How IT makes McLaren go faster

NTT Communications gives McLaren competitive advantage from advanced communications technology

F1 is as much a technology race as it is a race between cars and for this reason McLaren needs reliable technology partners to provide best-in-class technology solutions and business processes so that it can concentrate on what it does the best.


COMMUNICATION plays a vital role during a Formula 1 race for McLaren. The drivers are in constant touch with the trackside team, which in turn feeds the information to head office where a team of  experts analyse the data that the sensors on the F1 cars transmit throughout the race.

Uninterrupted high bandwidth communications were identified as an area where McLaren could have an edge over its competition, which is why it entered into a Technology Partnership with NTT communications. 

In today’s F1 races, data and data analytics can provide the vital few seconds or fractions of seconds that make the difference. Ten years ago, only 100 MB (megabytes) of data would be produced by McLaren Racing over a race weekend. In 2018 it has now reached one terabyte. All this data needs to be analysed in real time and is usually done at the McLaren Technology Centre, situated in Woking in the UK, where chief strategists and race engineers sit, analysing data and taking decisions that are implemented on the track. Based on the feedback provided by the team in Woking, the McLaren trackside team constantly updates strategy during a race.

NTT Communications helps to take care of McLaren’s technology backbone that allows for this seamless communication. The technology partnership underpins McLaren’s IT strategy, focusing on cloud, mobility and people-centric services. It is not just about words or branding on a car, the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) solutions add value to all parts of McLaren's business.

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IT challenges

Robert Steggles, Senior Director Marketing, NTT Communications, Europe, notes that aside from Formula 1, McLaren has IT challenges that are similar to many business of similar size. These range from how to support the IT needs of 3,500 employees across several locations globally, to liaising with global dealer networks and suppliers, to the racing team, as well as standard office functions.

“There is a need for a reliable software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) to support all types of office communication and data networks, including transferring large files at high speed at crucial moments.

“Our Enterprise Cloud facility allows McLaren to burst its simulation capacity, helping to improve race decisions. The Raceday Dashboard that was developed using our Cloud Management Platform gives McLaren a single view of many parts of their IT infrastructure,” Mr Steggles adds.

Prior to the addition of NTT Communications SD-WAN technology, the McLaren team used only a Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) connection to send real-time video back to the McLaren Technology centre at Woking.

However, the system was relatively expensive to expand and didn’t have the bandwidth for the 11.8 billion data points being sent per year from the track. This caused video lag and image quality issues, hindering the team’s ability to monitor each race and quickly and accurately assess each situation.

NTT Communications SD-WAN operates via a simple and more cost-efficient broadband internet service. The strategy team in Woking can now synchronise race data and have high quality live video feeds. This enables them to rapidly review what they see, run race simulations and provide quicker and better strategic race advice says McLaren Racing's Head of Race Strategy, Randeep Singh.

“With this solution, we estimate that we can shave 7 to 8 seconds from video delay between track and mission control, meaning that our team of experts can be involved in all decision making in a timely manner. When some decisions have to be made quicker than a few seconds it's important not to have delays that block our experts from being involved in those decisions,” Mr Singh notes.

With 21 races across 21 different countries with varying levels of infrastructure, the ability to set-up the NTT Communications SD-WAN system both quickly and easily is a big advantage to the McLaren trackside team.

Plug and play

According to Joe Bawn, Infrastructure Engineer, McLaren Racing, when the team reaches each track at the start of a grand prix weekend, “there are literally hours and hours” of setup before the cars can  even start their engines. “Because the NTT Communications SD-WAN solution operates via a normal internet connection available at the race track, we enjoy plug-and-play operability that's up and running within minutes. This ensures good team communication from the outset and saves us valuable time,” Mr Bawn adds. 

The SD-WAN solution has resulted in considerable operational savings for the McLaren team, so much so that the NTT Communications technology has now been recognised by the wider McLaren business and is being explored for broader use throughout the organisation. The technology is currently being considered to strengthen the communications infrastructure for the wider McLaren Group in connecting its 80 offices around the world– driving further cost efficiencies and valuable business benefits.

Mr Steggles notes that NTT Communications is passionate about the use of data to drive decisions and in its commitment to innovation.  “Those values may not be unique in themselves, but when you try to achieve them with a way of working that focuses on constant improvement and proximity to the team, there is a very good fit with how McLaren conducts its business,” he adds.

He adds that this dedication is the reason why his company received such compliments as “Zero downtime for the whole 2017 season and a great team to work with. What more can I say?” from McLaren’s Mr Singh. 

Alongside work to support the McLaren business, NTT Communications also has a research and development program with McLaren. The introduction of SD-WAN was a direct result of this R&D program. An engineer from NTT Communications noticed the video lag during one of the grand prix weekends and suggested a proof of concept that was implemented in the 2017 season. That proof of concept proved so successful that SD-WAN is being used at all races in the 2018 season, in addition to MPLS.

For NTT Communications, the technology partnership is real: “With McLaren we test new products and innovate, we hone existing products and improve performance right across the business,” Mr Steggles adds.

“It’s a continual improvement process. Service quality, technical review, decision processes and the human side of the relationship - being a real strategic part of the team - is as important to us as the technology that is deployed.” 

Data analysis and simulation are increasingly important, so the infrastructure to reliably and swiftly transport that data, analyse it to provide insight and to automate some decisions is absolutely key.

“The next area we think will be important is to obtain data on ever more detail of each performance component, including human performance for the whole team – pit crews and engineers as well as drivers – with a view to taking the guesswork out of recruitment, training and performance enhancement,” Mr Steggles concludes.