Caterham's Smart New F1 Racer Collects Data From 500 Onboard Sensors

Illustration for article titled Caterham's Smart New F1 Racer Collects Data From 500 Onboard Sensors

In a sport where the difference between winning and losing is measured in thousandths of a second, squeezing every last ounce of speed out of your F1 racecar is absolutely imperative. A new collaboration between GE and Caterham aims to do just that—by leveraging the power of big data and materials science.


First of all, it's worth mentioning how vehicles used in F1 races differ from NASCAR. Unlike the high-speed ovals that American NASCAR fans are generally used to, where a high top speed and steady handling are vital, F1 cars are designed for quick accelerations, tight turns, and vehicular agility. What's more, they are notoriously challenging to operate. As such, Caterham is focusing on four areas with which to improve it's racing fleet: data analytics, fiber-optics, composites, and heat management.

Each vehicle, officially known as the Caterham CT03, is impregnated with more than 500 sensors throughout the power plant, drive train, and suspension—including cutting-edge fiber optic sensors that measure the amount of downforce imparted on the car's front wing. This array of sensors generates nearly 1,000 data points of data per second, which amounts to whole gigabytes of data every lap. This data is sent to Caterham HQ, where it is analyzed and used to improve forthcoming body and chassis designs.

Besides making them smarter, GE is making the car bodies both lighter and more efficient. While Caterham's cars are already made almost exclusively of lightweight composite materials, a few engine, exhaust and drivetrain components are still fabricated from aluminum. GE is currently working to produce composite versions of the vehicle's aluminum cooling tubes for the upcoming 2014 season.

Also new for the 2014 season? A smaller engine displacement limit of just 1.6 liters. The current season's Renault RS27-2013 is nearly 50 percent larger, a 32-valve 2.4 liter V8.

Incredibly, Caterham's new engines will still produce the same 700 hp output despite the shrinking engine, and will do so while consuming a third less fuel. The engine will be outfitted with a set of powerful turbochargers working in tandem with an intercooler system to compress incoming air before it hits the fans. What's more, the car will also incorporate an active energy recovery system to further reduce its fuel consumption.

With these improvements in place, Caterham could lead the pack in the 2014 season—and using the data they cull from each race, these cars will only get smarter. [Caterham via GE Reports - Image: Caterham]




How are NASCAR cars and F1 cars alike?

They both have an engine, 4 wheels and a driver. Other than that, not much.

ultra high tech, tiny, turbocharged engines vs big, pushrod V8s which were introduced in the 1950s (yes, they have evolved, but it is still fundamentally the same engine as what you could buy in a '55 Chevy). NASCAR was using carburetors just a few years ago.

F1 cars have a carbon fiber "tub" with parts bolted to it, while NASCAR has a steel cage with hand made body panels attached.

F1 pit stops (4 tire change) happen in under 3 (three) seconds. NASCAR pit stops (4 tires and fuel) take about 20, because they use a non-pressurized fuel bottle to fill the car with.

F1 is *all* about high tech. NASCAR is *all* about tradition.