The five-minute CIO: Graeme Hackland, Williams F1 Team

6 Jan 2017

Graeme Hackland, chief information officer at Williams F1 Team. Image: Williams F1 Team

“We are not going to win the World Championship by outspending the other teams. We have got to be smart,” said Graeme Hackland, chief information officer at Williams F1 Team.

Hackland joined Williams F1 and Williams Advanced Engineering three years ago. He was previously CIO at Lotus F1 Team.

He sees IT as pivotal in preparing Formula 1 for new regulations and technology changes, and views data as the fuel that will drive improvements in performance of cars, drivers and pit crew.

‘The way we are going to be smart is really around how we handle the data’

His focus in 2017 is on better employing real-time and cloud data in vehicle and human diagnostics, rolling out a smart factory and examining how the internet of things, sensors and wearables will be game-changers, on and off the track.

Formula 1 cars are a constant work in progress. With the explosion of data, how is this changing?

We think of it as experimentation with every single race. No car is ever the same. Even the car that runs on the Friday of a race weekend is usually very different to the qualifying car on Sunday.

Thanks to data, everything is instrumented. I have heard Felipe Massa saying that he can’t hide; everything he does is there in the data.

Is your job to support the Williams Racing organisation or the Williams car?

My job personally is to support the group. Our main goal in life is to win in Formula 1. There is a lot of focus in the whole organisation on the car and on improvement, and understanding the rule changes each year; and making sure that we provide the tools they need to meet the regulation changes and be in the best shape to go racing.

The five-minute CIO: Graeme Hackland, Williams F1 Racing

Felipe Massa of Williams F1 Team taking part in Formula One Test Days at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain, on 3 March 2016. Image: ZRyzner/Shutterstock

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

When I came aboard, there was a recognition that there had been underinvestment in some of the technology areas, particularly IT.

They brought me in and created the CIO role on the executive team, and the idea was to make IT a little bit more strategic.

We have a five-year plan to transform IT and technology that is being used. We are three years into that strategy now. We initially focused on base infrastructure; we partnered with BT to really help us with the network.

We had issues; for example, in our Advanced Engineering company, which commercialises the knowledge and know-how we have from Formula 1. They would have customers they would want to onboard in a couple of days. It takes time to set up network requirements and we couldn’t always meet the security requirements of the customers within a few days. But we have been working with BT to design a network that allows us to set up even our most advanced customers in the same day.

We have high computation requirements in aerodynamics, or in vehicle science, and weren’t always able to meet those requirements, and so the partnership with BT has allowed us to put in a network that means we do meet the real-time requirements, especially from the track.

The data was being generated by the car and the engineers were not able to get to it in real-time and many of the engineers back here in the UK couldn’t get to the data until some time after the race. BT have really helped us to transform that and get the data back to the UK pretty much as it is generated, in near real-time.

We are using a lot more video analytics now than we were ever able to do before. It has been a great partnership for us and I will share some of that at the Mindshare event at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in Dublin next week.

How many sensors and data touch points are you using?

We have about 1,000 channels of data per second and we can pick or sample one particular channel on a Friday at a very fast frequency, and then that data may not be as useful on Sunday. We use a lot of the Friday data in our simulators and then the Sunday data is about how we can win in the race.

For the first time last year, we started to instrument the humans. It is not as widespread yet in Formula 1 in terms of drivers, but around our pit crew, we started to use biometrics for the first time last year. We captured a lot of data and we are working with scientists to figure out how can we use that data during this season in real-time, to help the pit crew to be even better than they were last year. 2016 was impressive for us.

How has data been instrumental in helping Williams to up its game on the track?

It is critical and it is the real-time nature of it that is changing the game. We use data post-event and where we want to do multi-year searches and comparisons, or when we are trying to work out what’s the best new thing to put on the car; should we put on a new front wing, a new floor? Should we be doing something with the rear wing?

The first connected car in Formula 1 arrived in 1979 but now we are getting to the stage where we are generating gigabytes of data that have to be analysed.

And then there is also competitor analysis; we use data to understand where our car is, where our competitor’s car is on the track [and] tyre data from Pirelli to improve the tyres. We combined lots of different data sets, including our own car telemetry to provide each driver with an overlay of what their teammate is doing and, as best we can, what our competitors are doing. We use video as well for some of that.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

There are 20 people in IT only – we don’t do it all ourselves. We work very closely with the vehicle science group who do a lot of the onboard systems. We take responsibility for the data once it comes off the car and then we will work with vehicle science to make sure that the systems they are developing can handle the data.

In aerodynamics, they have their own development team and we work closely with them as well.

We are partners with Avanade, an Accenture company, to provide us with digital capabilities we didn’t have before, and we have embedded some of their people all over the team.

We are not the biggest team in Formula 1; we don’t have the most funding, we are independent – and so it is all about optimising wherever we can.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

The thing about Formula 1 is how heavily regulated it is. At the moment, a lot of the innovation comes from the manufacturers who want to create systems that will be relevant for road car usage. As a result, a lot of Formula 1 cars today are hybrid cars using energy recovery systems, and they are very impressive.

We look at technology in two ways: either to make our Formula 1 car better, or to expand our advanced engineering business. The profits that we make in Advanced Engineering feed into Formula 1.

We work a lot in the data analytics area because we are really good at it and have been doing it a long time, in terms of the connected car.

We work on all sorts of projects where we are looking at engineering data, how people handle data, and we are working with one of the autonomous car projects on the simulator side of things. Data is a big focus for the next couple of years.

Analytics is probably going to be my top priority having now worked with BT for two years. We have gotten to the point where some of the solutions [are] around communication, collaboration and mobility tools.

Last year, we enabled our people to be very effective, no matter where they were. They didn’t have to be in the factory or at the track– they could work from anywhere.

We need to focus on network security, data analytics and how we make sure every engineer gets the piece of data that they need at the right time in order to make the car faster or more reliable, so that we can win.

We are not going to win the World Championship by outspending the other teams. We have got to be smart. The way we are going to be smart is really around how we handle the data.

How do you see sensors, 3D printing and internet of things transforming Formula 1?

We spent most of last year working with our ops director and manufacturing around how we can help them get to the right piece of data during this busy build period they are in now.

In terms of internet of things, the whole connected technology; all the sensors, everything we are seeing – we are very good at that. We see that as a growth area for advanced engineering. We did a biometrics project already but we can see wearables for drivers, for trackside personnel, even for people back at the factory to help improve human performance.

We are the first team to put biometrics on the pit crew and that is exciting. We are really focused on internet of things.

3D printing is the third area. We’ve been using 3D printers in Formula 1 for selective laser sensoring [and] lithography, and we’ve been doing that since the 1990s, having followed the aerospace industry. We’ve been 3D printing a wind tunnel model for a very long time, and we are running parts on the full-sized Formula 1 car that are printed from carbon fibre and moulded.

The last area I am looking at is AI, robotics and automation. We are replacing all of our manufacturing capability with a smart factory. And some of the expertise we have around automation we can either sell through advanced engineering or make our Formula 1 team better.

We are doing our first automation projects at the moment on things that required humans up to now. It’s a really exciting area for us. We can see that we are going to shorten manufacturing time – the real big differentiator for Formula 1 is that if you give the designers more time, your car will be better.

Hackland will be in Dublin next week for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which takes place on 11-14 January 2017. He will share his insights on data and Formula 1 at the BT Mindshare business breakfast on Thursday 12 January.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years