It’s the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are locked in a fierce, no-holds-barred battle for the win. There’s absolutely nothing to choose between the two title contenders. Vettel’s Ferrari leads, Hamilton is unrelenting as he piles on the pressure in his Mercedes.

Each is trying to find the chink in the other’s armour. But there is none. Vettel, by sheer dint of being ahead, seems to have edged it, although not even halfway through the 66-lap race it’s too soon to say.

But it’s clear — this race won’t be decided on track.

Lap 37 and Hamilton’s Mercedes dives into the pits just as the virtual safety car, deployed for a collision, is ending. It is an inspired call, which catches Ferrari by surprise and wins him the race.

There’s a good a bet the banks of Mercedes engineers based out of the team’s factory in Brackley, England had a role to play in making it. And by carrying the reams of race data that enabled them to do so all the way from Spain to England in real-time, Tat a Communications did too.

“We help connect each of the race tracks back to Brackley,” says the Tata Communications’ F1 boss Mehul Kapadia in an interview at the British Grand Prix.

“Each car generates so much data. So in real time we are helping them take that data back in and process it. In the blink of an eye they should be able to take the right strategic calls, help the drivers in terms of what should be their next course of action.”

These so called ‘mission control’ setups back at teams’ factories are becoming an increasingly important part of their race weekend operations.

An F1 car has nearly 300 sensors all of which record data that is fed back to these remote operations centers where a group of engineers monitors, analyses and recommends various courses of action to their team-mates at the track.

So whether it’s brake temperatures, engine temperatures or vibrations they’re constantly analysing all the information coming in which can help them flag potential problems and preemptively fix them.

At the same time, these remote engineers help formulate race strategy based on an analysis of a team’s Friday practice form.

They also run ‘live’ simulations of how the race is likely to pan out for their cars even as it is still on, helping them spot windows of opportunity like the one Hamilton took advantage of in Spain.

Kapadia recognises as connectivity partners, companies like Tata Communications aren’t actually directly involved in making these key decisions.

But without their infrastructure teams wouldn’t be able to run these remote operations centres, putting them at a serious competitive disadvantage in a sport where a tiny edge is all it takes to make the difference between victory and defeat.

“We are kind of the enablers rather than actually taking that call,” says Kapadia.

“So our job is really to ensure that at one level the service just works, whichever part of the world they go to, the staff is able to get that same consistency of experience.”

Tata Communications’ role in F1 goes beyond their Mercedes partnership. The company is in fact the connectivity partner of the sport as a whole, carrying the live TV feed to television sets across the world. With Formula One’s digital push gathering steam, they also have a key role to play in the way fans watch it in the future whether it is at the race track, at home on TV or on the go on their mobile phones.

Together with the sport and Mercedes they have introduced the F1 Innovation Prize that crowdsources ideas from fans that can be adopted in future seasons.

“As somebody who is close to technology, I feel the thing about technology is that it is about how we can bring it alive,” says Kapadia.


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