McLaren-Honda hoping to race ahead with SAP

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McLaren-Honda hopes to recapture the glory days of the 1980s McLaren-Honda hopes to recapture the glory days of the 1980s McLaren-Honda hopes to recapture the glory days of the 1980s

It was once the most successful marriage in Formula One; one could not say the name McLaren without adding Honda. Now, two decades later, these two giants in motor sports hope to regain their preeminent position with the help of new technology that could make for faster and better decisions in a sport where fractions of a second count.

The newly-minted 2015 McLaren-Honda Formula One team hopes that its enhanced partnership with IT giant SAP, which has been a McLaren team sponsor since 1997, can be the winning formula for a fast track back to its glory days in the 1980s.

Then, the McLaren-Honda partnership was at its greatest height of fame and fortune, and had also produced one of the most bitter rivalries in Formula One. The rivalry between teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost is the stuff of legends, yet it was this conflict that spurred both to great achievements.

With these two legendary drivers in the seat, McLaren-Honda reached the pinnacle of success in the 1980s with four Formula One World Constructors Titles. McLaren Honda won four together. McLaren and Honda each won another two with other constructors and engine suppliers.

But Honda withdrew from the Formula One in 2008 during the world economic crisis, and McLaren went several seasons without a win. Now, seven years later, in 2015, Honda returns to Formula One as the engine supplier to McLaren.

The road ahead is proving to be a difficult one. Success has been elusive, with the team yet to obtain any points from the 2015 grand prix races in Australia and Malaysia.

McLaren-Honda engineers at workMcLaren-Honda engineers at workMcLaren-Honda engineers at work

Optimisation through technological innovation

Hope remains high that McLaren-Honda will overcome the hurdles as the season progresses.

McLaren CEO Ron Dennis has been widely quoted as saying that although the challenges in the short term are huge, he has no doubt the collaboration with Honda will be successful.

But with the vast number of changes to the rules and regulations in Formula One, Honda has its work cut out for it as it tries to play catch up with teams such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault which have been fine-tuning their engines for several seasons now.

The team, however, hopes that it can not just catch up but also race ahead with the help of IT giant SAP which has been a McLaren team sponsor since 1997. SAP, the market leader in enterprise application software, became the official cloud and database solution provider for the McLaren Formula One Team in 2012.

Its role is to obtain and swiftly disseminate the huge amounts of data generated by the Formula One race car through 200 telemetry sensors placed strategically in different parts of the car.

During each and every race, over three terabytes of data are collected and processed by SAP’s systems which can process data 14,000 times faster than the previous solution used to process data. What normally takes a week to process can be done in the span of a pitstop, in the few seconds that the car is in for a tyre change and refueling.

The data is immediately relayed in real time to the technical crew of the McLaren team on site as well as to mission control of the McLaren Technology Centre in the United Kingdom.

Around a dozen technicians and engineers in mission control will pore over the data to give immediate feedback to the pit crew and drivers.

Former Formula One World champions Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, who are the McLaren-Honda team drivers, will get the information in real time to enable quick decisions that will hopefully give the team an edge.

In Formula One, fractions of a second can mean success or failure. The team hopes that better use of the data gathered and processed on the spot can give it a boost to a champion’s spot.

The innovative system also enables McLaren-Honda to create the ‘perfect lap’ for drivers through numerous simulations to pinpoint the exact technical requirements and skills needed to achieve this in various conditions. Through repeated simulations and analysis, a model of a perfect lap can be created for the drivers to replicate.

To McLaren, the perfect lap is about optimisation. The data about the aerodynamics of the car, tires and trajectory from rounding corners should be as perfect as possible, in order for the drivers to have the best information possible about the car as well as the weather conditions that day.

Later this year, SAP will be rolling out SAP HANA – its platform for next-generation applications and analytics – to help transform the IT infrastructure of the McLaren group. This system will provide an integrated and scalable solution to enable the group to enhance its performance with the aim of winning more races.

This partnership, McLaren fans hope, will return the team to its former heights of historic drives and wins.

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