The ninth season of Formula E World Championship racing is under way, with events slated everywhere from Berlin to Jakarta to Portland, Oregon.
Formula E has all of the thrills and spills of IndyCar or F1 racing—sleek aerodynamic vehicles, talented drivers, spirited competition. But there’s one key difference: the cars are electric.
In traditional auto racing, the skills of the driver are certainly important, but so is the strategy of when to make a pit stop for fuel and tires as well as the real-time communication between driver and pit crew. Similarly, in Formula E the driver is the star of the show, but data analytics running in the background plays an important role.
In E-Prix racing, every car starts with the same amount of electrical charge—38.5kWh—or about 45 minutes of race time given the regulation maximum-consumption limit of 350kW. Teams use analytics to find the right balance between driving fast and conserving enough battery life to get across the finish line.
“We can’t go full throttle all the time, otherwise we most likely wouldn’t make it to the target,” says Michael Wokusch, senior IT product manager for Porsche Motorsport. “Therefore, we have really to calculate when to use how much energy to have the best performance possible, and basically hitting the finish line with exactly 0% state of charge left in the battery.”
The TAG Heuer Porsche team currently sits in first place in the standings, in no small part due to its network, which sends data from the Porsche 99X Electric Gen3 vehicle to engineers on site and then across a Cato Networks SD-WAN link to another team of engineers at the Porsche Motorsport operations center in Germany, who are seeing the same data and relaying recommendations back to the onsite team.
Racetrack-edge network has WAN limits.
From a networking perspective, the Formula E traveling road show format presents a number of potential speed bumps:
The team arrives at a destination (Dirihay, Saudi Arabia; Hyderabad, India; Kapstadt, South Africa) and has to build a network on the fly. “We only have about half a day to set up everything,” says Wokusch.
To complicate matters, the races don’t take place at a fixed infrastructure track, like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but on city streets. When the crew arrives at a race venue, “sometimes it’s no more than temporary garage tents,” says Wokusch. “There is basically no infrastructure at all given.”
The team brings its own rack of IT equipment, which it calls the Porsche Mobile Computing Platform, and uses a Cato SD-WAN appliance to quickly and securely establish a WAN link.
Formula E race organisers provide a high-bandwidth wireless link between the cars on the road and the on-site engineering team, but the WAN connection is restricted to 50mbps for each team, which is pretty limiting considering the amount of video, audio and data traffic that needs to go back and forth.
That’s where the SD-WAN QoS capabilities come into play, allowing the Porsche team to prioritise traffic types.
Wokusch explains, “We have the Cato socket connecting to the Cato backbone. We have a few virtual sockets deployed in our cloud environments, where we connect them to private networking as well as our ops room in the RD facility where we have all the engineers following it live and providing support in real time.”
He adds, “Our engineers can analyse while the driver is racing around the track. What happened there? Why it’s the case? And in the best case, obviously, they come around with a solution.”
Examples of possible solutions would be to alter the line that the car is taking on the track, to go a little faster or slower, or to make adjustments to mechanical features of the car such as dampers and flaps.
Pre-race analytics determines race strategy
The ability to squeeze the most performance out of the WAN link provides an advantage for the Porsche team because time is of the essence. They arrive at a race site having never seen the course before. They are allowed to run practice laps prior to a qualifying race that determines pole position in the actual race but are limited to two 30-minute practice sessions.
The analytics team has to take data compiled during the practice runs and within hours develop a strategy for how to run the qualifying race—how fast should the driver go on the straightaways, when to brake, how much to brake, etc.
One wrinkle associated with electric vehicles is that the act of braking actually returns energy to the battery, so that needs to be factored into the game plan. More than 40% of the energy used within a race is produced by regenerative braking, Porsche says. Environmental conditions also enter into the calculations, such as temperature, wind, and the condition of the track surface.
Data from the practice lap informs the qualifying-race strategy, which then informs the race strategy. The team also needs to have backup plans to account for different race scenarios, such as a crash which would require teams to run on a yellow flag for a few laps. And some weekends, there are double-headers, so teams can adjust their strategies between the first and second race.
Real-time analytics guides drivers.
With drivers hurtling along narrow, twisty city roads at terrifying speeds (up to 200mph), the last thing they need is to have multiple voices echoing in their headsets. So, the Porsche team in Germany communicates with a single point person on site, who talks to the driver. That onsite engineer provides insight from the remote analytics team as well as tactical information for the driver. That would include telling the driver that someone is coming up close behind them or that this might be the right time to try to pass the car up ahead.
Another data-driven strategy unique to Formula E is something called Attack Mode. That’s when a vehicle can move off the ideal racing line, slow down, and swing wide to drive over an activation zone that allows the car—for an interval of 45 seconds—to increase its power use by 30kW above the maximum otherwise allowable. The mode might be used, for example, to give one car enough of a boost to pass another.
SASE for security
Wokusch says Cato SASE provides Porsche with the performance, flexibility, and security it needs to compete. “It’s not only that we can see our data and nobody else, but also that we don’t get something bad into our network,” he says. Plus, by shifting management of some network components and enforcement of policies to the SASE service, he says the Porsche team can better “focus on what we are best in”.
Wokusch says he also appreciates Cato’s scrappy startup mentality. “In the end it’s just a perfect fit to our needs.”