Performing at the pinnacle of any sport is as much about competitive analysis as it is about natural talent these days – and as competition heats up at Mercedes the data analysts could hold the key to the title.
In football, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is one of the most meticulous managers and his incredibly detailed pre-match analysis of opponents’ preceding matches is key to his success. Top tennis players, meanwhile, can find the edge by picking through Hawkeye data available from past performances of rivals. And jockeys have used form guides to pick horses and races since the dawn of the sport.
But data-rich Formula One offers perhaps the biggest opportunity for competitors to find the edge – and in what is shaping up to become an intra-team battle at Mercedes for the 2014 title, that attention to detail could be the difference when things go down to the wire.
The German driver’s engineers analysed Hamilton’s driving performance after Malaysia and came up with a “big document” showing how Rosberg should change certain elements of his driving style to suit the car and get back on level terms.
At this crucial stage of the season, when drivers are getting to grips with the new cars and tyres, any edge that a rival has must be spotted, understood and annulled. Especially if that rival is your team-mate.
But discovering the data trends is not as easy as it once was.
Onboard telemetry uses sensors on the car to take detailed live measurements of different performance criterion - and it has come a long way since it was first introduced into F1.
A system that once recorded just a few basic elements now delivers 1,500 different channels of data fed by over 150 different sensors on the car, each recording a different vital aspect of performance, from engine revs to brake temperatures, pedal position to fuel use.
The most vital data is fed live to pit wall and to the data engineers in the garage – of which there are around 10 per car – but the full picture can only be evaluated once the car returns to the pits and the big thick ‘umbilical cord’ is plugged in to suck the rest of the data out onto giant hard drives.
Then the challenge begins.
Mercedes has a policy for open data, so there’s no hiding place for either driver. The team bosses have made it very clear that sharing data is essential for the good of the team – but how they internally police exactly how and when that data is shared will be interesting.
There are benefits to be gained both from long-term data analysis and more immediate cross-garage pollination during a race weekend.
But the key part of all this is perhaps more complex than the actual performance benefit to be gained on track – it’s the potential to use the analysis to play mind games with your opponent.
Rosberg’s team was clever in being so open about what they’d done between Bahrain and Malaysia. It clearly got under Hamilton’s skin.
“He used that to his advantage,” said the Briton before declaring a data war on his team-mate. “So I'll do the same and hope that it works for me..."
Mourinho’s success in football has been as much down to the mind games he plays and the distractions he creates before a match as the tactics he can glean from his research for the game itself.
And that’s where the battle between the two sides of the garage at Mercedes could become very interesting indeed...
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