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The ultimate F1 data junkie - Analysing driver DNA // Looking deeper into the Formula One action with statistics and analysis

Published by Mr. C

Back in March, McLaren hinted their upcoming 1.0b Live Data Viewer might offer fans a new look at F1. It is a system developed by Work Club and designed to provide more information to the armchair fan than previously available, bringing everybody closer to the action.

A view to a kill

Text updates covering pit wall action and driver radio messages are coupled with live data streamed from both of the team's cars whilst out on track. The system has worked almost flawlessly from the start, and at times has provided us with detailed race strategy before the action unfolded in front of us.

There have been a few issues, of course. Notably, text updates seem to tail off towards the end of the race, and some of the more strategic calls have been toned down race-on-race, but the raw data coming from the two cars has been consistently fantastic throughout.

Positioning data displays the cars whereabouts on track, while additional information, such as braking pressure, g-force loads and selected gear, continuously update alongside the circuit map. What more could one ask?

Actually it turns out there is a lot more to be gleaned from the data McLaren are already providing, especially when it comes to post race analysis.

Number crunching

If you've been listening to the F1 Debrief podcast for any length of time, you may have heard us mention the OUseful.Info Blog, a site containing the musings of Tony Hirst, an Open University academic and mashup artist. Or, as I prefer it, an absolute freaking genius, given that 70% of his posts are way beyond my comprehension. Tony though, is doing some amazing things with F1 data, and that I do understand.

Although the process of crunching the masses of content the 1.0b spews out during a race weekend is somewhat complicated, the results when combined with data visualisation tools and Google Maps, provide a level of detail fans geeks could only dream about a few years ago.

A visual comparison of gear selection and throttle usage between Button and Hamilton.
Credit: McLaren Telemetry in association with Vodafone

Pretty ain't it?

Before we delve into what exactly the above is showing, it's worth mentioning that the data has been provided by McLaren Group, while the speed, throttle and brake data is sponsored by Vodafone. Ben Charlton scraped the data, before OUseful.info visualised it. Got that? Phew! The same goes for the second image on this page and we do appreciate everybody's help in bringing this data to life. Now back to the pretty pictures.

To the left, to the right

The colours above show what Tony dubs a driver's DNA. The top two bars display gear selection and the lower two, throttle application. If I understand things correctly, a lap starts on the left and flows to the right, before moving back to the beginning to start a new line (like hitting carriage-return on a typewriter). Colours represent the various gears, shades of green being the lowest and white being the highest.

Button's readout sits above Hamilton's and of particular interest is the area marked by a red bounding box, which shows where the two drivers gear selection differs through a specific section of the track. The section in question is turns 8, 9 and 10 and if that data is overlaid onto a circuit diagram using GPS coordinates, you can clearly see Lewis' trace is completely different through that section of the lap (note: overlays are vertically offset for clarity).

An overlay of driver gear selection through turns 8, 9 and 10 of the Shanghai International Circuit.
Credit: McLaren Telemetry in association with Vodafone

The data doesn't tell us why a driver might prefer to take a corner in a different gear from his teammate, but until now, we had no idea that this was even the case. Lewis appears to prefer 3rd gear, before dropping down to 2nd, whilst Jenson goes for 2nd, 1st then 2nd (I'm guessing). It might be worth looking back at a race re-run to see if either driver takes a specifically different line through the corners to make this work for them.

Going back to the first image, the two lower bars display throttle usage and is altogether easier to understand. The gaps show when a driver is braking and both drivers seem to approach the lap in a similar manner.

Scraping the surface

I appreciate this is incredibly geeky stuff. I completely understand eyes glazing over at the thought of anyone analysing the application of a driver's right foot, but to me this is a wonderful new resource of untapped data. Tony has done a brilliant job of digging into the numbers thus far, but I bet there is a lot more to come. Keep an eye on his F1 Data Junkie posts, for future updates, or to swat up on the process of getting this far.

If you're still in doubt to the worth of this information, check out the 0.1b promo video where it's noted that McLaren saw a 240% increase in traffic year-on-year, following the introduction of the system. Rival teams take note!