The man behind the technology of Caterham F1 team

Bill Peters, CIO Caterham F1 Team

Bill Peters, CIO of the Caterham F1 Team

Technological advances over the last 20 years have made a huge impact on Formula 1TM racing — for the better. The computing power, connectivity or bandwidth available today just didn’t exist back then and it was much more expensive to purchase than it is now. Today you can’t even turn an F1 car on without a laptop.

Computing equipment is vital to the entire operation. There are aerodynamicists who require machines capable of processing huge files. There are trackside engineers who need Dell Precision mobile workstations that can work in the harshest of environments. There’s an Intel Cluster Ready High Performance Computing infrastructure (HPC) running every single hour of the year in a bid to make the car faster. Looking after all that and much more for the Caterham F1 Team is one person: the very busy Bill Peters. 

The complexity of equipment involved in Formula 1TM  these days doesn’t shock Peters. “I’ve been involved in this industry for 20 years and it seems as if things are getting simpler,” he says. “If you think about how a car works, for example, it seems very complex, but when you break it down to component parts it actually all makes sense and is quite logical. IT is just the same – it’s simply component parts. At the end of the day, the hardware is there to do a job, which is to run the really important stuff like the software and applications.”

As head of IT, Peters’ biggest challenge is trying to stay ahead of the game. “As a business, we’re constantly seeking a competitive advantage,” he says. “So in the IT world, it’s about trying to enable our engineers and our drivers and anyone within the business to have the latest and greatest performance from their equipment.”

As you can imagine, the computing requirements of a team are very demanding and they range quite a bit. Some members of the team use very high-end workstations (essentially supercomputers), while others will use a regular laptop and processor.

In terms of computer power, “the most power-hungry users that we have are the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) engineers – the wind tunnel simulation guys,” Peters says. “Not only do they need the supercomputer, which has huge amounts of processing capability, but they need a lot of grunt on the client side as well. So they’ve essentially got very high capacity desktop machines with lots and lots of memory and visual capability as well, because not only are they doing a lot of number crunching, they have to visualize and simulate those results.

“It surprises me that more doesn’t go wrong on a daily basis,” he continues. “From a supercomputer and trackside equipment point of view, you’d typically refresh every two years just to minimize the risk of failure. Being a new business, we can’t necessarily afford to do that. The kit is so robust, it just goes on and on.

Dell was with us from the get-go, and we went through a very demanding set-up process back in the early days. The relationship has gone beyond a supplier-customer partnership and is very much a technical partnership in the true sense of the phrase. We call on their technical expertise on a daily basis and we have a fantastic support arrangement.”

Peters believes that the next step for computing in Formula 1TM will be cloud-based computing. “We’re starting to look at potentially having our supercomputer capabilities as a service that we buy, as opposed to something we have in-house. Similarly, if we could have reliable enough communications to trackside, there’s no reason why you couldn’t host all your trackside systems in the cloud as well, so you wouldn’t need to carry the whole IT circus from track to track.”

Formula 1TM has always been a passion for Peters.  “With the whole Caterham Group and the relaunch of the Caterham brand, it’s a dream job.”

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Hans Seeberg
Hans has been a magazine journalist for 17 years, with particular experience in motoring, men’s lifestyle and Formula 1.
Hans Seeberg
Tags: Data Center,Storage,Technology