F1 Futurology: Will AI be Managing Driver Pit-Stops in 2020?

Williams may have had a disappointing season in 2016, but they were undisputed pit-stop champions yet again, clocking a staggering 1.92 second stop last season. Now, the team’s CIO expects AI to shred further fractions of time off of the pit-stop process and may even remould how F1 teams operate entirely.

Williams F1’s CIO Graeme Hackland has assisted the team in getting the most from its data, which has taken centre stage as race strategy becomes more intricate and an increased number of sensors are used to provide feedback to engineers. But Hackland believes that automation is the next leap that Formula One teams must take to stay at the forefront.

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“I have rather wisely or unwisely decided that [by] 2020, the driver will be called in to pit by an artificial intelligence.
The nice thing about F1 … is it’s always been at the forefront of technology. We were early adopters of 3D printing technology, probably a bit behind aerospace. We’ve always tried to drive things that have given us a quick turnaround or something that can make the car quicker.”

– Graeme Hackland

Through machine learning, a system would be able to determine the optimum time for pitting by assessing various metrics, such as tyre pressures, track position and lap times. Through also observing race variables, such as weather and opponent strategies an AI system could revolutionise how a team operates over the weekend.

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Hackland also revealed that Williams created the world’s first ever connected car. A basic model of what is still practiced today in that data is gathered for analysis so that changes can be made to improve performance. Their fist connected car worked in quantities that are laughable to today’s exponential byte-climbers, with a small 64kb data logger that took around twenty minutes to download.

As the manipulation of data and concept of an in-garage AI loom, Hackland revealed what Williams’ Advanced Engineering intentions are.

“[There are] two areas we’re focusing on initially. New machines give us a huge new capability with smart factory and automating some of that decision making process. The machines will learn and we see that over the next few years.”

– Graeme Hackland

AI and computational methods will possibly give Formula 1 an opportunity to remain on the technological forefront should mechanical/electrical engineering in other motorsports like Formula e takeover.