Technology Corner: the role of a Data Engineer

Jordan Bird 2

We are joined today by Jordan Bird, a 17-year-old budding Data Engineer with substantial experience, who is kind enough to share his insights about what the role of a Data Engineer is. Be sure to check!

The role of a Data Engineer varies depending on what car and series you work in. For example, in Formula 1 the role of the Data Engineer is to analyse the telemetry (i.e. live data from the car) from the car which is transmitted to the pit wall. The engineers can then view the data live to check the most important sensors. Typically, these would cover the engine parameters including temperature, pressures, maximum rpms, speed and so on.

In GT racing you can still get live data. However, this is only in the top GT championships. But, in British GT this role is different as you don’t get any telemetry (live data). The Data Engineer, however, still must look at the data but this is normally done when a driver changes or setup change is being made, to then download information via a laptop before the data can be analysed.

After each run, the Data Engineers will then download all the data to their laptops. But what do they look at? Firstly, they will check the engine parameters, such as temperatures, pressures, maximum and minimum RPM and wheel speeds. They check this first to see if there are any issues or faults and if any set up changes are needed, such as changing gear ratios. Also, the engine data may highlight any oil surges which are occurring on track or sudden temperature changes during the lap.

After reviewing engine data, the Data Engineers check chassis-related information which includes lateral and longitudinal G-forces, dampers, suspension loads and wheel speeds. It is important for the engineers to analyse this so the team can understand how the car is performing on track. If the Data Engineer can see an issue with the car like oversteer or understeer, they can look at the data to see where it is occurring on track and then check the chassis data to see why the car is performing in this way.

Finally, one of the most important areas of information to check, is driver-related data. This would include speed, RPM, application of the throttle, brake pressures, gear selection, steering input and brake bias and comparison times. By looking at these parameters, the Data Engineer can see how the driver is performing. If a team is running two or more drivers, then the information collected will allow comparison between each driver’s lap.

The Data Engineer, team and drivers can learn a lot from this and can see where each driver loses time against each other. In a team running a professional and an amateur driver, this will allow the professional driver to give feedback to the amateur and provides coaching opportunities. Typically, the less experienced driver may be applying brakes too early into a corner or maybe late on the throttle coming out.

At the track, the Data Engineer has specific tasks that they are responsible for. The Friday of a race weekend is normally set-up day. Once the car is in the garage the Data Engineer then plugs their laptop into the car to check that the sensors are working correctly and providing the expected feedback. Then they upload any new changes to the dash, including different track lengths, driver information and dash read-outs to display to the driver.

Saturdays are usually practice and qualifying days and the Data Engineer would arrive at the circuit about two hours before the first session. Before the car is sent out on the circuit, they would plug in to the car via their laptop to check if the dash it set up correctly and to also recheck the sensors. Once the Data Engineer is satisfied that information is being gathered correctly, the car can go out on the track.  When the car comes in to the pits to refuel or change drivers, the Data Engineer then plugs in and downloads the data to quickly check that all the parameters are correct. After the morning session is over, the engineer will plug in again to download all the data from the sessions for analysis. They would then sit down with the driver and look at the driver data from the session. If the Data Engineer identifies that a set-up change may be beneficial, they will alert the Race Engineer who, again, will review the data. The Race Engineer will then decide if a set-up change is needed.

Sunday! For the Data Engineer, much of their work is done. There will be a “warm-up” session for 10 minutes to check if the systems are all running correctly as the car will have been left overnight. The Data Engineer would then hand all his data over to the Race Engineer, who decides on the race strategy. Data helps with the strategy decisions as it shows how much fuel the car uses per lap and so on. During the race itself, the Data Engineer will sit on the pit wall with the Race Engineer, recording lap times and making notes of other competitor’s lap times.

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