Renault looks to get back on track for F1 with help from Microsoft

By | September 16, 2016

SINGAPORE: Amid stiff competition and regulatory changes, Renault Sport Formula One Team is banking on technology from Microsoft to help it get back on track after a six-year absence.

Following the acquisition of ailing Lotus F1 Team last December, Renault made its return to the sport – one in which it has been involved in, both as a supplier and a team owner, since 1977 and one in which it dominated almost a decade ago with the help of its lead driver Fernando Alonso.

For the first year it is back in the game, the team is taking it slow given the fact that its car, the Renault RS16, was designed 18 months ago. In fact, when asked about how the team might perform at the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, managing director Cyril Abiteboul was unexpectedly frank about his lack of expectations.

“Our performance is not going to be super exciting,” said Mr Abiteboul in response to a question from Channel NewsAsia at a media briefing on Friday (Sep 16). “Because it’s the first year for us, it will always be a difficult one and in fact, it was more difficult than I anticipated it to be which says something about the pace of development in F1.

“And when you are using a product that’s 18 months old which is the case of our car, you really suffer,” added the Frenchman, who rejoined Renault in 2014.


But with plans to re-establish the F1 team’s status as a championship contender by 2018, alongside the scrapping of the narrow-track format and reintroduction of two-metre wide cars for 2017, the clock is ticking for Renault to get up to speed.

“The new regulation changes the size of the car (so) it will take an awful lot of modelling to adapt to that,” said Mr Abiteboul. “We don’t have years for that. In fact, we only have months.”

The new cars which will comply with the rule changes are currently in the works at Renault’s factories, and for the initial stages of design and development, the manufacturer is leveraging on its partnership with tech giant Microsoft to power it forward.

Some of the key programs it is banking on are the cloud-based enterprise resource planning software, Microsoft Dynamics AX, and the Azure Machine Learning technology. The former is used more as a monitoring and gathering tool, while the latter helps it to create a simulator to test its cars in various situations.

“The technology kicks in (during) the design and development phase where there’s a lot of modelling and assimilation of different scenarios… it provides the backbone infrastructure to store the data analytics and (ensuring) it is available for everyone on the team, onsite or offsite,” said the team leader. According to a press release by Microsoft, team members can now remotely send data and insights back to the facility where the team designs, manufactures and develops its parts.

Mr Cyril Abiteboul, managing director of Renault Sport Racing. (Photo: Microsoft)

Meanwhile, the software also facilitates real-time collection and displaying of race data. According to Mr Abiteboul, each car is equipped with more than 200 sensors and so every kilometer that the car travels generates “gigabytes of data that needs to be stored, transferred, analysed and utilized for constant improvement of the car”.

With the shift to the cloud-based software this year, the team no longer needs to ship physical servers around the globe for the 21 races it competes in throughout the season. This real-time stream of data also helps the team to make modifications during actual races.

For instance, the Renault team will be deploying new fuel during the race in Singapore to accommodate the challenges of the street circuit, as well as the hot and humid weather, and a team has been deployed to monitor the information that will be gathered.

“Clearly, we know that with the transformations going on, we needed a strong partner in technology,” Mr Abiteboul said. “We have not been very successful this year because of the car we are using but we are looking to the next year and there are a lot of things happening at our factories. We need someone who can support that.”

The partnership with Renault, which is into its fifth year, is also a win-win situation for Microsoft.

The F1 team was one of the early users of the Dynamics AX’ updated version and “the speed of the business” enabled Microsoft to “learn how (they) can make the product simpler and better”, said Mr Pepijn Richter, director of product marketing for Microsoft Dynamics AX.

According to the tech giant, its engineers were sent to work alongside the Renault team so as to understand the latter’s business processes as well as challenges, before tweaks were made to the software.

“I don’t think there’s any other organisation that works as fast as these guys in terms of adapting to a constantly changing environment and so for us, there is no other testbed to evolve our product,” echoed Mr Simon Davies, Vice President of Dynamics for Microsoft Asia.

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