Chasing down a Formula 1 championship: Lotus F1 Team shifts into high gear with Dynamics AX

Lotus F1 team deploys Dynamics AX
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The wind tunnel at the Lotus Formula 1 team’s facility in Oxfordshire runs 24x7 year round apart from the mandatory sport shut down in August and tests tens of thousands of new ideas annually.
The Wind tunnel at the Lotus Formula 1 Team Technical Centre
November 14, 2013
The wind tunnel at the Lotus Formula 1 team’s facility in Oxfordshire runs 24×7 year round apart from the mandatory sport shut down in August and tests tens of thousands of new ideas annually.
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The car that begins a Formula 1 season is not the same car that ends it. Change is the only constant in this highly competitive space – which is why Lotus F1 Team is transforming the way it creates its cars.

In a world where wins are measured in milliseconds and can happen because of one tweak amongst the 20,000-plus parts of a car, “You only need to find a small gain to make a big difference,” says Nick Chester, technical director for Lotus F1 Team, the United Kingdom-based racing pillar.

With the 2013 season ending Nov. 24, the Lotus F1 Team has its sights set on a Formula 1 Championship next year. To get there, it will need every advantage over the competition, including the right software systems to make sure its business stays on track and out of the pit lanes. “We were definitely ready for a change,” says Chester. By the time the racing season starts in March, the benefits of the Lotus F1 Team switching to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2 in its Aerodynamics Division should already be paying off. Aerodynamics is the rapidly beating heart of racing’s innovation, where teams constantly work at keeping the car firmly on the track.

“That should translate into higher throughput in our Aero department, so that means we’ll have more performance upgrades coming into the design office to be processed for the car,” Chester says. To win a championship, he says, “It’s about getting everything right. You’re up against a lot of great teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes – that are well-resourced and have a lot of great people, and you’ve got to be good in every area. You’ve not only got to have good ideas and very good development, but you’ve got to follow that through and have a very good turnover rate, get a lot of the performance upgrades to the track quickly.”

As much as there’s a need for speed on the track, Chester says there is also a race going on in the factory. With only two weeks between races, there are about four or five performance upgrades that make it onto the cars for every race. Those could be anything from bodywork to suspension changes, so that the cars continually evolve. Because every car is stripped down to its chassis and rebuilt, it is a different car for each race. This isn’t so surprising given that 500 to 600 miles are put on a vehicle after qualifying rounds, practice and, of course, the actual race.

“The main area Dynamics helps is by easing the workflow, and having better planning and better reporting, so we’ll know where parts are in the system, we’ll know how long it takes to do each stage in the production and design better,” Chester says. “If we’ve got all that information, we can actually process more designs at the same time and get better throughput. The easier we can make the workflow, the better we can prioritize it, the quicker we can go on the track.”

Lotus F1 Team’s partnership with Dynamics AX couldn’t have come at a better time. “Next year is a huge change for us, probably the biggest changes in regulations we’ve seen,” Chester says. For the next racing season, the team will be moving to 1.6 liter turbo engines, which means there will be a lot of energy recovery. It will be a very different machine than what they’ve raced before – including the cooling and electrical systems.

“Our ability to partner with the team to make their vision reality is a match made in heaven,” says Christian Pedersen, general manager of product marketing for Dynamics AX. “It resonates with the agility, speed, insight and ability to execute that we strive to help all our customers achieve.”

The level of technology and computing power in an F1 car can’t be seen in any other industry but aerospace. Dynamics AX weaves together all the technologies that are essential to creating a product from design to execution. Already, Nissan, Carrefour and Dell Computer have chosen Dynamics AX as their enterprise resource planning solution. At Lotus F1 Team, the entire company will be using Dynamics AX by the end of August 2014.

The system will allow Lotus to quickly analyze any issues it may have with its cars. Hypothetically, says Matthew Woodget, senior product marketer for Dynamics AX, if a piece of a car breaks during a race – on a certain corner, under a certain G-force, at a certain speed – the team could look at the life of that part to figure out what went wrong – and how to fix it. And, they can then look at other parts made under the same circumstances and make changes to those, too.

“It enables unparalleled insight end-to-end from performance on the track to what materials are being selected to be used within the car itself,” Woodget says.

And with F1, everything must work on a higher, more precise level.

“F1 is extreme. Everything in F1 is the most extreme example of that technology. They are developing new technology just for F1, eventually finding its way down to road cars,” Woodget says. “F1 is extreme and it’s incredibly fast – not just on the track. No team ends on the same car it started with. The faster a team can implement changes, the more successful they can be…the teams that can adapt to change faster can win more championships.”

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Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff