The Formula One Grand Prix is a media event with one incredible outreach! When looking at technical deployment, It’s difficult to figure out requirements until you’re in direct contact with all technical aspects, especially with regards to the paddocks, that is the parallel, almost invisible world, behind the races.
Thanks to an exclusive invitation from Riedel Communications, we spent a whole day at the garages and behind-the-scenes areas of the Monza circuit, on the first day of free practice on the F1 track. Monza has played host to the most Grands Prix, and is a fast and technical track. Riedel has been involved with Formula One for more than 20 years, providing products and services concerning far more than just intercom communications. The fact that F1 races occur from early March to late November. and take place on five different continents, means that the Riedel team is active throughout the year. This is due to inspections, pre-production events and work in the field. The varied climates of the locations, transport conditions, and harsh RF environments require a robust communications system that is capable of working at its optimum level in any weather condition, whether it be rain, extreme heat, extreme cold, or high humidity.
In addition to the equipment, the German company provides up to 20 engineers on site for each race. In most racing teams there’s one liaison from the Riedel crew, and of these we had the opportunity to meet with Marcin Jakowczyk (Motorsport Solutions Specialist at Riedel) from the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Matt Giusti from Sahara Force India F1 Team and Leonardo di Biase from the Haas F1 Team. We were able to learn in depth about the systems and processes in use here, some of which though may not be fully disclosed because of the secrecy surrounding the technology and tactics used in such an environment
Entering the boxes, less than a metre from the racing cars warming up and ready to get on track, we inspected the mainframes of the Riedel Artist Intercom panels, to understand how the perfect interfacing between Riedel equipment and TETRA digital radio systems by Motorola ensures fast, stable and efficient communication between engineers, technical teams and the driver. This is of vital importance in a race and can be the difference between a win or defeat. Just think about the crucial moments of a tire change and the strategies related to it, and the amount of communication needed for this.
Jörg Schäfer (Motorsport Solutions Specialist) from the Riedel team is responsible for the Tetra System, implementing around 2000 radio units at every race, and taking care of maintenance along with his crew.
[TETRA (TErrestrial Trunked RAdio) combines the advantages of analog trunked radio with those of digital mobile radio to provide optimal frequency usage, high transmission quality for speech and data, maximum security against eavesdropping, as well as flexible networking and connection management. Beyond that, the digital trunked radio system supports full duplex communication, GPS-positioning, and connection to the public telephone network. The system offers the option of operating different virtual channels, and it can leverage IP connectivity to support WAN (wide-area) operation].
Riedel also deals with another very important aspect, providing the same digital radios for safety and medical personnel, as well as the safety car drivers. Safety is a primary concern for F1, and the ability to communicate with safety personnel positioned around large tracks is of vital importance.
Even more “delicate” is the commitment that Riedel has with the sport’s governing body FIA, which adopted Riedel’s Artist Intercom matrix for internal communications. In addition, there is the FOM (Formula One Management, the one of Bernie Ecclestone, to be clear), which produce the world broadcast feed. Riedel provides equipment for both this and the CCTV video signal, which serves the organs of jury and control for monitoring the race. This video is eventually used to base decisions upon regarding incidents or irregularities. On this point, however, we were not given much more information, again purely because of the confidentiality of certain mechanisms within the organisation.
Lastly, the F1 teams are also using Artist as a communication platform. This ensures that even the team manager can connect with the FIA stewards, the pit crews and the drivers. Generally speaking, signals are routed to a radio base station with three antennas (two receivers, one transmitter). The signals are then routed over Riedel’s RiLink global fibre service to its own data centre in Frankfurt, which serves as the hub for its worldwide operations. This is supported by a NOC, also in Frankfurt, and maintained 24/7 all year round before being sent on to teams and broadcasters.
For video, Riedel’s MediorNet system leverages permanent and temporary fibre paths to provide feeds for FOM and FIA, whilst also providing and routing HD CCTV feeds for multiple uses around the tracks and in viewing areas. There are around 100 cameras in use, incl. onboard and CCTV cameras.
Via an MPLS (a high performance telecoms switching network) which runs on RiLink, teams can respond instantly; the delay being 300 milliseconds from overseas and just 10ms (a tenth of a second) in Europe, which is handy given that lap times are often decided by this amount.
Riedel’s RiLink Global Fibre Service provides bidirectional links between the race circuit and the broadcast station, allowing not only for the transportation of 3G/HD/SDSDI broadcast signals, but also return video feeds, full-duplex communications, VoIP telephony, and IP data. Furthermore, RiLink provides higher bandwidth connections than regular satellite links, which directly translates into better video quality. RiLink’s latency is also significantly shorter and its transmission is completely independent of weather conditions. Various redundancy layers within the network provide maximum reliability and QoS for this real-time network.
The rights-holding broadcaster, RTL Germany, transfers the international program signal and additional signals from all of the race venues to their play out centre in Cologne, Germany.
The teams use different configurations of intercom equipment. This includes 32, 64 and 128 port Artist mainframes with 40-50 control panels per team, means that around 500 panels in total are operational for each race, and around 2000 panels overall including the factories. High quality intercom audio is absolutely essential on and around the race course, where peak noise levels can exceed 130dB.
FIA team rules permit only 60 crew on-site, but up to 250 could be at the factory at home, or even split out over three continents for certain races.
The command centre is a fully redundancy equipped unit with its own generator, and contains routers with servers (more than 60 terabyte’s worth) loaded with Riedel software. This software pulls in all the information for FIA race control. Once it leaves the track, just the fibre and the power cables are unplugged.
For every race, Riedel uses approximately 8-12 km of their own fibre, which is installed and deinstalled for each Grand Prix, and there are 3 sets of fibre “traveling” around the world. That fibre is then split into specific channels for each of the race teams.
In the paddock we had the the chance to speak with Patrick Mandl, Motorsport Solutions Specialist.
ZioGiorgio.com: Hello Patrick. Please tell us about your role here at Monza?
Patrick Mandl: Here on track I’m responsible for our fibre network, for all the 21 Formula 1 races in 2016. We give fibre connections to every one of the 11 teams of the FIA, so we can transmit data to and from the FIA. On top of this, we also provide additional fibre services to some of the teams, for example connections to the garage or to their hospitality areas. This gives them the ability to fully achieve their communication needs and their network infrastructure. We’re sure that even marketing has everything they need to do their job at their best. We have two sets of fibre, in total 60 km, that we’re sending around the world to the 21 Grand Prixs. We don’t use anything from the circuit and install our own fibre network at every event.
ZioGiorgio.com: How much time do you need for the set up?
Patrick Mandl: We arrive on location one and a half weeks before the race day. The installation takes about 4-5 days, and on Monday before the race we take over and do the last final checks to bring everything together and make it work.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is the most critical part of your job?
Patrick Mandl: Everything is critical. [laughs] For example dealing with the environment. In Singapore we have 35 degrees and high humidity, and at Spa maybe only 5 degrees and rain. We have both extremes to deal with.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is the importance of using fibre material?
Patrick Mandl: Reliability is a very important thing, there is zero tolerance. The teams that are connected to our network expect to have the best connection, because if the connection fails during the race or a session we have a serious problem.
ZioGiorgio.com: Do you have some special monitoring system to ensure 100% reliability?
Patrick Mandl: We measure every single connection with fibre link before we hand them over to our customers. We test them and make sure that they are at our highest quality of standards, but the team itself has monitoring systems too, so if there should be a problem, they can immediately come back to us.
ZioGiorgio.com: What happens in the control room?
Patrick Mandl: The control room is located in a big container, in the FIA garage. We are not only providing the connectivity for the fibre, but also several other services for the FIA and team services. These are monitored by CCTV, with a MediorNet MetroN Core Router at the heart of our whole system. We’re also providing MPLS connectivity for customers, and that’s all monitored with the CCCs.
ZioGiorgio.com: What types of fiber cables do you use?
Patrick Mandl: I’m using two different models, the four core fibre, and also a version with 12 cores in one cable. The cable is less than one centimetre thick and has 12 cores inside, so you can achieve 12 different connections with one cable.
ZioGiorgio.com: Which is the maximum range you can provide?
Patrick Mandl: A few kilometres. Here in the paddock, our longest connection is about 2 -3 kilometres, for one connection of course.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is the most difficult circuit?
Patrick Mandl: Spa is a difficult venue, because it has very large garages with large distances between them, and its hard for the people installing the fibre in Malaysia and Singapore because of the high temperatures.
ZioGiorgio.com: What about Monaco?
Patrick Mandl: Monaco is totally different to any other circuit. It’s very special because of the environment, in the harbour. It’s all very tight and there is never enough space to store spare material. You have to see where you can run the cables safely, because at Monaco the track is open to the public after every session, so people can go through the pit lane. This means you have to be extra careful, otherwise somebody could cut a cable or damage something, as happened by accident in China, twice!
ZioGiorgio.com: So you spend whole season travelling from one circuit to another?
Patrick Mandl: Yes, this year 21 circuits. It’s a hard job, but very interesting. This year is my second season. You stay away from home for 26 weeks in a year, you don’t see all that much of your family, and you sleep in hotels every night. But I really enjoy it.
ZioGiorgio.it: Are you passionate about cars? Do you follow the races?
Patrick Mandl: To be honest, not always. During the races and tests I’m completely focused on my job, I have no time to think about anything else, except for those aspects that concern me directly. We also have relationships with many teams, and I learned very quickly that you should not get into the “sports” issues. In the paddock, the technical staff deal only with technical issues, there’s no “chat” and you do not side with anyone. Let’s say it’s a a kind of unwritten rule.
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