Who is to blame for the mess in Interlagos?

David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Brazilian GP 2003

David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Brazilian GP 2003 

 © The Cahier Archive

The FIA has announced that Giancarlo Fisichella is the winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix. The embarrassing problems in Brazil have thus been solved. The FIA will now want to know that there will be no possibility of a repeat of the problem.

In theory there is no possibility of a timing error in F1. For the last 11 years the official timekeeper of Formula 1 has been TAG Heuer, a firm with enormous experience in the world of sport's timing. The company has supplied equipment which is capable of monitoring lap times to 10,000th of a second using transponders which automatically identify the cars. To eliminate any possibility of error the system has two independent time-keeping systems and a high-resolution video camera which films cars at 100 images a second as they cross the start-finish line.

According to TAG Heuer's own website the timing is done using information from 19 antennas installed around the track and connected by a fiber optic cable. These antennas receive signals transmitted by the transponders in the cars. The data gathered goes to a mobile timing center which processes the information using Siemens computers which perform live calculations of split times, lap times, lap number, speeds and time differences. These are then transmitted to the timing screens around the circuit and to the host broadcaster and are published in paper form at the end of each race. For some years a rather lengthy legal note has been published on every single timesheet issued during a race weekend. This states that the data produced is owned by Formula One Administration Ltd. It is therefore logical to assume that if the FOA claims to own the data it must be responsible for producing it, using technology supplied by TAG Heuer and Siemens.

This makes sense given that back in 1999 when the Formula One group was trying hard to promote its pay-per-view TV services, the media were given tours of the Bakersville facility. At the time we reported that "a great deal of development has been done in software development so that the computers know where every car is at every moment - thanks to sensors around the track which are linked to a fiber optic cable "ring". The computers are programmed to react if, for example, a car goes through a yellow flag area quicker than it has previously done. They can identify when a car is going off the track almost before it happens. These systems - which include voice emulation software which tells people what is happening rather than indicating things are happening with flashing lights on screens. Some of these systems are already being used by Race Control officials. There is already software which calculates at what point the track is too dangerous in the wet. This enables the Race Director to send out the Safety Car at the right moment."

Since the cancellation of pay-per-view TV there is no longer a fiber optic cable around each of the circuits. There has been no obvious difference to the timing compared to previous years but it may be that the problems seen in Brazil were the result of the fact that cars are no longer tracked at every moment and that some of the systems developed to highlight infringements cannot be used without the computers knowing the exact location of the cars at all times. Given the embarrassment involved as a result of Brazil, it is likely that we will see changes to the system. It is thought unlikely that the expensive and labor-intensive fiber optic ring will return. The same result can be obtained using global positioning systems via satellite.

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