Formula Ford gets a boost with Panasonic providing the power

Technology and motorsport are two domains that may appear to be complete opposites but are actually more similar than you might think. For starters, both are extremely fast-paced, ultra-competitive and consistently unpredictable.

Furthermore, modern motorsport now utilises more technology than ever before for tasks such as collecting data, monitoring performance (of the car and the driver) and communicating with the drivers whilst they're out on track.

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Data collection specifically is becoming an increasingly important component of several sports and motor racing is no exception. Formula Ford is one such series that makes use of data collection and we were recently invited to the famous Silverstone circuit, home of the British Grand Prix, to see how it is done.

The Formula Ford championship is generally seen as the first step from go-karting into open-wheel formula racing and boasts the likes of Eddie Irvine, Jenson Button and the late Ayrton Senna as previous champions.

This season has seen the introduction of a new piece of technology, the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1, used by the race scrutineers to collect a raft of information from the cars.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Toughpad, it is a bruiser of a tablet that is designed to work in heavy impact workplaces. Measuring 18mm thick, weighing 544g and surrounded by toughened rubber, a pit garage is its perfect habitat.

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And it is used in a very simple, yet effective way. At the end of a race or qualifying session, the Toughpad is literally plugged into the car via an Ethernet cable and a raft of data from 18 mandatory sensors is downloaded in around 15-20 seconds.

The datais generated by the Engine Control Unit (ECU), which collects the signals from the sensors and computes them into information on around 125 different parameters, including battery voltage, alternator charge and engine temperature.

Driver performance can also be analysed. The data collected includes information on speed, braking and acceleration points, gear ratios and braking and acceleration rates. This data can then be viewed for the lap as a whole or broken down further into sectors, all of which can be compared with different laps and between different drivers.

All of this data, if used correctly, can provide the mechanics and engineers with a huge amount of valuable information and, as modern motor sport is becoming more and more data-driven, it could be the difference between getting on the podium or being stuck in the pits.