Java still critical for McLaren

If horse racing is the sport of kings, then the Formula One is the heir apparent to the throne. In February of this year, the McLaren West racing team launched the new MP4-16 car. One staple that remains is the use of Sun Microsystems’s Java, which provides critical information as the car flies around the track at speeds that exceed 300mph, as was witnessed in the Grand Prix in Montreal.

In the current F1 environment – with strict limitations enforced from a technology aspect – overall, the cars are actually less sophisticated today than nearly a decade ago. And no one affiliated with the McLaren team would know better than Bob McMurray. He joined the team in 1968, and said, “The MP4-16 has less technology than the 1993 car.” The support manager who resides in Woking, England, during the racing season said this is attributed to things like launch control and traction control now, as opposed to the more lax technological restraints of the 1993 campaign.

The relationship between Sun and McLaren, with respect to Java, is now in its third year. Richard Jacklin said the chief engineers who sit at the pitwall primarily examine the data. As the car makes it’s way around the track, there are 120 sensors on the car and as the car passes the main garage area, the data is downloaded in real time as it passes, Jacklin, the technical consultant for Sun Microsystems in Hampshire, England, said.

“The data that’s captured by the car is displayed, and calculations are made using Java onto the PCs and on the pitwall.They use the Java to look at the engineering and track data,” he added

Typically, Jacklin said, the chief engineers are looking at engine temperature, oil pressure, brake temperature and fuel consumption. By using Java, the engineers are able to set alarms and limits on each parameter.

“Java will alert them, if for example, the temperature of the engine exceeds a certain pre-defined limit, it will display it for them.” The data collected on each lap allows them to monitor gear position, the throttle and even the wing position at a particular second or corner, he said.

All the information that is collected is potentially critical, said Andy Knight. “Clutch failure, speed loss…is critical and all the information that is collected is potentially critical. Knight, the informations systems manager for McLaren in Woking, added that the data is stored on the Sun Work Stations back in the garage which is then transmitted over to the pitwall via fibre optics or laser communications and directly back to the factory by satellite. “It’s almost information overload. The systems we use here, particularly the Java technology helps us to make decisions on the car.”

While the IT systems are constantly replaced and upgraded, Jacklin said the software is essentially the same from last year. “(But) being Java, it can run anywhere, on any device on the Sun Systems at the back of the garage or the PCs in the main garage or on the pitwall system”, he said.

And as for the race itself, Ralf Schumacher claimed his second career race win the Williams-BMW, Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari finished second while Mika Hakkinen, who gained his first F1 points of the season, finished third for McLaren.