Can AI win Formula 1 Grand Prix?

The fanthese chilled-out Ferrari fans know it in their blood, pouring out fury after every strategic mistake the team made in 2022, so many that boss Mattia Binotto replaced them.

In Formula 1, a wrong decision at the wrong time, a few seconds behind or ahead, and that’s a win, a championship place and millions of dollars gone.

Computers at feet, chief strategists teams are people who take in the tons of data constantly generated by cars and races during a race.

With everything on their shoulders, these men and women decide in real time and in a fraction of a second whether, for example, the driver should stop at potholes to change a tire and mow the grass under his feet. opponent by applying what is called “undercutting”.

Data is my hobby

Ever-increasing gigabytes of data and lightning-fast decisions. Wouldn’t that be an ideal playground for an artificial intelligence that seems designed for exactly these kinds of tasks?

Formula 1, being the technological pinnacle of motorsport by its very nature, has long used artificial intelligence. And this, for example, thanks to “generative design” from the design of cars (“generative design”), a method also used in aeronautics that allows designing an object with ideal properties around a given set of needs and constraints.

Feeding (and feeding) the very expensive simulators available to teams, it can also give engineers some first clues at the start of a Grand Prix weekend as to the best settings to adopt for optimal performance. pilots and their good feelings will make them rest.

What about strategy? Of course, the teams are also looking at the issue. As Jonathan Noble writes in Autosport, this is especially true of McLaren and its tech partner Splunk, who have started experimenting with different things.

Actually the first: by implementing and testing their systems in the team’s virtual team called the McLaren Shadow Project, the team realized the contribution of the technology in this field.

“This extra layer that Splunk gives us, and I can’t get enough of saying it, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever used.”, tells virtual pilot Lucas Blakeley about the company’s tracking and prediction tools. He may be a grandfather: he is a champion.

“It absolutely changed everything. Quite a number, apart from McLaren’s Ed Green. I think that was quite important in the number of wins we had and it led us to the championship win.

It is infinitely faster and simpler to implement such analysis and decision-making systems in a virtual team, where the sporting, technical and financial stakes are infinitely lower than with a “hard” F1 team and dozens of engineers and material trucks. From Grand Prix to Grand Prix.

After all, people

Splunk and McLaren, however, have begun experimenting with some of these tools in real-life, real-world scenarios. To the point of considering replacing the team’s flesh-and-blood strategists? Not yet, far from it.

“What we do is look at somebody’s pitching probability based on their performance. Spunk’s James Hodge explains. For example, we can start to detect tire degradation in lap times, which will certainly open a window for a pit stop. We are there. We are not yet at the point where we can ask the machine “Start the race and predict everything that will happen”but we are clearly adding something to the decision tree.”

And Ed Green lists all the little things that no machine to date has been able to analyze, regardless of the astronomical amount of raw data it can absorb – each pilot’s own style, the effects of their landings or recoveries, unexpected pitfalls. unique to each competition and its competitive and interactive nature.

And that’s certainly a good thing – or rather, a vital thing for Formula 1 to survive as a sport and entertainment, rather than just a technology showcase. “I play simulations, Autosport’s James Hodge explains. I’m not very strong, but I like it. But if I’m fighting against AI, I’m never quite satisfied. There’s nothing dramatic about it: I beat the computer.

“We always need some rare human talent to offer elements of sport, drama, theatricality, heroes and villains to the discipline.”, he adds. Manufacturers Drive to surviveNetflix’s highly scripted series, which brings Formula 1 back into the global spotlight, is sure to totally agree.

The Saudis, who want to put $20 billion on the table to restore order: at that price, even if they are the safest strategists in the world, they’re probably not the computers they want to buy.

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