Team Lotus aims high for 2011 with new IT platform

Sunday March 27th sees the Formula One season" href="http://www.formula1.com/default.html">2011 Formula One season kick off in Australia. A grid full of cars, predominantly British-built, will line up to compete to be crowned World Champions in a sport that welds together the sheer skill and bravery of driving a car at close to 200mph with the intellectual brawn of some of the industry’s finest mechanical and technological engineers.

IT has influenced all sports, including tennis, rugby, sailing and golf, but Formula One (F1) is where technology is most glaringly apparent. Today’s F1 car is less a car and more a cybernetic extension of the talents of the driver, whether it’s Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton or Jarno Trulli. Each car is extensively modified to suit its individual driver and then further tweaked to make the most out of each track it will compete at.

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To deliver this level of individuality F1 teams are reliant on IT and are constantly pushing the boundaries of what computing can do. F1 really is business IT at 200mph. It is therefore no surprise that F1 and the IT industry have long had a close relationship – follow Martin Brundle’s televised start line walkabout prior to a race and you’ll struggle to find a car on the grid that doesn not exhibit a major vendor logo.

Heading into 2011

Every year brings new teams, new rules and strategies and with them new challenges for the IT engineers involved in the sport. Inspired, perhaps, by the fairy­tale story of the Brawn F1 team that rose from the ashes of the failed Honda­ venture and went on to become 2009 World Champions with Button at the wheel, three new teams joined the F1 circus in 2010, with new Team Lotus, along with Virgin Racing and HST, joining the battle to take on titans McLaren, Ferrari and Williams.

Team Lotus is a reinvention of an F1 team that once dominated the F1 circuit through its bravely innovative approach to the sport spearheaded by founder Colin Chapman. Under Chapman’s leadership the team was the first to introduce a one-piece chassis, wings and a wedge-shaped car that set the aerodynamics standards still followed today. The cars that introduced these swept to championship victories. Chapman’s Lotus also introduced four-wheel drive, turbine engines and double-chassis cars. The team would also win the Indy 500 in the USA, touring car, rallying and sports car titles and spawn a sports car manufacturer that is to this day one of the most desirable and innovative car makers in the world.

Tottenham-born Chapman died in the 1980s, and while the Team Lotus entering the 2011 F1 championships is not the same operation that the legendary engineer and businessman founded, it does have the support of the Chapman family.

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Bill Peters heads up IT at Team Lotus and as he prepared for the Melbourne opener, he explained how his team is entering this season in a more competitive starting position than last year not least because he and his team, along with technology partners Dell, have built an IT infrastructure and strategy that has brought the critical design and build phase of the car back in house.

“From my point of view IT is about support and especially for the key phases of car development,” says Peters.

Team Lotus was accepted into the exalted F1 circus in September 2009 and had to have a car ready for the start of the following season in March 2010. Peters joined Team Lotus in October 2009 and soon set about building an IT operation to suit an F1 team that was determined to be on that grid.

“Last year we were laying down the tracks and the train was very quickly following on,” he says of the manic start-up he had to live through. When he joined Team Lotus was building its car by relying on outsourced expertise, but with the Dell infrastructure that Peters has implemented in place, the team has largely developed and built the car in-house. When Peters spoke to CIO UK the team was ahead of schedule.

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