How machine learning is speeding up Formula 1

Formula 1 (FWONK) is hitting Miami this weekend, and behind the fast cars, star drivers, and high stakes is something you may not expect: machine learning.

Machine learning has become key to teams’ successes on the track, but its use in the sport extend beyond that. For example, machine learning is currently being used to improve fans’ engagement experiences, said Dr. Priya Ponnapalli, director and principal scientist at the Amazon (AMZN) Web Services (AWS) Machine Learning Solutions Lab.

"We're fueling multiple innovations on and off the track, ranging from how Formula 1 collects, tracks, and analyzes the data that they have,” she told Yahoo Finance. “We apply machine learning to generate 'F1 Insights' that help educate fans while entertaining them."

AWS and Ponnapalli work with Formula 1 as the sport’s designated cloud service and machine learning provider, both having previously worked with Ferrari. AWS, under a separate contract, is also Ferrari’s official cloud, machine learning, and artificial intelligence provider.

A headshot of Dr. Priya Ponnapalli, provided by her.
A headshot of Dr. Priya Ponnapalli, provided by her.

F1 is a ‘data-rich’ sport

Ponnapalli — who has a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and has previously served as a faculty member at Rutgers Business School — has worked on a wide variety of projects at the intersection of sports and machine learning. Those projects have ranged from the National Hockey League and the National Football League, to the Tokyo Olympics, where she and her team helped the Australian swimming team optimize their relay strategy.


Formula 1 itself is an "extremely data-rich sport," Ponnapalli said, adding that every second, there are about 300 million sensors on every F1 car that generate nearly 1.1 million data points. These data points are vital pieces of information in a sport where leads are fragile, and declines are always possible.

IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 24: Charles Leclerc (MCO) Team Scuderia Ferrari, F1-75, Ferrari 065 engine during the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 24, 2022 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Cristiano Barni ATPImages/Getty Images)
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Team Scuderia Ferrari during the F1 Grand Prix at Emilia-Romagna in April. (Photo by Cristiano Barni ATPImages/Getty Images) (ATPImages via Getty Images)

Take Ferrari: Although the team finished third in the 2021 Constructors Championship, it is currently leading in the charge for that prestigious team honor. The team's return to glory has coincided with its increased involvement with AWS, Ponnapalli confirmed.

Additionally, 24-year-old Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who has been in Formula 1 since 2018, is currently leading the 2022 driver standings.

“They're running complex simulations that can test car performance under a variety of different driving conditions and racing scenarios,” she said.

Formula 1 saw its popularity with wider audiences grow after the release of the Netflix (NFLX) series “Drive to Survive,” which chronicles season-by-season the personalities, dramas, and technological innovations of F1. Netflix recently announced it would extend the show for two more seasons.

Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.

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