In the cockpit of the MCL36 and from the onboard cameras, a series of dynamic digital panels can be seen that change to display different sponsor logos. The possibilities that new technology opens up in the commercial world of Formula 1 are endless, and the sport will almost certainly embrace it as teams look to offer brands better value for money.
The teams will no longer be limited to selling a space in their car once, they can now put multiple sponsors who get part of their action, they could even organize auctions for those interested who want to participate at the last second.
Different logos could be seen on the left and right of the car, or a sponsor could be shown only after a win or be seen for a set number of laps.
The origins of F1 dynamic panels come from Manor
The future may be fascinating in terms of how current Formula 1 teams could use such technology, but the original idea actually came about as a means of trying to help one of the most modest to survive. If we go back a few years, Manor had gone through a series of ups and downs through its various guises as Virgin and Marussia .
It was the longest-lasting of the new outfits, but its last appearance in the category came in 2016 , when it was trying to secure the funding it needed to ensure long-term survival. One of the companies Manor worked with was Silverstone Paint Technology [SPT], which supplies most of the grill with its coatings.
Manor’s inability to commit its décor space to sponsors due to its unpredictable nature in terms of deals and the fact that they did not want to undersell their prime real estate too cheaply, got SPT co-founder and CEO thinking, Mark Turner .
He wondered if there was a way to quickly rotate sponsors without the hassle of endlessly applying and removing stickers. That’s where the idea of doing it digitally came from, which led Turner to create the company Seamless Digital, which will be a partner of the McLaren team from the 2022 United States GP.
“Manor designed their bodies that they had without these big empty spaces for partners that never materialized,” he explained in an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com. “That made us think about how sport can be monetized in a different way so that we don’t depend on a single sponsor. And what kind of technology exists that can help with that?”
“So we looked at ways to change quickly. Can we change the markings on a race car? Can we change it from sector to sector? Can you put a different marking on the left and right side of the car?” Turner questioned. “It had to be minimal impact, minimal penalty from a weight standpoint, and that’s where the idea came from.”
Although Manor ultimately failed, as financial problems at the end of 2016 led to bankruptcy, the Seamless Digital group continued to work on the project. And, after passing the first concepts of its designs through FOM, and talking to the teams, the technology has arrived to be ready to hit the track with McLaren.
Performance factor in F1 with dynamic panels
Although dynamic digital panels are a pioneering technology, it would be wrong to suggest that they are simply a gimmick. There is one aspect that is very clear with Turner, and that is that the panels could only justify their place in the car if they did not worsen performance .
To do this, they had to be created in such a way that there was no aerodynamic impediment, where the panel protruded from the smooth surface of the car. Therefore, they are designed to integrate perfectly with the car’s bodywork.
In addition, its weight had to be in keeping with other non-performance elements, such as paint and livery, where some trade-offs are accepted for the good of the team.
“We already work with 70% of the grill, providing both performance and aesthetic coatings, so we are always looking to reduce mass or improve surface finish,” he continues. “While we’re at it, we’ve got our eye on it being an acceptable weight target, so since the heaviest paint jobs of 2021, which were over three kilos, we’ve dropped a thousand grams, that’s left us the point. as our metric for success in the system. The [dynamic] part of the McLaren weighs about 200 grams, but we’re still developing the design.”
Seamless Digital is also looking into the possibility of using the system in helmets in the future, where the panels may be much smaller: “In helmets, the total mass is only 16 grams, that’s only a small percentage of what it takes up.” the helmet with the paint, including the wiring and the electronics that we produce internally”.
“Also, it draws 11 milliamps at idle and about 60 milliamps during image transition. The power requirements are really low, plus there’s nothing to affect aerodynamics, so it’s smooth, and that’s what we wanted.” get,” Turner said.
The panels have also had to be powered in such a way that they do not consume anything from the car, so they will use a low-power technology similar to that used in digital books, so, for now, they are only two colors.
The technology isn’t quite ready for full color spectrum panels yet, but that’s something that could come later.
Larger and more prepared dynamic F1 panels
At the moment, the dynamic panels only work in small areas next to McLaren’s cockpit in free practice sessions, but there is clearly room for them to be bigger and bolder in the future. Turner says that in theory nothing would stop large areas of the cars from being covered with them, but he reckons that ultimately the performance factor will dictate things.
“They can grow quite a bit larger,” he said. “But the main thing that will limit that growth is that we as an organization don’t want to do anything that deviates from the performance narrative, which is our goal.”
“We could have a 36-by-20-inch screen, but we don’t think that’s an efficient way to do things, so we don’t think we’ll have large areas of the hood filled with them in the near future,” he said. “However, what you need to do is figure out how to integrate that seamlessly into the decor, have it as part of the decor, and where does it apply best from a performance standpoint.”
Although McLaren has the exclusive rights to use the panels this season, Turner believes that from 2023 other teams could follow suit on an exciting development path. There is a world of distance between how the idea originated and how it came to be today, but Manor’s initial seed was the beginning.
As Turner said: “It was very sad to see Manor close its doors, but it kept us inspired and wanting to do this.”
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