In Formula One, Freescale is in the pole position

May 17, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
When next weekend the Formula One race is on again, it will remain interesting until the last lap which car will pass the target line first and win the race. But one winner is already certain: Chips from Freescale Semiconductor are setting the pace in all Formula One vehicles. The reason: All F1 cars use an identical central computer - powered by a Freescale Qorivva microprocessor.

The Qoirvva microprocessor sits in an ECU developed and manufactured by McLaren Electronic Systems (MES). These ECUs are identical in all F1 cars, as required by the specifications of motor sports organisation FIA which organizes, among other events, the F1 races.

Compared to the engine control units in "normal" cars, the F1 ECU is rather complex - it follows the approach of a central computer as opposed to serial vehicles where 20 and more distributed units control umpteen functions. The F1 ECU does not content itself with controlling air / gasoline mixture, ignition timing and valve control, but it also assumes a vast number of additional tasks including gearbox control, chassis control, and telemetry.

Figure 1: The Formula One ECU produced by McLaren Electronics Systems

Also the software is basically identical for all cars - the FIA wants to prevent that F1 races become purely a battle of the algorithms. For instance, implementation of traction controls is prohibited. However, the teams are allowed to customize their ECU software in terms of engine mapping, gearbox control and telemetry. A piece of software installed in the ECU prevents illegal modifications. The operating system is a unique design with no virtualization layer, but with a multitasking control scheme that combines an event-triggered and time-triggered approach.

Figure 2: The ECU for NASCAR race vehicles. It is smaller and less complex than the F1 ECU.

Also in the North American NASCAR races, identical ECU units are used by all teams. And in the NASCAR ECU, the microprocessor is a Qorivva again. However, the NASCAR ECU is somewhat simpler than its F1 counterpart - the NASCAR box is dedicated only to motor control functions.