Once again a combination of Scoble and the BBC have alerted me to rather cool-sounding piece of news. The World Motor Sport Council announced yesterday Microsoft MES has been selected as the official ECU supplier to the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
I hadn't even heard of "MES" before. There has been talk of standardizing the Engine Control Unit which manages the engines for some time. The FIA has wanted to outlaw traction control, but with the teams developing their own engine management systems it was impossible to police it. As a racing fan, I think the FIA approach is wrong. They have forced three engine re-designs on teams in the last three years while talking about lowering costs. They have focused on reducing grip of the cars from aerodynamics (so designers, trying to put it back again end up with designs which create more turbulence) and from the tyres. They could simply ban refuelling which would mean races were decided on the track not in the pits, and would make the cars heavier - cutting top speeds and cornering speeds. Fixing the size of the fuel tank would give an advantage to those who made best use of their fuel, not those who burnt most. Ironically that means letting teams be creative with the ECU, not running standard ones. Ever the pragmatist I've got an "if you can't beat them, join them", better that we supply the ECUs than, say, Sony.
I have no inside information here but I wonder if we (and Bridgestone who have the contract to be sole tyre supplier) will be paid to supply the sport, or if the advertising and R&D benefits that accrue mean we have to pay for the privilege. Of course Bridgestone can put their name on the tyres ? Would the FIA require the teams to put a Microsoft "Windows Powered" or X-Box logo on their bodywork ? X-box ... does that mean we have some really good racing games on the drawing board ?
I talked about typical traits for Microsoft products and ECUs for F1 are atypical - they're not PC based, they're low volume the total market over 3 years is probably no more than 1000 (unless we plan to supply units for road cars). We do need to make them easy to integrate - 8 of the 12 cars in the 2008 championship are being built within an hour's drive of my home. Steve gave an indication of my interest in F1; liaison with F1 teams as "system integrators" is about the only I can think of that I'd fancy more than this one. I doubt I'm well qualified. Are there ECU designers who'd like me to watch the Microsoft jobs list for them ? :-)