Formula One

In 2006, McLaren Applied Technologies was chosen by the FIA to supply Standard ECUs (electronic control units) to all teams in Formula One. The system debuted on all cars at the start of the 2008 season, and has been reliably controlling the complete powertrain ever since.


The control system is based on the STAR topology, now in its third generation. This topology, which was pioneered by McLaren Applied Technologies in 1998, is built around one central ECU which is responsible for the intelligence behind all the functions on the car. The ECU currently used as the central ECU in this system is the TAG-320. This ECU hosts the majority of the I/O, with additional interface units being used to consolidate localised I/O.

Forumla One Units

HIU-3s (hub interface units) are used at each corner of the car to interface to sensors located at the wheels. These units send all signals back to the TAG-320 via a two-wire CAN network, thus vastly reducing the number of wires through the wishbones.

A PBOX2006 (power box) provides regulated power supplies around the car as well as providing the high power ignition and injection drive stages for eight cylinders.


A Formula One car is equipped with all of the familiar controls such as steering wheel, throttle pedal, brake pedal as well as paddles on the steering wheel to change gears. Of all the controls that the driver has at his disposal, only the steering wheel and brake controls are mechanically coupled to the car. All other controls feed into the ECU as signals, with the ECU being responsible for controlling actions according to driver inputs.

The Standard ECU is responsible for controlling many aspects of a Formula One car including:

  • Engine
  • Clutch
  • Gearbox
  • Differential
  • Fuel system
  • KERS (kinetic energy recovery system)
  • DRS (drag reduction system)

Taking the gearbox as an example, with the seamless shift gearbox fitted to most Formula One cars it is possible to perform an upshift at full throttle, with no loss of drive. Such a shift requires the control system to maintain full knowledge of the angle of every gear at all times. Gear engagement must be timed to 1/10,000sec accuracy. Due to the tremendous torque from the engine, if the timing is wrong, or the knowledge of the gear angles is incorrect, the gearbox will fail catastrophically during the shift.

Along with the gearbox, many other aspects of the car that the ECU is responsible for controlling require the control system to behave without fault to keep the car running. In all of the race seasons that McLaren Applied Technologies has been supplying the Standard ECU into Formula One, not one failure of a car during a race can be attributed to the control system not behaving as it was designed.


One key motivation for the FIA choosing a Standard ECU for Formula One was to prevent driver aids. Until the system was introduced, it was very difficult to police aids such as traction control and launch control. In over 15 years of supplying electronics into Formula One, McLaren Applied Technologies has pioneered innovative security mechanisms to ensure that only approved versions of software can be used in the ECU.


The TAG-310B was used in Formula One from the start of the 2005 race season for 8 years. In that time, it witnessed a number of changes in the regulations affecting the design of the cars. Such is the versatility of the ECU; the TAG-310B was capable of supporting these changes without requiring any re-design.

The new TAG-320 which debuted at the start of the 2013 race season will run V8 normally aspirated engines during 2013, to be replaced by the new V6 turbo-charged engines with energy recovery systems that will be introduced in 2014.


  • V10, V8
  • Movable front wing
  • Movable rear wing
  • Launch control
  • Traction control
  • Seamless shift

Such is the versatility of the TAG-320, this new unit is also finding application in other markets as a prototyping and development platform for running Simulink and Stateflow models in real-time. When coupled with the wealth of I/O and communications interfaces as well as advanced data acquisition features, this becomes a very powerful, compact and robust computing platform for a wide range of applications.

Continued Innovation

McLaren Applied Technologies’ existing contract to supply Standard ECUs into Formula One stretches until the end of 2015. Whilst the TAG-320 is a hugely capable ECU, McLaren Applied Technologies has a commitment to continuously improve and develop its products in line with the latest technology. Since 2008, McLaren Applied Technologies has been developing a successor to the TAG-310B. The new unit called the TAG-320 features the following improvements over the TAG-310B:

Application processing power955MIPS4,000MIPS
Memory (RAM)40MB512MB
Memory protectionLimitedFull
Logged data capacity1GB8GB
CAN buses611
FlexRay buses02
Standard analogue input sampling rate capability1kHz10kHz
Fast analogue input sampling rate capability10kHz100kHz
Internal accelerometerNoneTri-axis ±10g
Maximum number of logging channels5124,000
Ethernet link maximum speed100Mbps1Gbps

In addition to the well established security mechanisms of the TAG-310B, that prevent teams from running non-approved versions of software, the TAG-320 takes this protection even further with a new memory protection architecture. This allows it to accommodate multiple applications on a single processor, whilst guaranteeing that each application will be totally isolated and protected from the others. The only signals that can be communicated between applications are those for which the FIA has granted permission.