Today I learned F1 cars can have their engines disabled wirelessly via IP connection

We PC gamers often like to flirt with F1 driving, from sim racing to straight-up brand sponsorship and partnership. We tend to be a techy bunch, too. So I was a little angry at myself for not already knowing that, as Ex-F1 Senior Systems Engineer Dan “EngineMode11” explains, “An F1 car has an IP address.”

I mean, duh, of course F1 cars have IP addresses. Right? We’re talking about some of the most sophisticated automobiles on the planet, designed to chop sharp turns at well over 100 mph and quickly climb back up to 200+ mph, all without spattering person across the asphalt.

If everyday dawdler vehicles are now packed to the brim with electronics, including wireless tech (and they are), you can bet that F1 cars are, too. And we already know that F1 teams like Alpine painstakingly gather shedloads of car sensor data for analysis. What, did we expect F1 cars to pit-stop-and-USB? 

No, much is done wirelessly, apparently using the F1 car’s IP address. Or, to be more precise, using one of its multiple IP addresses, because, as Dan explains in a reply, “there are several depending on what you want to do.”

What you probably don’t want to do is blow up the car’s engine, though. And that, Dan implies, is something that might have actually happened. “The fear” about having an F1 car with an IP address, he explains, “isn’t from external bad actors. It’s internally, from the electronics team, who definitely wouldn’t accidentally connect to the wrong car and flash the ECU of one running on the test bed instead of the sim, that’s definitely never happened.”

An ECU, for reference, is a car’s Electronic Control Unit, which controls much of its engine’s systems, such as the ignition. Now, thankfully, I’ve never actually had anything go wrong when flashing a motherboard BIOS, which is why I’m not too fussed about doing so. If my motherboard was connected to a combustion engine, though? I’m not so sure I’d pull the trigger. And I certainly wouldn’t like the ability to accidentally connect to it remotely and do so.

When asked what happens when a running F1 car has its ECU flashed, Dan has a straightforward answer: “New engine,” followed by an explosion emoji. Pretty simple, then: Check you’re connected to the correct IP address when flashing an F1 car’s circuitry. 

Let’s just hope there’s no flashing going on track-side (no, not like that, get your mind out of the gutter) because, apparently, track-side wireless management is a mess at F1 events: “I had the unfortunate job of trying to deploy WiFi trackside and the amount of noise and overlapping networks in the pitlane gave me an aneurysm.”

I dunno, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I didn’t realise F1 cars are zooming around out there with itty bitty IP addresses circulating the digital space. Information I now know, that I may never need to use, and that now you know, too.