Introducing Albert2, the workaholic mathematical whizz kid

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The BMW Sauber F1 Team has a worker of superhuman diligence within its ranks. His name? Albert2. Based in Hinwil and powered by Intel technology, this supercomputer makes a significant contribution to the team’s success on the race track. Albert2 is a mathematical genius of literally huge proportions. But, as he tells us, a day off does not figure in his calculations.

Albert2, how long have you been on the payroll at the BMW Sauber F1 Team?

"Ever since my father Albert took his well-earned retirement in December 2006. So you could say that the connection with motor sport runs in our family."

How would you define your role within the team?

"As I work around five times more quickly than my father, my boss – our Technical Director Willy Rampf – has given me some important jobs to do. My main strengths lie in the field of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which is extremely important in the development of front, rear and auxiliary wings, for example. Before an idea from the engineers is tested in the wind tunnel, I simulate the effects of a new component on the car’s performance. And that saves the team a lot of time."

If you do such an important job, why do you sit – almost hidden away – in the basement of the wind tunnel building in Hinwil?

"There is a very simple reason why. When you weigh 21 tonnes and measure ten metres in length, things would get rather tight in a normal office. Besides, it’s not where you’re sitting that matters, but what you can do for the team."

How closely do you work with your colleagues?

"Formula One is a team sport, in which you have to work hand-in-hand with one another. I link up with the wind tunnel, for example, at many different stages of the development process. Because we spend our time concentrating on similar tasks, some people think that we are actually working against each other. But that is far from the case. On the contrary, we support each other’s work. The wind tunnel tells everybody if I was right with my estimates. At the end of the day, if Nick Heidfeld or Robert Kubica improve their speed then we will both be smiling, so to speak."

Are you a keen sportsman yourself?

"Being a man of few words and with my, shall we say, statuesque physique, I can come across as rather ponderous at first – but I’m quite a sprightly chap really. My 512 Intel Xeon 5160 processors allow me to run 12,288,000,000,000 calculations per second. To put that into perspective, every one of the 1.3 million inhabitants of Munich would have to multiply two eight-digit numbers every three and a half seconds over the course of a whole year to generate the same performance. So to answer your question, I’m rather better at mental exercise than physical sport."

Can you give us some concrete examples of what you do?

"In the wind tunnel, for instance, there is practically no way you can simulate how a tyre deforms through a corner. It is pretty much impossible to generate these heavy loads artificially. By contrast, I work with a model of the BMW Sauber F1.07 consisting of 100 million cells, all of which interact with one another. This kind of simulation is a straightforward job for me. I exert pressure on the tyres and highlight the areas of the car affected. In this way, you can see fairly quickly what kind of effect the tyre deformation through corners will have."

Do you keep an eye on what the team’s rivals’ computers are up to?

"Of course, that’s all part of Formula One. But I have no reason to worry. A supercomputer was recently unveiled in England, but it is much slower than me. It can only process eight teraflops – i.e. eight trillion floating point operations per second. As I said earlier, I can get through almost 12.3 teraflops."

Do you ever take any time off?

"No. For a supercomputer there is no such thing as controlled working hours and we don’t have any workers’ representatives to look after us. I work day and night to bring about improvements, and that’s the way I like it. For me, being shut down would be the biggest insult. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. And anyway, who would take me away on holiday with them? I’m hardly a slimline laptop, after all!"