Many technologies developed for racing find their way onto the road, while others benefit from the acceleration provided by the pressures of competition.
From safety features such as antilock braking, to efficiency improvements through lighter materials and more efficient combustion processes, there has always been a crossover – but more recently motorsport has changed the way it operates.
The introduction of hybrid technology in F1 and the World Endurance Championship (WEC), plus the advent of an all-electric World Championship in the form of Formula E, represent a step-change: motorsport seeks to develop socially-useful technology as part of its remit, rather than as a product of serendipity.
At McLaren Applied we supply many of the systems that support that change, including revolutionary new battery technology – but social relevance goes a long way beyond that within the company.
Many of our staff at McLaren Applied – myself included – have transferred from a motorsport role because they wanted to work in fields that were directly related to solving problems in wider society. The skillset that you need in racing is absolutely applicable elsewhere. How? Well, people with a background in motorsport engineering are naturally inquisitive, naturally have a lot of drive and show resilience in the face of problems that are difficult to solve. That’s the type of skillset we value and the sort of company we are: we want to solve difficult problems and enjoying attacking them as a team.
McLaren Applied provides an important outlet for a lot of brainpower. While motorsport engineering has excellent retention rates, like any other job, there often comes a point where people want to try something different. For McLaren Group, it’s great to be able to keep those talented people and that skillset within the company.
Some of our projects may look like straightforward extensions to motorsport products and yet may end up significantly more constrained and technically challenging. For example, recently I was happy when a new development of our driver-in-the-loop simulator came on-line.
The new simulator builds on F1 technology and is designed for road vehicle development, catering for anything from an SUV to a supercar to a family runabout. It has to move in a wholly different way to the original device designed for racing, and that brings new challenges that were incredibly difficult to overcome.
In contrast, as a visiting professor at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Surgery, I get to work creating systems that will aid doctors training to become surgeons and bring data analytics into healthcare – there are real similarities to the processes used in racing.
Now, which other sport can contribute something like that?