Rodi Basso, Motorsport Director (LinkedIn Pulse)
McLaren Applied Technologies
There’s an old saying that an expert is just somebody who knows more and more about less and less.
When you’ve worked in an industry for several decades, it’s only natural that you develop a sort of myopia – whether through passion or necessity. Sometimes, that means you risk focusing on the detail of the business without really understanding the bigger picture.
And I think motorsport in general, and Formula 1 in particular, must adopt a broader outlook if it is to successfully grow and develop new technologies and methodologies to carry both it and the automotive world into the middle of the 21st century.
At McLaren Applied Technologies, we’ve always adopted that mindset: we want to break from convention and keep our ideas and ideologies fresh and unencumbered.
And, personally, I think that every motorsport championship also has to step back and consider its broader mission – both within motorsport, and within the wider automotive world.
We have lots of series competing for air-time, for drivers, for sponsors; and they need to work complementarily if they are to flourish. And that mission is made harder because motorsport has a unique duality: it simultaneously exists as both entertainment and technology.
McLaren Applied Technologies can help bridge the gap between the fans and the drivers
But one needn’t cancel out the other.
In fact, the opposite ought to be true: technology can enhance our enjoyment of motorsport; and entertainment can help to improve and enhance the sport’s technology.
Data as media, not as technology
More than any other form of entertainment, sport is really enriched by meaningful and experiential data.
Look at the recent implementation of mini-cameras in the cycling peloton – it’s really revolutionised how we look at racing in the pack, bringing home the hustle and hurt of life as a professional cyclist. Even more profoundly, look at how sailing uses GPS data to bring to life a race that sometimes covers many thousands of kilometers. It’s this data that really brings immediacy to the competition in a way that few other sports can match.
Now, let me qualify this by saying that ‘data’ is a rather dry word. We need to stop thinking of data as technical content; instead, think of it as media content.
That way, it starts to look and feel a lot richer.
Real-time insights during grands prix
But one needn’t cancel out the other.
And, unique to motorsport is an incredibly rich and diverse repository of historic and contemporary data that can be sourced and mined – for the benefit of the fan and the enthusiast.
So, we’re actually ready to use data now to improve motorsport. We can deliver immediately.
With data, we can create an immersive experience like no other; pooling statistical archives, human performance metrics and simulation information.
Creating heroes through data
Imagine if we could use data to accurately and dynamically celebrate the heroism of the drivers, showing which are the strongest (most able to withstand loadings in high-g corners), the quickest (the speed of reaction to a snap of mid-corner oversteer), the bravest (the latest on the brakes), and the cleverest (reacting to conditions and strategic calls on the fly).
Data-driven insights from the cars and drivers for the fans
This is all possible right now. From McLaren Applied Technologies’ side, it doesn’t require any new technology. It just requires a spirit of openness from the sport’s stakeholders to make this previously withheld information available to the public.
With that spirit of openness, we could simultaneously restore the power to the drivers rather than the engineers. This is all about data empowerment – using big-data technologies – such as machine learning, AI and neural networks – to create fun and sophisticated new ways of enjoying the sport.
Don’t forget the why
This is a big opportunity for Formula 1, which in the past has sometimes been guilty of motorsport’s cardinal sin: forgetting to ask why we do things.
That’s the first question we ask ourselves at McLaren Applied Technologies. Why? It’s the question that drives answers for everything else.
Once you understand the why of a problem, you give yourself the best possible toolset with which to address the hows, the wheres and the whats.
Again, this is where technology has a unique function within the sport – we can begin to answer these questions using technology; we can look at the ways that the motorsport and automotive worlds are converging. We can embrace the growing automation of society, and, as a pioneering prototype-led industry, we can begin to offer real-world solutions to big problems faster and more efficiently than almost anyone else.
That’s a great responsibility, but also an incredible opportunity.
Automakers are using McLaren’s F1 data & simulation technology to develop road cars
The right people
I’m encouraged by the progress Formula 1 has made since the end of 2016. The shift in mindset is starting to move the sport in a new direction, looking at how we can better use data to offer greater real-time insights to fans and improve the overall experience.
The series understands that success will be achieved by looking at the big-picture issues: excitement, spectacle, power and noise, rather than by simply tweaking what we already have.
Once we ask ourselves why these fundamentals matter, we can plan and build a bigger, more dynamic and more exciting platform for the future.
With over three decades of experience in capturing, analysing and presenting data in Formula 1, I believe McLaren Applied Technologies has the experience and expertise required to help the series unlock its future ambition.