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Adapt or get left behind

Preparing for F1’s new era and tackling disruptive change in tech are more similar than you think


The stakes are high, and they just got even higher.

Designed to redefine the fabric of Formula 1, the sport’s revolutionary rulebook for 2021 is set to usher in a new era of closer racing, better-looking cars, fairer finances, revised race weekends, and more.

But just how do you prepare for one of the most comprehensive regulation changes in the history of F1, and what parallels does this have with Arrow Electronics’ proven track record of taking the lead in industries experiencing significant disruptive change?

Balancing act

While disruptive change is nothing new to the sport, F1’s brand-new blueprint had been looming in the air for more than a year and left teams having to juggle the development of not one, not two, but three annual iterations of cars. The latter, their first interpretation of a wholesale regulation change and therefore a crucial opportunity to steal a march on the opposition. Get it wrong and it could take years to recover.

“The key is to take a pragmatic approach, balancing the cars accordingly and making sure you can get the best of all worlds as much as possible,” says McLaren F1 Technical Director James Key. “You could prioritise one car over another and put a lot more focus on trying to ensure a stronger long-term future at the expense of the short term, but that’s often very difficult to do in this sport.

“It’s essential to be prepared and, at the same time, the team has to be flexible in its approach to be able to adapt to the challenges.”

Arrow has become adept at mastering continuous change – enabling it to flourish in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous customer-driven marketplace where stakeholder demands evolve rapidly.

“Since Arrow Electronics was founded in 1935, technologies have developed at breathtaking speed,” comments Jörg Strughold, vice president for Arrow’s EMEA components business.

“Markets have grown as a result, and supply chains have evolved to satisfy these new requirements. During this time, Arrow has adapted and adjusted its approach to maintain a highly successful business. One of our key approaches has been to continuously add new capabilities along our customers’ application and product lifecycles and value chain, as well as innovate in solutions and services.

“Our extensive direct contact with customers, as well as the experience and expertise we can harness from our 20,000 global suppliers, gives us a level of visibility of market trends and growth opportunities that very few can match. As a result, we can see and pursue opportunities on many levels to serve up a solution that is tailored to individual needs.

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a good example here. Everyone wants to take advantage of the benefits that IoT offers but their situations are all different and so a ‘standard’ solution rarely fits.”

Can I change your mind?

Arrow demonstrates the power of being well-positioned to deftly move within an evolving landscape and remain flexible to change. And with the scale of change in the regulations for 2021, the ability of F1 teams to do the same is going to be firmly in the spotlight as they react to unknowns – exacerbated by the new rules still being a work in progress – and learn from how competitors have approached the new challenge.

“There’s no reference point,” states Key. “Therefore, as we discover how the ’21 cars really work on track and what development potential they have, we need to have a car which has got a wide window in which we can develop it and its setup.

“You don’t want to get too pinned down on a certain idea or direction too early. You need to have a flexible approach and give yourself as many options at the start of winter testing, and the season, so you can to try to adapt your car as quickly as possible and then begin a process of iterative development.

“It is of course still important to have a firm overall objective and a plan of how to achieve that. But to assume that you’ve got all your decisions right early on and just blindly follow a specific path is dangerous because there’s always new information which comes to light through development, creative and innovative thinking, experience at the track, and seeing what your competitors are doing.

“You need to maintain a certain level of flexibility and agility to be able to react as quickly as you can. And crucially, you must not be afraid to change your mind – I think that’s so important in F1, or any other industry for that matter.”

While Arrow has honed its ability to adapt, it’s also refined the art of leaving scope for its solutions to be adjusted and evolve in the long term – effectively future-proofing them depending on the direction of a client’s business and market. It’s forward-thinking at its finest – something which Key concludes will ultimately prove pivotal in the design and development of the MCL36:

“2021 has got a lot of unknowns, and it’s this myriad of unknowns which means staying ahead of what’s ahead is going to become even more paramount in the bid to begin F1’s new era on the front foot.

“You have to plan for the long term. A lot of teams don’t have that luxury. They tend to be very focused on the short term. At McLaren, we’re able to think long term thanks to the excellent and stable backing we have from our shareholders, and partners like Arrow. And that’s a very healthy place to be with 2021 on the horizon.”

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