Q&A: Formula One team “tech no” prisoners in the pursuit of excellence

This week we are taking a different tack with our Q&A. We were invited yesterday, alongside a handful of other journalists, to Albert Park and spent the afternoon with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team. We were guests of Epson – one of the team’s technology partners – and got the opportunity to talk to Toto Wolff, the Team Principal and CEO, and Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas about the crucial role technology plays in a successful team.

Toto was the first in the spotlight…

Question: What aspects of a running a Formula One team involves technology?

TW: It is absolutely fundamental to everything we do. We have over a hundred Epson printers at our team HQ in Brackley [in the UK], our engine facility in Brixworth [also in the UK] and with us as we travel from race venue to race venue. Our wireless technology partner, Qualcomm, enables us to communicate instantly with our team members in all those different location and to download, share, process and analyse the huge amounts of data we take from all the components of the cars. And Petronas, our fuel suppliers, travel with the team with a mobile laboratory to ensure the cars are running on fuel that complies with the F1 and perform at their very best.

Question: How do you go about choosing your technology partners?

TW: It’s not about badges on the cars and drivers’ suits or sponsorship dollars. We choose those partners that we believe to be the most innovative in their field, and who we believe will be able to give us an edge on our competitors, as the margins are so fine in our sport.

We need the very best because our requirements are so complex. There are Formula One rules on the number of people we can have with us at the venue, so during a race itself I am in constant contact with up to a hundred people in Brackley and Brixworth who are monitoring real-time data on the component of the car’s performance they specialise in, be it brake fluid, tyre performance, engine temperature and so on. They need to be able to see that data and inform me instantly we need the driver to change a setting or tweak what he is doing to eke out more speed or get the car to the finish line.

Toto’s place in the hot seat was taken by Valterri…

Question: Technology plays a huge role in your sport – are you a “techy” kind of guy?

VB: I am. From a young age I loved driving games, starting out with Mario Kart and then moving on to Gran Turismo.

I do keep up with the latest developments in technology as they just make life easier. For example, right now I am really enjoying the new generation of wireless earpieces that make using your phone and so on so much easier.

Question: What about in the car itself, ultimately you’re a racing driver so does all the technology deflect from that or do you embrace it?

VB: I love it. Some drivers will tell you that they love the vintage racing cars, with the noise and vibration and so on. But that’s not my thing. I marvel at the modern cars and the performance and speed they produce, and that is down to the technology.

ISB was invited to the Formula One by Epson, principal sponsor of our 2018 Top 50 Small Business Leaders report which we will be publishing next month 

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