What Marketers can and should learn from F1 teams

Whilst for some people F1 racing is just cars going around in circles, for F1 fanatics, it is the sum of absolute precision and passion, where small changes make a massive difference.

This year Vettel won the championship with only 3 points ahead of Alonso. 3 points out of 360 distributable throughout the whole season. This is the equivalent of less than 1%.

In a business where, the 1st team gets c$90M and the 2nd team c$84M only in prize money (not to mention sponsorship) every mill seconds count.  (to contextualize it, total team budgets are between $150M and $400M)

But to gain one tenth of a second (just try to measure that on your stop watch!), it costs constructors a lot of investments in R&D budgets.

So how do they do it?

Data plays a critical role.

McLaren understood the importance of data and the potential of developing a BI tool to analyse information. They developed an information gathering and analyzing platform (in layman terms) called ATLAS (Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System) that enabled them to know every single detail about the car and the driver on the circuit. They gather information on stuff like

  • acceleration (G force) in all 3 axis
  • temperature readings (brakes, tyres, engine, transmission, etc.)
  • wheel speed
  • suspension movement
  • hydraulic pressure
  • brake pedal movement
  • accelerator pedal movement
  • steering angle
  • gear position
  • track position

Everything that is in ‘action’ can be measured and therefore ‘exploited’ to optimise behavior.

By combining all these measures, they know exactly when and why a driver loses time at one corner on the track compare to another driver. When you see drivers looking at very long data sheets before they start their laps (essentially during qualifying) they are not looking at anything else but ‘big ‘data’ and intelligence from their behavior.

Similar to standard businesses, F1 teams recognized the importance of gathering information, analyzing data and turning it into meaningful intelligence that drivers can put into practice.

However, unlike a lot of traditional businesses, real innovation happened when instead of asking the question ‘what can I do with this data?’ they asked the question “what type of data would help me make this decision easier?’. Once you can answer that question, you just need to capture it! (Nowadays, they use 130 sensors to capture information. Some of which are auto generated and some of it are sent by the driver himself)

I often here Marketers saying that they do not have data (or not the right data) about their marketing activities. Of course they do but they might not gather it the right way or they might not gather the right information or they might not analyse it, but given that they are in ‘action’ they automatically generate information that can be used to optimise behavior.

If we believe, that one phone call or click-through or tweet can make a difference in our buyers’ decision (I certainly do), then it’s worth just keeping a bit closer eye on some of the World’s finest engineers.

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