17 Jul What Can Sports Organisations and Coaches Learn from Data-Driven F1 Teams?
The world of motorsports is in pole position when it comes to data-driven sports.
Formula One relies heavily on technology and big data to drive the motorsports industry and constantly improve the performance of pit crews, racers, and everyone else on the team.
Data fuels a team’s learning.
This ultra-competitive sports world knows how to use their data to their advantage.
By checking their diagnostics and analytics for everything from the state of their vehicles to conditions affecting driver behaviour, teams are able to learn and adapt to changing variables in real time.
Every single decision in motorsport is based on data and the need to improve.
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The F1 world has always taken a different approach to performance improvement because they know how to put their data in the context of their sport.
How efficient would your sports organisation be if it functioned like a well-oiled, data-driven Formula One machine?
Today we’re going to discuss what every team should learn about sports data from the advanced practices of motorsport.
What Makes Motorsport Teams Leaders in Data-Driven Sports?
Winning a Grand Prix takes a highly technical and well-engineered car, a team of data experts working together to maximise performance, and a driver to put all the pieces together.
As Stacey Higginbotham writes for Fortune magazine’s Tech section, “A Formula 1 race is a high-stakes example of the so-called Internet of things, where teams tap tremendous amounts of real-time data culled from physical objects.”
F1 crews use their data to learn and understand the performance of their vehicles and improve the chances of winning for their drivers.
On a scale of 1–10, Formula One has integrated technology at a level 10.
These massive organisations have huge quantities of real-time data. They continually run simulations and make sense of the data they collect to learn about and improve their key performance indicators.
Teams in this level view sports and technology as a science; they aim to master their data and let it help them solve problems more efficiently.
For example, F1 drivers don’t simply decide when they want to pit because they’re hungry for a snack.
Retrieving key data from their team of engineers (such as weather conditions, car and driver performance, their competitors’ likely car performance, etc.) means they’ll know the most optimal time to pit.
Engineers will build models and simulations to try and predict this time.
While these systems were initially inaccurate (to the point of being fairly useless), over time and with commitment and refinement, they’re actually quite reliable and useful.
So now this hugely complex decision is resolved by an easy “pit or don’t pit” recommendation from their software.
This is the value data experts bring to your sport; engineers help your team use data to directly link to decisions your team already has to make.
Instead of incorrect, costly mistakes and strategies, you’ll have accurate information to help you improve your decisions about training, game plans, situational reviews, etc.
Most sports organisations only operate in the 2–5 integrated technology range with very minimal data interaction with their existing systems.
So let’s discuss what your coaches and team can borrow from data-driven motorsports teams to level up your athlete’s performance:
1. Respect for Your Organisation’s Data
Your organisation’s data will teach your staff how to create better strategies and improve decision making.
No sport knows this better than motorsports, particularly Formula One.
David Tran tells Innovation Enterprise that Formula One teams such as McLaren live and breathe data in search of performance perfection.
They fit each car with hundreds of sensors to monitor both car and driver performance in all race conditions.
These sensors live all over the car — from chassis to tyres to engine — and measure metrics such as tyre temperature, track position, driver heart-rate, etc.
“In one lap they can transmit 2GB of data, and a full-race distance 3TB,” Tran mentions.
The top F1 teams run simulations to learn and predict likely race outcomes for hundreds of given scenarios — including when to pit, as we mentioned above — over 50,000 times in a single lap.
And keep in mind that one lap is typically just over a minute long.
Furthermore, on the slowing down laps, the data is automatically being sent to the team so they can spend less time handling data and have more time for interpreting it.
Can your sport do that?
2. An Emphasis on Data Analysis
What good is collecting your athletes’ data if you don’t have the time or technical skill to interpret and analyse what the numbers are telling you?
Data analytics is fundamental to understanding how race cars handle and behave.
When an F1 car travels at higher speeds, for example, it exerts more pressure on the driver and the vehicle, which, like a pacing strategy in endurance sports, needs to be accounted for in their
race performance strategy.
“We measure whatever we need to manage during the race, and then we model to get the predictive intelligence on how the cars are going to perform,” Geoff McGrath, chief innovation officer at McLaren Applied Technologies, explains.
Engineers and data analysts dig through every detail — from speed and aerodynamics to how minuscule changes in tyre pressure affect grip levels and wear out rates — to hypothesise ways to improve each metric.
This leads to additional programs being developed, new tests to perform, and time spent in highly advanced wind tunnels to assess the changes.
Understanding how to maximise your athletes’ performance requires an unwavering understanding of how your data can help you learn to better prepare them.
Can you say you’re fluent in what your data is really saying?
3. A Drive to Innovate and Produce Results
Formula One teams are always looking for ways to innovate and gain the advantage over their competitors.
But these organisations don’t simply buy solutions to their problems — they build and engineer them.
Visit any Formula One team and you’ll find engineers developing or running new and exciting prototypes to improve driving performance.
Top F1 teams, like Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, build every race car using historical data about previous races at each track and simulations their programs are able to generate using their current season’s sensor data. Then they build prototype parts using precise 3D printers.
While it may take a regular car five years to go from drawing board to production, it only takes an F1 car less than six months to get out on the track and start running test laps.
This is why motorsport teams will always be at the forefront of engineering and innovation; they know how to use the data available to them to inspire paths to advancement.
An F1 car is a very refined prototype. It is unique.
Think of your sports team or athletes as prototypes.
You need to build systems and processes around your prototypes to learn more about how they work. When you have this data, you’ll gain an understanding of what’s actually going on so you can improve.
Are you regularly testing the boundaries of what your athletes can do? Do you know how to build models to help you get this information sooner?
4. Fast Communication and Collaboration to Make Strategic Decisions
Formula One has strict rules about how many team members are allowed on the track during races. Infiniti Red Bull, Higginbotham notes, has 60 engineers on-site and another 30 back in England during races.
That’s why each sensor provides data from the track and vehicle to the entire sports organisation in real time. Everyone stays in the loop and makes decisions using the data quickly.
It’s not uncommon to transfer over 200GB of data between the racetrack and headquarters miles away.
“It takes less than 300 milliseconds for the data from the farthest track in Australia to reach Infiniti Red Bull’s U.K. team,” Alan Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, says.
Back at “mission control”, simulations are being conducted to figure out the best time to change a tyre or overtake another driver down on the track.
“Gut-feel decisions just aren’t made,” Peasland stresses.
F1 teams have invested heavily in communication so everyone is attached to the data and able to strategize together to win.
Everything in the F1 world needs to be fast — including data interpretation — but this system of communication also has to be highly integrated, safe, and secure.
One of the biggest challenges coaches face is knowing how to help their athletes adapt to changing conditions or opponents during game or match time.
Engineers on elite racing teams know how to coach their driver’s behaviour because they can anticipate the effects of those particular actions using their team’s data.
F1 teams are allowed to maximise their strategies in real-time using the data they’re receiving on the track and adjust their equipment and game plan for those changing variables.
Tracking real-time numbers means all your team’s experts can apply their expertise at the right time and collaborate efficiently to make informed decisions.
Is your organisation making real-time decisions with meaningful data or just winging it with what you’ve tested in the past?
Sports Data Skills: Mind the Gap
While motorsports has been investing in data technology longer than other organisations, many sports are just starting to realise the potential value in the engineering principles of data science.
Now there’s a growing data skills gap quickly emerging.
Coaches and trainers know that understanding their data is the key to success for their team, but they lack the tools and skills to actually capitalise on it.
Your organisation may be able to collect data, but may not have the capability to draw out the insights you really need.
Data programs and software promise to make understanding your data easier, yet they’re often more confusing and time-consuming.
While it’s relatively straightforward to generate numbers and pretty charts from data, it’s much more valuable to distill your data into an easy-to-read and actionable analysis.
We know what understanding your data can really do for your team so that’s what we aim to do.
The Human Element: Moving from Cars to Athletes
Even though we’ve discussed several traits to borrow from the professionals working in motorsport, there’s one major difference between their world and yours: your athletes.
Working with the bodies of athletes is much more difficult than engineering the body of a vehicle.
When you want to optimise your athletes’ performance, you’ll need to run more than an engine diagnostics, after all. You’ll need to consider the whole picture of their life, from their diet to their sleep patterns to their psychology.
In the F1 world, for instance, you can stick a needle in a tyre to get a core temperature (which is much more accurate than measuring surface temperature). However, you’d never be able to poke your athlete’s muscle to gauge muscle temperature without causing harm.
That’s why combining the skills of non-technical sport trainers (like those already on your team) with those of techies with a background in motorsport engineering (like Pace Insights) makes for an ideal data strategy.
Unlike other data experts, we’ll complement the expertise of your organisation and never prescribe a course of action to take or presume to be the expert in your sport.
We let you do your job, only better.
Venturing into this previously uncharted territory, your team will have a combination of hard and soft sensors to help you decipher your data and create a plan to be number 1.
We’re a Unique Blend of Sport and Technology
Even though our background is in motorsport, most of our customers here at Pace Insights are British sports teams.
That’s because we understand that data should fuel every organisation’s learning.
We’re able to connect these two industries and bridge the gap between these very different disciplines using data and technology.
You’re the experts in your sport; we’re the data experts behind the technology that’s going to help you win.
We’ll deliver both the technical and data-driven insight of the engineering world with the practical expertise and time-sensitive nature of the sports world.
When you’re able to learn from your team’s data and optimise your strategies with it, you’ll be closer to functioning like an advanced motorsport team and better equipped to perform your job.