Data driven performance: managing the geographic spread of modern teams

How F1 constructors successfully manage large teams and how remote working was already ingrained into their operations, well before the pandemic

Imagine if your office moved to a different location every week, but you were also expected to work more than half the weekends of the year. Sounds chaotic? Welcome to the world of Formula 1. This globe-spanning motorsport relies heavily on remote working and the seamless integration of geographically spread-out teams – and did so long before covid arrived on the scene. It offers businesses an interesting insight into what is possible with remote working in the modern world.

First and foremost, Formula 1 represents an immense logistical feat. The teams are large, between 300 and 1,800 people, each contributing their expertise to the single aim of winning races. Yet it's not just about those present at the racetracks. While the ‘travelling team’ may get the glitz, glamour, and glory, there is an immense and extended ‘factory team’ back at home. For a Formula 1 team to succeed, just as much depends on those working tirelessly behind the scenes, remote from the action.

For instance, during race weekends, engineers back at base could be running an array of simulations and reporting back in real time to the race team on the other side of the globe. This real-time, data-driven, remote input into race strategy is, maybe surprisingly, a long-standing practice in the sport.

McLaren’s first Operations Room was created in the early 2000s by Neil Martin. As he was unable to write software at the pace required for new features while travelling with the team, he established a functionally active ‘headquarters team’. This eventually grew into a more established and comprehensive engineering support Operations Room.

For a Formula 1 team, the trackside set-up may consist of full office capabilities with direct connectivity back to headquarters and around 150 additional people, all for a four-day race weekend. One of the most captivating examples of this approach was showcased in 2005 at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Neil Martin, McLaren’s Chief Strategist at the time, sent an email from Woking, advising not to pit Kimi Räikkönen even as his nearest competitors had already done so. On the surface, it appeared to be a strategic blunder. However, Neil’s foresight turned out to be decisive, with Kimi clawing a substantial 34.7-second lead by the time he pitted on lap 42. This remote and counterintuitive input, supported by Neil’s simulations back at base, played a pivotal role in Kimi clinching the first-place finish at F1’s most famous circuit.

As many of us know, managing remote teams is not without its challenges, but Formula 1 illustrates the opportunities. While it is not necessary to have the entire team trackside, remote home-side expertise is vital to success. The ability to manage remote resources in high-pressure scenarios with a spread of different capabilities is certainly complex, but examples like this highlight the potential of remote working – harnessing talent from across the globe to deliver a competitive edge. There is also the sustainability aspect, removing the carbon load of taking 40-50 engineers and all required equipment to each race location. We must also recognise the recruitment benefits, there are many valid reasons why someone might not want to travel as much as the F1 season demands, allowing team members to operate from their HQ only increases the talent pool. 

The success of Formula 1 teams in managing remote and geographically spread-out teams offers valuable insights for businesses adapting to the growing trend of remote and flexible working. It demonstrates that with effective communication, the right technology, and a shared vision, physical distance need not be a barrier to achieving collective goals. The onus is on organisations to adapt, working flexibly with their team to leverage strengths and time zones to make the most of new opportunities in the modern, globalised world.

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