F1 tech: no one ‘bloody cares’; What F1 missed

We’ve talked about the new Formula 1 Power Units and hybrid technology until we’re blue in the face and while I never want to marginalize the opinions of those who truly like the technology and advanced nature of the systems, I also have little time for those who use it as a political agenda for some other cause, pro or con.

There’s little doubt that the road car industry is trying like hell to push for hybrid and electric cars and depending on what you read, it’s either still not selling anywhere near the hype generated with single-digit sales or they are nearly there and mass adoption is not only coming but you won’t be able to have a choice. Not sure how I feel about either of those scenarios if I’m honest. I’d rather my shipments via 18-wheeler not have to stop and charge for 10 hours every 150 miles.

Regardless, the complicated nature of the new hybrids have a checkered history in F1 so far with the bankruptcy of three teams due to exorbitant costs of these systems, a nonsensical radio ban prompted by over-the-top driver coaching in order to make the best use of this complicated tech and slower lap times that are just now starting to reach 2004 levels.

One of the recurring narratives from the paddock and governing body, the FIA, is that F1 hasn’t done a good job of explaining the tech and to be fair, I think F1’s website has done a tremendous job of trying to unpack the complexity of the systems. The real issue may not be the explanation but the interest level and impact these engines have had on the sport but don’t listen to me, listen to the most popular and loved F1 driver in recent history—Lewis Hamilton:

“What do I think to the actual rule? The fact we have six components of an engine and mismatch [of component usage], I don’t think it’s great,” said Hamilton.

“People watching don’t care about that.

“It’s far too technical, far too complicated.

“Most people watching don’t know what an MGU-H is and don’t bloody care.”

Lewis told AUTOSPORT that fans don’t bloody care about the hybrid engines and they are too complex. He said:

“It doesn’t sound good,” said Hamilton. “I still look online and watch old races with the old cars sounding great.

“I miss that. One day I hope we come back to that and simplify it.”

Technology is over engineered

I draw a few parallels from my day job in technology regarding any innovation and product advancement. In my world, manufacturers over engineer their products. That’s their job and that’s not a criticism of them. Their business model inspires innovation and pushing limits of technology in order to drive new trends and new markets as well as advance the technology.

If you consider display manufacturers with their 8k resolution, that’s terrific and looks stunning but there is little or no programming being delivered at 8k. It’s over engineered but it has to be in order to eventually become the norm in programming delivery resolutions. Sometimes it resonates and sometime it doesn’t—remember a few years ago and the massive push for 3D TV’s? That didn’t quite float did it?

As car makers, companies such as Mercedes are using F1 as a proving ground for rapid prototyping and advance engineering. That’s their job. They’ve found that F1 fits the bill for their program and they were very influential in getting the regulations changed for hybrid technology—the FIA were happy to play along because at the time the world was all about sustainability…I hate to tell them but that trend has run, now it’s all about “Wellness” in the workplace.

So Mercedes engineered this incredibly complex hybrid power unit that costs a fortune and then, along with Ferrari and Renault, they sold engines to the small teams who couldn’t afford to develop their own but they charged a fortune for the supply in order to offset their R&D. This placed a massive cash-grab within F1’s economy and a drain on the series leading to three teams vaporizing.

What F1’s technology migration path failed to understand

I’m only going to type this once so if the teams, FIA or F1 miss it, it’s not my fault.

New opportunities in technology haven’t come from technology innovations per se but by linking technology to elements valued by buyers—or in this case, the fans.

F1’s tech may appeal to a manufacturer’s engineering team as an element that is valued by them for their road car programs but it isn’t linked to elements valued by F1 fans.

It’s crucial to realize that in the technology innovation world, which car manufacturers are engaged, it is critical to seek differentiation while avoiding the natural value-cost trade-off that naturally occurs. Increasing your differentiation usually accompanies increased costs but that error is due to one thing—not treating value and innovation as equals.

What F1 teams should have done is to create elements that F1 has never offered before (exciting new chassis regulations, broadcast packages to meet digital and mobile strategies et. al.), and seek to increase elements way above industry standards. As you can see, doing either or both of these would naturally increase costs but what you have done here is address the value aspect of F1.

Now let’s look at the cost element. In order to differentiate via creating and increasing, F1 should have reduced and eliminated to balance the value-cost model. What elements can be reduced far below industry standards (common parts supply, standardized, high-quality tires without all the variations et. al.) and what elements can you eliminate that the industry takes for granted?

What we are doing here is balancing value and innovation by increasing and creating while reducing and eliminating and it treats both value and innovation equally while differentiating F1 from all other series and making the sport more financially viable.

Hybrid technology is perfectly fine and the kind of power units F1 uses are a master stroke in technology innovation but they are over engineered and what F1 would have been well advised to do is to look at the total possible scope of this tech advancement and linked it to the elements valued by fans and chucked the rest. To be honest, most fans were fine with KERS so why the MGU-H, ES, TC and turbo? I understand they introduced this to get the power unit on par with the older engines, horsepower and RPM’s but we already had engines delivering that. Remember, it’s about linking the tech to elements value by the fans.

In my industry, the real opportunity is linking this technology innovation to elements valued by the client and what you will normally find is, the real opportunity is in simplifying the over-engineered technology the industry produces. It’s not a “good is good enough” scenario, it’s a case of aligning or linking technology to what clients value and that is simplicity. I would argue F1 fans are no different.

Fans would have much preferred more broadcast delivery options, more access, more features and, above all, better racing. Those are elements valued by fans and every fan survey for the last 10 years has echoed this notion. If only Value is favored, we increase costs while trying to compete through differentiation which becomes niche and too small to sustain as well as too costly and it misses the elements fans value.

Advanced, over-engineered technology that requires driver coaching, lift and coast and begat sheer domination leading to less exciting racing? No one “bloody cares”.