The F1 driver – just another sensor?

The F1 driver – just another sensor?

Neil Martin at work during his time as Head of Strategy at Scuderia Ferrari

‘Is it the driver or is it the car?’ is unquestionably one of my FAQ’s during client events and one which comes as no surprise. There is little doubt that in the complex technological environment of contemporary Formula One even the most casual observer understands that the drivers require the support of a large team of data engineers – many of whom are working remotely.

Formula One data scientist Neil Martin joined me on GP Racing Magazine’s podcast last month – hosted by Stuart Codling – to give examples of how data analytics has helped transform the way in which engineers can optimise race performance by embracing risk and eliminating the inevitable human biases which result in poor quality decisions.

Neil’s background in Formula One includes many years spent working as head of strategy for McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari, and he is a fascinating person to speak to about the development of analytics within the sport. He explains the reasons why it has been so transformative in a data-rich environment where speed and quality of decision making is so vital.

Having worked with many of the leading drivers in the sport, including fellow podcast panellist David Coulthard, Neil points out that the person sitting behind the wheel of the car continues to have a vital role to play. Albeit within the context of the real-time race strategy which is under constant review by the race strategists and engineers both trackside and back at base.

“The driver is literally the most expensive sensor on the car,” says Neil. “They are really good at giving feedback but they are too close to the coal face to be able to see the bigger picture.”

Now heading his own data analytics consultancy, Random Logic, Neil admits that there are circumstances under which a Formula One driver should have the final say, otherwise it is the support team which has the bigger picture of what is happening and better placed to determine strategy.

“The one time for me when they have the choice and they should make the decision is if it is too dangerous to stay on track on the tyres they are on,” says Neil. “In that case they can call themselves in. otherwise they are far more use reporting the conditions live during the race.”

Neil, DC and I were also joined by Dr Cristiana Pace, founder and CEO of Enovation Consulting, who discussed motorsport’s sustainability goals and the impact of initiatives such as the FIA Girls on Track programme aimed at building greater gender diversity across a wider range of roles within the motorsport industry. The podcast can be found on all the usual platforms and also via this direct link

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