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Making a difference with F1 data

August 26, 2014

Chris Thelwell   

Digital innovator

Digital innovator Chris Thelwell, one of two winners of the first challenge of the Formula 1 Connectivity Innovation Prize , tells us about his solution and how he arrived at his winning idea

My interest in F1 began many years ago when I was just 11 years old and I watched Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost battle it out for the top spot in 1988. Since then I have gone on to build a career as a digital disruptor and product innovator, involved in many sport related products from British swimming to European football. When I heard about the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize it was a perfect fit.

The first challenge asked entrants to identify insightful information that can be derived from Formula One Management’s live data feeds, creating a package to add excitement to the audience experience.

After a couple of weeks balancing a busy day job and developing the concept, I submitted my idea for a new open-source data humanisation service. It works by taking an XML feed from the F1 data set and comparing it to historical data and significant events through logic statements to create each story. This then delivers a story feed via an API platform for services to disseminate the information via a variety of channels. The feeds are not only delivered to mobile devices for fans, but also wearable technology for track-side technical and engineering staff and audible screen reading technology for blind and partially-sighted fans.

But how did I get there? From the initial lightbulb moment through to submitting my entry, I took the following steps:

Identify the problem
The challenge was very open, so the first step was to narrow it down to something I could work with. Firstly, I identified a user who was poorly served by the current service and worked out their pain points. For me, this was visually impaired fans.

In the UK alone there are almost two million people living with sight loss – that’s approximately one person in every 30. According to the RNIB almost half of blind and partially sighted people feel ‘moderately’ or ‘completely’ cut off from people and things around them. F1 is a global sport with a massive global audience, and creating a fully accessible data format should be an essential step to including everyone in its enjoyment.

Make a difference and create value
The next step was to work out how I could really make a difference to the user, by designing a solution around their needs, keeping it very focused and simple. My concept does this by generating human story angles or ‘data stories’, making the raw data meaningful and accessible to all. This democratises the data – it no longer sits in the realm of data scientists or race officials, making it comprehensible for the visually impaired fan via an accessible audible data service using screen readers.

christhelwellvisualMake it open

A key part of my approach was to create an opportunity rather than a finished solution, to allow other digital innovators to take the solution and grow its reach and potential by creating other services to meet the needs of the F1 fan.  Taking an open approach could be a massive step towards F1 becoming a true digital disruptor. With an open platform, there is an opportunity for new interpretation of existing data; reaching previously untapped audiences; and viewing F1 data stories in brand new ways, such as via Google glass or a smart watch.

Make it awesome

Finally, I wanted to bring the solution to life, using my entry to tell a story of how it creates value for both the user and stakeholders involved. At the core of my idea was the impact on the blind and partially sighted fans, no longer cut off from the sport.

I want to make a real difference by providing a unique solution for a user whose needs were not met by the current offering. I feel my solution achieves this and I’m looking forward to the next phase, where I’m in with the chance of making my concept a reality.

If you’re reading this and you have an idea that could evolve the future of Formula 1, I would strongly recommend getting . Since hearing about the challenge back in July I’ve been on a fantastic journey and this is just the start.

To receive an email alert when details of the second challenge are released on 3 September, register now at 


Tata Communications was the Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1® between 2012 and 2019. Tata Communications was also the Official Managed Connectivity Supplier to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, and Official Digital Transformation Partner to ROKiT Williams Racing until the end of the 2019 season.