F1 and IoT: connected drivers, connected fans

March 7, 2018

Mehul Kapadia   

Vice President - Global Marketing at Tata Communications

Advanced uses of technology are almost prosaic in Formula 1 these days. To gain the next great competitive advantage, teams must turn their attention the most finely-tuned and sophisticated machine in the sport – the driver. As regulations standardise cars and support crew, drivers will be the next arena for gaining a significant competitive advantage.

Speaking at a roundtable event with Tata Communications, Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsports at Formula 1 – who previously served as the technical director of the championship-winning Benetton and Ferrari teams – spoke about how one of F1’s greatest strengths is its human element. This constant battle between man and machine means that it is in the best interests of teams, fans and the sport itself to look after the true stars of F1 – the drivers.

A gruelling environment

A Grand Prix represents a tremendous physical strain for drivers as they sit for hours in cramped positions at high temperatures, subject to huge amounts of G-Force. On average, they lose around two to three kilograms of body weight during each race. With this in mind, teams are now looking to monitor indicators such as a driver’s heart rate, body temperature, and hydration levels, transmit it back to the pit, analyse it and then act on it in the same way that they might change tires or alter their refuelling strategy. By better understanding how the body behaves under certain conditions or even during a certain straight or turn, teams could in future ‘optimise’ their drivers – for example by reducing their body temperature or regulating heartbeat – to improve performance.

Teams that want to be competitive in the coming years must take this concept even further by exploring the transformational potential that IoT and wearables could have on personnel in the wider Formula 1 teams – and not just on drivers.

During the season, teams are subject to gruelling regimes where they fly around the world, moving from time zone to time zone and circuit to circuit. At each race, teams set up their working environment, perform throughout the weekend under tremendous pressure, watched by hundreds of millions of people, and then disassemble their equipment and garages once it’s done. They then move onto the next circuit and starts all over again. It’s a tough schedule, so whatever efficiencies technology can bring will make the sport better.

More suspenseful sports experiences

There is also incredible potential for the IoT to drastically transform the fan experience across the sport. The connectivity offered by today’s smartphones and wearables means that fans and teams can now have a direct link to each other. This connection will take the sport to new and innovative places. It’s also an area where F1 has traditionally lagged and needs to catch up if it wants to gain a share of the younger generation of sports fans. Indeed, the second challenge of the 2017 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize was seeking input from fans on this very question. The technology chief of Formula 1, John Morrison, paints a picture of a future Grand Prix where, “Through a mobile app connected to sensors at the track, fans could tune into customised live video feeds based on their favourite team or driver, take part in live polls and synchronised cheering, and interact more seamlessly with other fans on social media. Fans’ emotions could be tracked to create aggregate emotion charts on large displays at the circuit, creating a more interactive, immersive and thrilling race experience.”

Meanwhile, other sports offer a glimpse of Formula 1’s direction of travel. For example, in Formula E, the class of motorsport that uses electric cars only, fans can vote to give one driver a power boost during the race via the sport’s official app. Brawn has ruled this particular feature out for Formula 1, but there is a desire to do more with data and technology to create a richer fan experience. He has spoken about how Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll’s epic tussle in Baku right to the last corner could have been predicted 20 laps beforehand. While the eventual result couldn’t be predicted, Brawn said that the data could have absolutely predicted that the cars would be neck and neck on the final lap. How these real-time updates, predictions, and analysis are incorporated in the live broadcast and communicated to fans is a key question for F1 as the “will they, won’t they?” suspense could add value.

Away from the action on the track, IoT applications are also being deployed around stadia and other sporting venues to enhance what fans are seeing and experiencing on the pitch or the track. For example, many soccer and football stadiums now allow fans to order food and drinks to their seats, with orders being sent directly to food and concessions stands. We may also eventually see “intelligent” stadiums that employ IoT for things like health and safety and crowd control, for example directing fans to the bars or restaurants which are least busy.

If and when implemented in Formula 1, these kinds of new experiences will ensure the sport remains its place on the grid as one of the world’s most popular sporting attractions. As F1 continues its digital transformation, new technologies will play a more active role in evolving the experience for fans following the action live and on-demand, trackside or across a range of platforms and devices.

Read a previous blog on the need for digital transformation in Formula 1.