F1’s complexity is hurting the UX…and itself

I was sent a link to Gary Hartstein’s latest article where he says goodbye to Formula 1. I read and I understood. His words are born from the frustration with the FIA—as Sid Watkin’s replacement who was unceremoniously released of his duties—to his disdain as a fan feeling patronized by the sport’s inability to right itself. I get it and I appreciate its reasoning as well as motive.

I don’t have a knife in the fight over Gary’s issues with the FIA and it’s not that I have no opinion on it but to try to offer a half-baked position would be to marginalize the reality of what Gary has faced and what the FIA feel they have done or not done. In short, it’s really none of my damned business.

What I do share with Gary is a concern over the future of Formula 1. I’ve been on the record many times and taken my share of heat from fans when I say that I have really never been a fan of DRS, Hybrid engines, HD tires—and the regulations they dragged through the door with them as they arrived in F1—as well as the other regulations that threaten the privateer teams.

I’m sorry if these particular elements of F1 appeal to you but for me, they are the beginning of a very concerning decay. When the edifice of F1 has slid off the proverbial infrastructure skeleton leaving a Walking Dead like roaming corpse.


One thing that Gary says in his farewell piece is really at the heart of the matter and he’s called it out succinctly. Simplicity.

As a CTO in the technology industry, I can draw parallels with this notion as it applies to human behavior and the use of technology in their modern workspaces. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll explain why Gary is right.

The changing workplace is really driven by a multigenerational change and strong desire to densify the workplace design in an effort to reduce the square footage portfolio companies are currently holding leases on. A huge expense is lease expense and any way a company can reduce that is a bonus. Moving from 242 sq. ft. per employee to 135 sq. ft. is a big step in that direction.

Making that massive shift—and I do mean massive cultural shift—is a big deal when thousands and thousands of employees are involved. The industry did a marvelous job of seizing the emerging Gen Y’s and their social behavior as a reason and prime mover to make this massive shift. They did this by making the change simple and seemingly desirable.

Why is any of this important to F1? It’s not but I use this as an example because making this huge, life-changing shift across multi-generational workforces comprised of introverts and extroverts wasn’t easy but they did it with simplicity.

Why is the Apple iPhone the electronic device that launched 1,000 ships? Simplicity. Apple controls the User Experience (UX) and that’s why there’s no USB jack on an iPad or way to save files to a hard drive. They control the UX to ensure its simplicity and superior experience. Add a USB jack and all bets are off on the UX.

F1 would do well to hire a UX person to take a long look at the users and how they experience the sport and by what means they do it. To Gary’s point of simplicity, I’ve said for years that adding layers of complexity in order to hide obvious failings due to gridlock and the inability for the sport to make necessary changes for fear of losing manufacturers or fans is ultimately going to lose both.

It’s not that F1 fans aren’t capable of understanding the complexities of the sport. No one is arguing that F1 fans are idiots. No one argues that an iPhone user is an idiot but many would agree that it’s simplicity makes for a better phone and tool in which to be productive and entertained. After 7 iterations of the iPhone, you can get all snippy about it and argue the foibles but when the first one came out, there were not many humans who weren’t amazed by how it transformed the mobile phone industry. If we didn’t have the iPhone, we’d still be poking around on a Palm Treo or Blackberry.

open officeF1 needs an open space plan

F1 needs to shift its portfolio. Companies were basically looking for ways to radically cut costs and decided that cramming down on employees with 100 sq. foot less of space in an open office plan was the way to do it but they did this in a way that was simple and they sold it in a manner that made employees think it was the new, desirable thing…that they should embrace it because it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

I really don’t want to have to try to figure out how many tokens a team has used or how many of the 13 sets of tires are scrubbed in order to enjoy good racing on track. If you don’t bring me directly into the team and on the pit wall with all the information available, then I can’t follow the myriad details needed to understand the sport. F1 has a penchant for shoving its fans away from the pit wall so not giving me team-like access to all the data I need to clearly understand the tire strategies, engine development et. al. is really only making the sport more elusive to fans.

In many ways, it has become an engineers sport where teams are entertaining themselves in a form of mental masturbation. It’s complicated, overtly so, and they love that because they have access to all of the data and a clear line of sight to the data needed to understand the sport. As fans, we sit on the couch of lethargy and hope that someone has a decent chyron on screen so we can remotely understand what’s happening.

If there’s any upside, F1 journalists should realize this is the situation and make a mint becoming race result interpreters as they are in the paddock and can craft stories that unpack the race and reveal the strategies. Not sure how many fans want to gain their understanding of what they just watched two days later in a press report but it’s an opportunity nonetheless. To fully understand what just happened, I have to wait for Mark Hughes to reveal the race in detail so I can get a better understanding of what happened and unfortunately that’s usually days later. No offense to Mark, he works his tail off.

In the end, simplicity is the key to many things including F1 and technology. Simple tire strategies. Simple engines systems that don’t need to have prolific radio communication on how to actually use them during the race and then become exploitive in the ways in which we use the radio. The hybrids are so complex that the drivers can barely manage them during the race and coupled with HD tires, they are impacting results so prolifically that F1’s stats really lost their relevance back in 2014.

If hybrid is the way you want to go, then there should be a much simpler way to do it. If not, then I would argue that it isn’t ready for prime time and until such time it is, we should not be killing F1 as a R&D program.

These young people will know it much betteriphone_small_pic.jpg

I see it every day in my job. You’ve heard people say, “you should see my son or daughter use that iPad, they’re much better at this technology stuff than I am and when they get to the workplace, they’ll understand this stuff much better than we do”. Is that what happened? No.

When the younger generation showed up at the office, they didn’t say, “Ok, where’s that SQL server at? Where’s your Exchange server I’m ready to dig in and start writing code”. They walked in with iPhones and said, “I don’t know why you’re using that old, complicated thing, I have an app that does that”. Simplicity.

No one would argue that the code and guts of an iPhone is simple, it’s not. That’s the beauty of it. The more simple you want to make something, the more complex it becomes behind the scenes. That’s very typical and normal. F1 needs to be incredibly complex behind the scenes in an effort to make it universally simple to experience. No one wants to have to understand your Rube Goldberg device these days, they just want to see the mouse trapped.


Few people want to track engine tokens, see tracks laced with marbles or anguish over how many kilowatts a car is using out of turn 3 as it enters a DRS zone which falsely induces speed the car doesn’t actually posses because it’s used too much of its fuel at this juncture in the race according to its fuel-flow rate meter. They want simple.

Like Gary’s relationship with the FIA, F1 is too complicated. Like our relationship with F1, it’s too complicated. What we need is simplicity in a world that’s increasingly complex. The greed and avarice of those involved in F1 is becoming too complex. The results of trying to out maneuver each other politically is too complex. The prize money calculations and circuit contracts and broadcast packages are too complex. All of this makes for a very bad UX.

Someone once said that it is the simple things in life. How true that is on many levels, including F1.

Hat Tip: FormerF1Doc

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charlie white

A friend of mine on Google+ sent me the same link. I haven’t read Hartstein’s blog since the first one he posted. No doubt the doctor has a big axe to grind with everyone who wears an official FIA badge. But as more people outside the sport’s periphery point out its flaws, it becomes more entrenched and reluctant to change.

Negative Camber

Yeah, I don’t know Gary. I’ve seen some tweets and conversations that people have sent me that seem to suggest there is a lot of bitterness between he and the FIA. It really has nothing to do with me and I can’t possibly understand what he’s gone through but I do get his point. And to that point, simplicity is really key. We make a big mistake if we think that F1 fans want more complexity to signify that the sport we watch is the pinnacle of motorsport technology. I see this every day in my job, legacy approaches to… Read more »

charlie white

I would suggest reading Gary’s blog post where he goes into detail about his expulsion from his FIA position and latter quasi-legal battles with the FIA and his reaction to Bianchi’s death.

The Captain

I was thinking about this the other night over some scotch. All the biggest problems for me with F1 right now boil down to a few fundamental things that they just won’t address. Aerodynamic! Remove them, it’s why the cars can’t pass and why we get the terrible Hi-deg tires, DRS, and such. Those are just band-aids over the Aero elephant in the room. The engines! F1 should never have been a development platform for Mercedes. And lets be clear here, F1 is NOT developing hybrid engines now. The engines are so heavily defined by the rules that no real… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

You should see the “Granger” (TM) commercials where the spokesman keeps harping on how simple is better and the company thrives on keeping it simple.

Andreas Möller

Wow… that was some rant from Gary… I must say I agree with most of what he says, though. I obviously can’t comment on his position on extraction processes etc, since I’m neither a physician nor privy to the inner workings of F1 medicine, but I agree completely with the “complicated interior, simple exterior” ethos. And it can actually be done even in today’s F1, but you have to do it yourself :-) The tyre regulations for 2016 is a prime example – when they were first published, I read them over and over, trying to get my head around… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Complete hogwash. The smart phone, any smart phone, is vastly more complex than a dial or push-button land line connected phone from 1970, in both technology and operation by the user. Cars today are massively complex compared to cars of the same era. Even owning and operating entertainment systems, not to mention computers we all use day by day, are more complex, demand more training and understanding, and combine multiple layers of interlaced technology in a mix that makes what we were using just 20 years ago look like stone tools by comparison. Any IT professional that dares lay claim… Read more »


Didn’t you read Todd’s article? He specifically says the technology behind an iPhone is very complex, but *the user experience* is kept simple.

Roger Flerity

How is the user experience simple? Constant updates, piles of apps, wireless accounts and connectity, the iCloud, blocked pathways to music beyoind what is strictly allowed by the Apple gods, mixtures of features, blocked apps use due to iOS updates to support planned obsolescence, etc… not simple at all compared to a land line phone. I contend the argument that the iPhone is a simple UX is marketing farf forwarded by Apple. These devices suck time and brain power on levels no other communications device in the history of human kind – and that’s just fine with the users involved,… Read more »

Negative Camber

Roger, I work with end users every day and I have designed and installed millions of dollars’ worth of integrated systems over my lifetime. If you have spent any time reading anything about Apple’s approach to design, then you know that Steve’s main goal was to make a device that intuitively works meaning people intuitively know what to do with it when they hold it. Simple and intuitive UX is their goal and they control their OS and what you can do with the OS in order to ensure their simple user experience. That ideology makes some folks in the… Read more »

Peter Riva

A lengthy, well reasoned argument. Of course, being me, I have a small quibble/reinforcement of your overall argument. You say, rightly, “Apple controls the User Experience (UX) and that’s why there’s no USB jack on an iPad or way to save files to a hard drive. They control the UX to ensure its simplicity and superior experience.” It seems to me that the FIA DID learn from Apple and do think they should control the F1 UX. Problem is, as you point out, they went in the completxity direction instead of the simplicity direction, but the goal was, and is,… Read more »

Meine Postma


Fred Talmadge

As a Linux user I prefer free and open solutions and that’s how I like my racing. I want the manufacturers to be free to build what they want. If someone dominates then restrict them somehow.


I think the comparison to the iphone and the reference to IT work are interesting, because I think it’s actually computers themselves that are killing F1. We have an old real wall phone and my son took it apart the other day and was fascinated for days because he could see how the electronics worked so he followed the wires, and understood the machine. It’s the same way with older cars, you can see in the engine cases what the design advance was, you could change parts and understand why it was better. Now it’s all just a box. The… Read more »


Me too… I have been bitching about the trend that F1 has been in for some time now, too much complexity vie technology in all areas. F1 is the motor sport known as the so called pinnacle of technology, ITS A PR SLOGAN, pull it back F1. Spending $10 million dollars to get .000001% greater efficiency in the combustion process is stupid. Spending $30 million to get 10 more down-force points is dumb. We don’t see it, we don’t appreciate its microscopic value during a race, the game is not for us its for the engineers. I have been posting… Read more »