Is there any room left for innovation in F1?

As a professional in the technology industry, I’ll admit that I’ve had my fill of hearing CEO’s explain how their employees “innovate” and how they can be more “innovative” and that they truly seek to create an environment that attracts and retains young, innovative employees. Recently I presented to a bank that says it wants to be a technology company like the ones in Silicon Valley. They need innovation apparently—although I’d suggest that saying you are a technology company while your DNA is a bank is perhaps the most innovative they’ve been in some time.

The word innovate is a dog-eared phrase by now and even when CEO’s demand it, they sometimes struggle to actually define what it is. How innovative can a junior accounts payable clerk be within the scope of a major corporation? This assumes that every employee developed the ideation skills needed to innovate which isn’t always the case. Some employees are transactional while others are knowledge-based in their approach to work and while not always the case, much of that can be derived from the multi-generational workforce when analyzing Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y’s.

On the surface of it, I’d suggest that the junior level accounts payable clerk might have an easier time of being innovative than a CFD operator or mechanic at a Formula 1 team and while that flies in the face of logic, one has to keep in mind that the regulations in F1 are very tightly written leaving very little room for disruptive and economical innovations.

That’s not to suggest that it doesn’t happen—the dual diffuser is an example in 2009 that comes to mind—but it is becoming increasingly difficult when innovation strikes, like the F-duct, and then is taken away by the FIA and strictly prescribed as a feature on the cars.

Also keep in mind that massive gains have been found in fuel efficiency as my recent trip to the USGP in Austin showed with Shell and the work they’ve done within very restrictive fuel regulations. You can hear those gains in our interview with Guy Lovett here. Shell is one company that I know is truly innovating with their Innovation Partnership with Ferrari.

The FIA’s job is to create a regulatory framework to ensure safety, parity and restrictive guidelines to balance the series for competitive reasons all centered on the notion of being fair for all who participate. For the most part they do a decent job of it but the new power units are a clear deviation as is the clampdown on aerodynamic freedom and engine freezes.

So where do the team’s find innovation and at what cost do they find it? According to Williams F1’s Claire Williams, they do it individually and without restraint or bureaucratic oppression:

“We always encourage every single person at Williams to innovate, and we do that through enablement,” she said. “That means enabling them to go about doing their job without a load of bureaucracy. And also without a load of middle-managers coming in and needing to have sign-off and approval for this and that.”

Some of the criticism of F1 is the lack of innovation and yet if fans look closely, there is a tremendous amount of technology in F1 these days. Outlandish technology in fact. But how much of it is restricted by regulatory oversight and how much of it is a blue-water approach to extrapolating innovation in all parts of the car?

What does Williams F1 do to attract and retain the best and brightest and are there areas of innovation that isn’t strictly guided by regulations that would allow for this innovation to happen?

As fans—on the outside looking in—where do you feel F1 has real innovation blocks that could be explored? Performance, safety or electronics opportunities come to mind? Right now, much of the innovation is centered on the car but it might also be an interesting exercise to explore the tracks that F1 races on. Safety is strictly monitored at tracks but are there track innovations that could be stand-alone or combined with the cars to make the racing better in certain areas?

As we think through innovative concepts for F1, let’s try to be disruptive in nature which means to be disruptive in displacing stablished leaders in the areas of concern. Take the Model-T Ford, that was a disruptive technology as it was mass-produced and much less expensive than anything else out there at the time. Often times people consider things that revolutionize as being disruptive but that’s not the case in the purest since of the term. I’d argue that we could be disruptive and do something for less as is Christensen’s original concept of the term he coined—disruptive innovation.

Hat Tip: Growth Business

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charlie white

Last week, the news website Ars Technica published a long article about Formula-1 at the USGP. It centered on the vast amounts of data streaming from car to pit and how the teams manage that data Data telemetry-that fascinated me. I suppose it all becomes practical if or when fully automated self driving cars become common. I’m still amazed the sport can get 750hp out of a 1.6L turbo V6 and the horsepower goes up with the hybrid electricity technology. Check off the electronic engine control unit and its software as another place for innovation.


If I remember right the engine ECU is a standard component supplied by McLaren and has been for a couple years (they also supply the ECU for NASCAR since there switch to fuel injection). The software is still unique to the PU and team.

Bryan Beecroft

Formula One is the Capo di Tutti Capo, the boss of the bosses, the Ne Plus Ultra of technology that got queered by this sustainable electric fuckery. Formula One (and WEC) should be the pinnacle of attainable speed possible given an internal combution engine that conforms to somewhat “loose” interprative clever expressions. We see a race every two weekends but we talk about it “ALL THE TIME” Why are the base mechanical innovations in a sidebar? Let’s allow creators to create. Say Hello to Gordon Murray.


First off, I agree that it should support and encourage as much innovation as possible. Rules are too tightly written as they restrict what the amazing minds of this sport can create. Would this series be as exciting if the teams were restricted as they are in NASCAR? I believe they even issue or have tamper-proof ECUs. Depending on the level of development and materials, F1 could still be the pinnacle of motorsport and still be as tightly regulated as it’s left-turning step child (which I love as well, but for different reasons).


With tighter regulations the freedom to innovate is restricted now (no more six wheeled cars, dual chassis or ground effect). However in the search for ever smaller gains in overall performance teams still innovate. It wasn’t that many years ago that the wheel nuts were separate from the wheels, and a number of times each season a mechanic would drop a wheel nut during a pit stop costing valuable time. Innovation still happens, it is just at a more detailed level, and is deliberately kept hidden to retain the advantage.

Bryan Beecroft

Knowledge only increases…you figure it out.