Williams Racing are using technology to fight their way towards the front of the grid

July 22, 2021
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Williams Racing is one of the most iconic brands on the Formula One grid. But competition is fierce, resources are tight and the margins are razor thin! So how does the CIO and technology team at an F1 outfit try and operate to help give the car the performance it needs to move up through the field?

In this episode Graeme Hackland joins David and we explore how technology translates to team and car performance, and how you have to create a 'no fear' culture, even though your mistakes are broadcast to the world!

Here is the full episode transcript:

- So joining me for today's episode of, "In Conversation With," I've got Graeme Hackland, you are the CIO at Williams F1 team. And Graeme, that is not the best virtual background anyone's seen in the last year.

You are sat in the Williams Museum, just very quickly before we get into anything else, what cars are you surrounded by?

- Oh, it's amazing. I love being in this room. So any opportunity to be in here. So thanks for today. Gives me a chance to sit amongst these cars so I can see the very first world championship Alan Jones, 1980.

Next to me is a Nigel Mansell's car, that didn't win the world championship when the tire blew, just behind me is Piquet's car, there's a Keke Rosberg's championship winning car.

Further down the museum, you've got Mansell and Prost and Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. Amazing. The history that this team has is incredible.

- It must feel like an amazing privilege. I know you've been there for a while, but to build on part of that legacy.

- Yeah, this is my eighth season with the team. And in that time we haven't won a race yet. So that's why I'm here. That's why we're all here, we wanna win races, we wanna win world championships.

So I feel like the mission hasn't been accomplished yet, we've still got a lot to do, to get from where we are now back to the front of the grid. But that is our mission.

- And look, whilst this interview is not about F1, I don't know, anyone who watches Netflix and drives as well, there is this feeling that you're making progress and you've got some good young drivers and heading in the right direction.

So look, it's amazing to have a chance to chat to you anyway. What is it like being the CIO of a Formula One team?

- It's really tough, you know? I get no sympathy anyway, you know? Most CIOs I talk to would swap jobs with me and I wouldn't swap with many of them. So you used the right word, I think, David. It's a privilege. And many of the sporting CIOs that I talk to, because I'm part of a group in football and rugby and cricket, we often feel like that.

We often feel like it's a privilege to be part of a team. And a lot of companies talk about team and you know, "We are this team and what we're doing is we're making money for shareholders."

In a true team environment, every day we get up and we go to work and we make a contribution to whatever's happening this weekend at the race track, the work that we've been doing leading into the season and the work that we're doing for the future is all about getting this team back to the front of the grid, as I said.

So it does feel a bit like a privilege that you're part of a team and your contribution, and every single person here knows that they're making a contribution to that car, to the performance, which is tough when the performance is not great. And how do you motivate your people and how do you get them back to, you know, performing at that top level?

And that's something we really focus on, making Williams a destination for people to come and work at, but also once you're here to stay motivated and not just take your motivation from track performance, there's so many other things we do as an organization that's building towards a better future.

- And that's an interesting point to pick up upon, because I suppose people will immediately think of track performance, because that's the end of F1 that they see. But what do you actually do as CIO? Is your role similar to that of a non-sporting CIO? Where are the differences?

- Yeah, I think there are a lot of similarities. Most of the CIOs I talk to, we have the same challenges. For us, there's a real time nature of some of the things that we do that maybe other organizations don't have. Although, I've talked to CIOs in financial organizations and they operate in a much more of a real time than we do, trading floors and so on.

So there are a lot of similarities with other industries. For a CIO in Formula One, we provide the services, everything from the car. So the car itself is looked after by our vehicle technology groups.

Once the data comes off that car, once they connect that car to the network, the laptops that are used to fire it up, download the settings to the car, all of those things we provide and then everything else that it takes to design, whether that's CAD or wind tunnel or computational fluid dynamics or virtual wind tunnel, we've got a lot of testing facilities, we've got a driver in the loop simulator, then you go into manufacturing.

So making it out of the correct materials as quickly as possible to get it on the car or give design as long as possible. So there's a lot of science around manufacturing and materials that makes a huge difference to your team and how quickly you can get innovation onto the car. And then the race team themselves.

We look after them in terms of that real time, the strategy, the competitor analysis, the real time feedback. So on a Friday, we're getting data back from the track in real time, we're running it in the simulator where it might be influencing our wind tunnel running over this weekend.

There's that constant feedback loop, that maybe not all organizations get, but otherwise, the challenges are, you know, cloud, mobility, collaboration, tools, getting the right data to the right engineer at the right time so that we can make the right decisions.

- Well, what skills do you think have enabled you to stay in such a fast moving sector for as long as you have? You know, you mentioned the eight seasons at Williams, but that's not your F1 story.

And you know, when you think about a CIO typically outside of your sector, their lifespans in organization tends to be shorter than that eight years .

- Yeah. And so I'm 24 seasons in Formula One, but, you know, obviously didn't start out life as a CIO. This is, I think my 10th year leading the I.T, in two different teams. A lot of luck I would say and good people.

I spend a lot of my time helping other people to be their best and get their job done. And a lot of people that come into Formula One are attracted by the sport, they love the sport and they wanna come and work in Formula One and they last a year or two.

And that constant change, the nature of what we do, where it's very hard to be strategic for the next five years, because the regulations will change during the season, at the end of every season, we've got big rule changes coming for 2022, around all of the aerodynamics and the tires and how the car handles and everything changes.

And the engineers love that. And if you're not the kind of person who is prepared to stop the project that you're working on and do something else for the next three months, or you learn something at the track this weekend, and it has to be put into the tunnel, put into the driver simulator, maybe manufacturing need to press a button on a machine, stop it making whatever it's making right now, pull the metal out, put something else in.

We've got people in compositive making, you know, a lot of the car is carbon fiber and they're making carbon fiber parts. And there might be asked to stop midway through something because you're reacting to something that happened at the track.

And the people who work in Formula One tend to stay a very long time or a couple of years at most, and they're gone. So I think it's... I love that constant change. No two days are the same.

We're constantly reacting, but if you don't have an element of strategy, you can't be successful either. So there's a really good balance.

- Yeah. That must be an interesting tight rope to walk. Look, just out of interest, you know, 10 years you said they're leading technology, 10 years within the technology, kind of universe broadly speaking, has seen huge changes.

And, you know, if you go back 20 years, as you have in the industry, I'd imagine, you know, it was very much engineering and then technology was there to kind of support. Now, as you said, huge amounts of data coming off the car, immediately putting that into practice.

How's the role, I suppose, of technology evolved your role and the role of a technologist in being involved in that creative process when it comes to the car?

- Yeah, it's changed significantly. I started with the Benison team in 1997, we had floppy discs, all the data from both cars fitted on one floppy disc. So anyway, most people don't know what that means. So that's around one megabyte of data and there was still some space on the floppy disc.

In this museum, there's the 1979 car. So going that far back, which has the first data logger used in Formula One, it was a 64K data logger, which is almost unthinkable now, right? You won't find anything with that. If you buy a doorbell, you know, to connect to the internet, that's got more memory than we put in the very first car, but that was at the leading edge of that time.

And I think that's the great thing about Formula One. It's always been pushing the boundaries of technology, not just on car technology, but everything. Anything that was gonna lead to a competitive advantage. You know, the first wind tunnels models, weren't just a wind tunnel model as automotive had been doing up until then, it had sensors in it, you know, back in the 70s, wind tunnel models with sensors in. So formula one has always pushed those boundaries, it's one of the things that attracted me to it.

And certainly one of the reasons that I'm still in the sport is that we're always trying to drive. So what's next? You know, we're looking at things like quantum computing. I used to say, we're looking at 3D printing, but actually that's done for us.

There are still probably some metal parts that we're looking at, but you know, a significant percentage of what we do now is printed and carbon fiber printing is progressing so much that I wouldn't be surprised to be seeing us having, you know, either printers that we carry ourselves around the world so that we can print parts.

So something happens on a Friday, instead of having to ship parts out, or you go back to a previous revision, because you can only carry so many spares, but that would also give our designers much longer. So we have to work back from, when do we have to ship things from the U.K to whichever country we're going to? How long will manufacturing need to make it? And then the designers are given a deadline.

If you could push that deadline to the Friday of a race weekend, you would have an incredible advantage. And so if you can use local printing facilities in the countries we're in or take our own, you know, 3D printing. So yeah, 3D printing, I don't talk about it as the future anymore.

It's here, it's now, there are still some advances that we'll do, you know, we are printing a significant amount of the car already. So things like quantum computing, I'm really tracking. Because I think that could give us a big advantage, especially around the real-time analytics that we're doing. If you can get to the decision sub-second, 'cause we're no where near that now, we're seconds.

We used to say, "We had 90 seconds, you got most of a lap to make a decision," but what if the driver's on the second last corner and you need to know whether to call them in or not? Or there's something's happened, who knows the regulations inside out, that's gonna make sure you don't transgress the regulations and get a penalty?

So artificial intelligence is an area we're looking at around the rules, not just our interpretation of the rules, but can we challenge the interpretation of the rules that the other teams have made?

So those are a couple of areas that I'm looking at, but yeah, we've gone from a 64K data logger, back in 1979 to, you know, using... The teams are not talking about it publicly, but using artificial intelligence and doubling with quantum computing.

- I mean, that's really interesting, just kind of off piece. It kinda makes me think of "Moneyball," great film. Obviously based on that real life experience within baseball of a smaller team competing with teams with huge resources by using technology. And I suppose as technology becomes cheaper and more widely available, yes, money will always matter in F1, but I suppose it gives you a bit of a fighting chance to find an edge over teams with greater deeper pockets.

- Yeah. The funding in Formula One, I think probably throughout most of its history has always been an issue, you know, good teams that didn't have sufficient funding, you know, weren't able to be successful, although what Frank proved and Patrick Head proved with this team, they never had the most money. And yet they've won, you know, seven drivers are world champions because of Williams.

So you can be successful without the most money. Although in recent history, it has been the teams with the largest budget. And Formula One, have brought in a cost cap that I think over the next few years will level the playing field and will make it possible for any team on the grid to get on the podium, win races.

The championships are hard, I've experienced that twice in my career. They are hard to maintain that level, every race, all through a season. And the team I was with, did it two years in a row. What's happening at the moment with Mercedes is incredible, that they are at that level for eight seasons in a row.

We saw Ferrari years ago, six seasons in a row. Red Bull did it for four seasons in a row. That's really difficult, to get your team to that peak and to stay there, year after year is incredible, for any sporting organization.

You look at, you know, football, cricket, there are always these peaks and troughs that happen to any sporting team. So it's quite incredible what's been happening in Formula One, but I think things are changing. We'll get our chance.

- So we can't talk to you and ignore the pandemic. The sport in itself was one of the most high profile, and visible activities to resume during that pandemic, getting away from, I suppose, the bigger picture, like what was your experience and your team's experiences as technology seemed during that time?

- It was... And you know, I'm very conscious when I talk about the pandemic that, you know, millions of people have died around the world. And so, you know, you can't treat this topic glibly, and I don't.

But I think a lot of people got comfort from sports returning. So whether it was Formula One or football, normal activities, even though they, you know, you may have been in a lockdown and you may have been asked to stay in your home, if you were able to watch sport or... And especially Formula One, where we were still moving around, not the world.

We stayed within Europe during that season. But I remember on the 3rd of March, 2020, we logged in it T-Risk that said, it might be the case that we might have to send everyone home. And all of our colleagues might have to work from home. How are we gonna make that happen? And I think it was 20 days later, everyone was at home. So we had a very short period of time.

And it took us a little while to, you know, work with the management committee about what would be needed. How could we make that possible? How could a CAD designer, every CAD designer work at home? How could we carry on the design of our car in a way that we've never done it before?

Formula One, culturally was very much, I think all the teams, you have these amazing facilities and people come to these amazing facilities and you get to see the cars and you get to see the cars being built. And we all got to hear the car being fired up for the first time every year, in person.

And there is a visceral feeling about being on site and seeing the parts being made and seeing the cars being made. And what happens when you lose that, do people start to become disconnected from the team? And so we had to think about all those things, how we were gonna stay in touch with people, how are we gonna look after those who, you know, had family situations, where they had children that they were gonna have to look after and do their job.

People who lived alone, who were gonna be in isolation, so we had to think of all of those things, as well as, how do you provision all of I.T, that people could work remotely? And we did it within a week of getting approval from the board to go ahead.

We had everything in place that every single person, a thousand people across Formula One, and our advanced engineering company, that takes what we do in Formula One and commercializes it, all those people had to had to work remotely. And we were able to do that. And there's some roles that can't, someone who's a machinist, who works with carbon fiber.

Then they're not able to work from home, but a lot of those people worked with the ventilator projects. And so they would go and help on the assembly line. And we assisted five different projects that were looking at ventilators as part of the U.K government's appeal. And one of them, Formula One got behind, and the teams got behind called Penlon.

And they went from the same number of ventilators that they made per year, they were trying to make within a month. And the scale up was just incredible. But all the Formula One teams got behind that, and we had Williams personnel who were on shifts, working on the assembly line or helping with the logistics.

So someone who is used to getting a Formula One car around the world was helping, you know, find the components that are needed for all of these ventilators. So that was incredible. And then we had people who volunteered, our occupational health nurse went onto a COVID ward.
Some of our chefs were cooking for paramedics and medical staff. And yeah, so a lot happened in that time for us as an organization, when the sport just stopped and we didn't know if or when it would come back.

- Out of interest, you talk there about ventilators. And obviously, all organizations were placed under a huge amount of stress.

Whilst, I imagine you will never want to lose that visceral feeling of hearing an engine revved up for the first time and what that does for your culture, were there innovations in terms of the processes in the culture that you think, born out of the pandemic will stay with the team, regardless of whatever environment it is that we emerge back into?

- This might be a different answer to the one you get from almost everyone else. Almost every other organization I talk to are saying, "There's a new normal," that, "This hybrid model of," you know, "Some people never coming into an office and some organizations are closing down their offices because they don't need office space."

It feels like having people here on this site is valuable. It's valuable for the design process. It's valuable for the testing process. Since I've been back onsite, it's been amazing. All the conversations you have, just as you're walking around.

And I know, for many organizations, those water cooler moments and maybe not valuable to what they do, and just find ways that your staff are not feeling isolated and that'll do. For us, there's actually a value to having creative people near each other, able to talk to each other. I think we will move to a more hybrid model of working that will be possible.

But I can see a time when we're all back here, which kind of goes against what a lot of people are saying. And there are some advantages though, I've been able to hire some people that in the past, I wouldn't have been able to hire, during this pandemic. And I think the team has as well. So you had to live within 90 minutes, two hours, maximum commute.

And two hours is hard of Grove, where I'm sitting in Oxfordshire. Otherwise we couldn't hire you, or be prepared to relocate, or you've stayed local for four nights and then you go home for the weekend.

And that really messes with people's work-life balance. And it's not really long-term sustainable, I don't think, for people to operate like that. I think we have been able to get a better work-life balance, which is what a lot of organizations are looking for.

Commute time is wasted time, most of us would say. Well, I tend to listen to podcasts and radio stations and news and get a lot of my information while I'm driving. So I think the world has changed for us too in Formula One.

But I do think when you're a manufacturing testing facility, I think you go back to the old normal. I'm not sure that's a good answer.

- I think it's as valid as any other, you know, there's a lot of different line of thought, and there's certainly none that are wrong. You mentioned before the last season, you stayed within Europe, for obvious reasons, but Formula One is a high profile sport that travels around the world.

And it's a world that's increasingly conscious about the environmental impact of, not just travel, but supply chains as well. How can F1 ensure that it isn't left behind in this debate?

And you know, what role can technology play in ensuring that the sport is as green as it can be?

- It's a really important aspect for Formula One and for Williams, it has been for a while. Some of the... You know, I mentioned William's advanced engineering, some of the technology that we built in that organization was to help with efficiency of fridges in supermarkets, or, you know, taking batteries out of cars where they end of life in a car, but you can package it, attach it to a house, use a solar panel and that gives you enough energy to run the house overnight.

Because quite a lot of energy is wasted overnight with everything that we leave switched on. So, it's been an area that we've been looking at as a team, anyway, maybe not always focused on ourselves and how we produce our car in the past, but certainly, you know, the sustainability program that we have and I'm on the sustainability committee, because I think technology has a huge role to play.

Formula One is committed to going net zero carbon by 2030. And there are a number of steps that are planned in 2025 and so on. And I think that's really important for the sport as a whole, but every team will also decide where they wanna be on their journey.

And we're gonna push really hard, I'm hoping we'll put something out in the public domain soon about what we're gonna be doing, but yeah, it's a really important part of what we call respected Williams, which is our diversity, sustainability initiatives, sustainability for us we see as a way of attracting the best talent into our organization.

Formula One is seen as... Because of the fuel that we burn in the cars, is seen as, you know, something that can't ever be green, but actually there's so much we can do, because the cars are less than 1% of our carbon footprint.

There's so much more that we can do around. You know, you mention the logistics, the supply chain, how we make things, what we make them from. The wastefulness that I've seen over my career in Formula One, I remember one season where engine manufacturers made qualifying engines. An engine that did 12 laps and was never used again.

You know, we'll never go back to that. And so now we're at gearboxes that last for multiple races, you only have a couple of engines through the whole course of the whole season. So there's so many things that we've done.

So we'll look at the fuels that goes into the cars, there's so many great partners in Formula One who are working on the fuels and the lubricants, how we reduce the number of people that fly around the world.

So the on car technology is being really closely looked at, but everything else, we do manufacturing design and testing. Across the whole organization, we're looking at what we can do.

- Out of interest. You mentioned they're hiring people and those individuals, perhaps being sustainability conscious, I would have thought that if you're a fan of Formula One, you know, you will have a certain pool of people who would love to work in this industry, regardless of anything else, but is it becoming increasingly important?

Is it something that actually, when you're trying to bring talent into the organization, people are asking, you know, "What about the sustainability credentials?"

- They really are, yeah, people are. And it was an interesting kind of change when people started asking that, 'cause like you say, you have a Formula One with its reputation, attracts petrol heads.

And so to have to have people who care about the planet, well, actually I care about the planet, we all do. And maybe we've been a little ignorant in the past, and we've not put the focus that we should have on this, but we're very focused now. And we do see it as a potential competitive advantage.

- Yeah, it would certainly be very narrow to assume that a petrol head can't be environmentally friendly at the same time. Just out of interest, what do you think other sectors can take from motor sports to help them achieve that goals?

You know, we started by talking about the fact that, you know, in some regards your role is very similar to other roles. What do you think... Someone listening, if they are a CIO or say, a bank or an insurance firm could go, "Here's something that we could pull into our organization?"

- So, I do get the opportunity. Like you said, to talk to a lot of CIOs and we do share information. There's things that we can learn from them. Definitely. And we do, there are some things that we do in Formula One that do help other organizations.

So some of our sponsors and some of our technical partners, we've worked with them to help their organizations be more efficient, for example. Efficiency is so important in Formula One, you can have the fastest car, but if you are not efficient in the way that you operate it, build it and race it, you won't win.

And so we drive efficiency through every part of our operation and not all organizations are that focused. They don't see it necessarily as a competitive advantage. And so when we show them what we do and how we do it in Formula One and how we drive decision-making down the organization.

If you have a pyramid where all the decisions have to go to the top, or there's a committee that runs everything or a board that has to approve absolutely everything, then that will slow things down.

Last season, we had a couple of triple headers, so races three weekends in a row, you can't afford to assemble a committee to discuss what's gonna happen at the next race from learnings that you had at the last race, you have to drive decision-making down the organization, empower people to make decisions, they're data-driven, they're with the ultimate mission in mind that we wanna win and then empower them and let them get on with the reason that you hired them, the skills that they've got, let them get on with that, rather than trying to filter up decision-making to the top.

Now, there are some decisions that need to go to the CEO, the team principal, especially when you're dealing with the regulator and the regulations, but there's so many things around performance of a Formula One car that you can drive down the organization and empower people to make those decisions.

And we've helped some organizations that we've worked with to understand how they can do that inside their organization to get faster decision-making and, you know, the fail fast and move on kind of mantra, that's so important in Formula One. You know, if the person who does the pit stops makes a mistake, one lap later, they're gonna be doing another pit stop.

If they're so afraid, even that tensing will add half a second to the pit stop and we'll lose us a place or two on the track. The whole idea of a no-blame culture has to be real in Formula One, because there's that subconscious tensing, when you're doing a pit stop or you're sitting on the pit wall and you've got all of this information coming at you. And if you're worried about, "If I make the wrong decision, what's gonna happen to me? Is my job at risk?" or anything like that, that slows down decision-making.

And we can't afford that. And we've helped some organizations to understand that if even if you're a financial organization, you can benefit from driving decision-making down, bearing in mind your regulator, because you know, they're highly regulated as well.

But yeah, most organizations that we talk to can take some learnings from Formula One. We worked with a hospital who took learnings from the pit stop crew and how they operate and took that into an operating theater for prematurely born babies or babies who needed operations as soon as they're born.

And, you know, how we communicate in a pit stop and how structured everything is and how everything that you need during that pit stop is within arms reach, you can't wait for... Now when it goes wrong, it's hilarious. As long as it's not your team, as long as it's another team.
And they've brought the wrong tires or they don't have a tire, or they weren't expecting the driver or the wheel nut shredders on the wheel and you're out of the race. Maybe some of those aren't hilarious, but, you know, it shows that the margins are so fine between success and failure. And those are the kinds of things that we share with other organizations.

- It's interesting that you talk about an old blind culture. It's kind of obvious, but at the same time, it must be really difficult to achieve, because you do point out the glaring difference, I suppose, between a lot of organizations and yours, that those mistakes that an individual makes, that are so obviously an individual error, are broadcast to the world.

So it must be quite difficult for you to actually implement that, right?

- So you're right. But we have that knowledge that we could go and, you know, drag that person into the garage and they get a telling often, "This is the second time you've done this, if you do this one more time, you're out."

But I guarantee you, the next pit stop will be two seconds slower than the previous one. And lots of organizations talk about a no blame culture. And it's not real.

And maybe even in elements of our organization at times, there's finger pointing and, "This went wrong because you did something wrong." But what we tend to do is, we hold what we call after action reviews.

So we have an after action review that looks at, what happened, why did it happen and what are we changing? And that constant change in Formula One is actually really useful for things like this. So if in the garage today, the mechanic is removing a screw and it falls down, almost into the power unit. They will record that.

And the next week that screw will be tethered or they'll have made some design change so that the hole is beveled so that the screw can't pop out. And that happens across that car. They log everything, everything that happens, so that we can learn from it, make an improvement either for the next race, or if it's a big thing, for the next season. And that constant learning is so important.

But if people are too scared to speak up or tell you that something happened, "I had a near miss, but if I tell you I'm gonna be in trouble," then they won't tell you.

- Yeah. Look, we started this interview by talking about the cars that you're surrounded by. And you mentioned some of the names that are very familiar, I imagine, to not just people who follow Formula One, you know, the names like Piquet and Mansell, Damon Hill or just synonymous with general knowledge of pop culture on, . But what excites you about the future?

- There's so much. I thought, you know, I'd get bored with Formula One at some point, and I'm not, because it is exciting. There is so much innovation that can still come in. You know, driver's safety, for example, we had a huge accident last year with a car on fire.

So for those who watched either Netflix or the races themselves, there's so much we can still do around driver safety and that information can flow into other industries and into other motor sports. So we can do a lot of development around there.

There's so much innovation still to come in Formula One around car technology. Yeah. Everything is exciting about the future, especially for Williams. We're in a position now where we are building and we're building for a challenge, and I can't say, whether that's in however many years, because the thing about sport is, and most businesses, but about sport, no matter how good you are, you can do the best job that you could ever do and you could still get beaten.

And that's where that constant learning and strategy and competitor analysis and all of that comes in. But yeah, I think it's a really exciting time for Williams. We have the platform to build on now.

This team has always developed young drivers. You know, you mentioned some of them started at their careers at Williams, Jenson Button started here. So many young drivers got their first opportunity in Formula One with this team. 'Cause Frank was really good at identifying young talent and that's something that's continued in this team.

We continue to bring young drivers into the sport, develop them, sometimes they move on, sometimes they stay. So yeah, we've got a great opportunity to build from this point over the next few years.

- Look, Graeme, it's been an absolute pleasure to speak to you today. I think there's some really interesting insight for anyone there, but as much as anything else, you know, something that a lot of people kind of probably can emotionally connect to at the same time.

So thank you for your time and good luck for the season ahead. It's still relatively in its infancy.

- Thank you, David.

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