Don’t Guess About the Future. Simulate It. Lessons Your Business Can Learn from the Fastest Lab on Earth: Formula One

TIBCO Spotfire
Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Formula One is the only sport where you can’t practice,” explains Danny Hornigold, F1 commentator. The sport allows only a limited amount of practice, which makes simulation essential. Simulation is like taking 100,000 practice laps, each with a unique scenario.

You might think simulation is a techno-indulgence of this specialized sport, but in the data science era, simulation is essential to every digital business. Examples abound: urban development (infrastructure planning), education (training via simulation), economics (government spending, taxation), robotics (simulating robot-resident applications), and much more.

So, what can we learn about simulation from Formula One—specifically, the 7-time world champion Mercedes-AMG Petronas team? TIBCO’s latest case study describes the Team’s approach to simulation. Here are five steps you can follow to apply simulation to your business.

Step One: Curate Raw Simulation Material (data)

Simulation requires data. Lots of it. F1 racing cars, for example, have over 300 sensors that emit data from power steering, power brakes, and gearboxes. Each practice lap generates millions of data points that can be used to simulate car configuration variations. Each race weekend, an F1 team generates two terabytes of data.

This is the first step toward simulation excellence: curate the data to fuel it. In every business, every “thing” is loaded with sensors and data. Every website log shows how customers tried to find what they’re looking for. This “exhaust” of a digital business is the raw material for simulation.

So, data curation is the first step of simulation excellence.

Step Two: Hire a Simulation Team

Simulation is an art and a science. And it takes a team to do well. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Team has a full-time group, including dedicated “simulation engineers,” that wake up in the morning thinking about how to design and interpret new tests. For example, wind tunnel simulation is so important that the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, limits access to 10 hours a week, on average. Every minute of that time is important. 

Step two is to consider installing a simulation team to plan, implement, and optimize digital business testing.

Step Three: Employ Offline Simulation

The Team employs two styles of simulation: offline and “driver-in-the-loop.” Each has a different purpose.

Offline simulation helps set strategy. It’s like running a million “what if” scenarios with different parameters to uncover which combination of actions is likely to yield the best results. For example, if the race day temperature in Montreal is 85 degrees and wet, we’re in the pole position, and want to race conservatively, what tires are likely to run best? Offline simulation helps you run thousands of simulations of different scenarios and pick the best actions based on those predictions.

The Team uses stream-based and visual analytics tools like TIBCO Spotfire to assess offline simulation results. It’s like watching a recorded TV show at home, streaming from your DVR. 

So, the third idea to steal from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team is to implement offline simulation to evaluate strategic options and anticipate your optimal reactions to them. 

Step Four: Employ Human-in-the-loop Simulation (VR / AR / XR)

Offline simulation helps you make plans. But plans, like rules, are made to be broken. Driver-in-the-loop simulation tests the human factor, how drivers might break best-laid plans, and how best to train them on what’s to come. The Team uses simulators to help the driver experience the conditions that might be on a given day and track. They can see each curve, sense the reaction the specific car configuration will have based on its expected configuration, and be ready to act.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, the greatest Formula One driver of all time, notoriously hasn’t used simulations to practice until recently, as he prepares for his wheel-to-wheel battles with Max Verstappen from Red Bull.

Outside of racing, the use of human-in-the-loop simulation is game-changing. Any digital business can steal this idea. For example, emergency responders can use human-in-the-loop simulation to practice reacting. Airline pilot simulation is well-entrenched in that industry. Sales teams can predict the best way to handle objections and improve their ability to choose them. 

Technology is quickly democratizing to make this type of simulation accessible and cost-effective. Any business can apply virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (XR), which injects real-world artifacts into virtual worlds.

Step four is to explore human-in-the-loop simulation for training, exception handling, and skill-honing.

Step Five: Democratize Simulation Data and Analytics

Everyone benefits from simulation. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team shares simulation data with drivers, race strategists, the CFO, and Toto Wolff, the Team’s CEO, so they’re all singing from one data-driven sheet of paper. As Oscar Peace, Finance Process Analyst for the Team, states, “Visual analytics brought our team more transparency.” 

By making simulation data visual and accessible, diverse views can help the Team better prepare for the future and collaborate more effectively. 

For example, the average Formula One car has over 80,000 parts. Each team is now constrained on how much they can spend to construct those cars. Through simulation, each person involved in designing each part can understand the relative impact of the construction materials and therefore cost. 

Step five is to democratize simulation data so anyone, every member of your team, can use it.

Regardless of what your business makes, sharing insight about how each element impacts overall success can help design engineers optimize design, materials engineers select the most cost-effective materials, supply chain analysts best understand timing and sourcing, and leaders see the big picture about how it all comes together. 

The Digital Economy Is One Big F1 Race

You might think simulation is a techno-indulgence of this specialized sport, but in the data science era, simulation is essential to every digital business. Click To Tweet

Any digital business like yours can simulate the future, rather than just make guesses. Like Mercedes-AMG Petronas, arguably the greatest F1 racing team of all time, simulation can help you seize the pole position in your digital business race.