Why tech brands should be excited about Formula 1's 2021 regulations

13 Feb 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

As Formula 1 prepares to enter into a new era, Dougal Christie, Senior Partnership Development Director, CSM, explains why it is the 2021 Formula 1 cars rather than those unveiled this week that will really pique the interest of technology brands around the world.

The driver or the car? It is an age-old debate which has fuelled the fire of many a Formula 1 fan forum.

For those who advocate the car, it is the design and the technology which explains the discrepancy between the front and back of the grid. This makes the sport an outlier in terms of the level of influence that technology, and the brands who shape it, can exert on the outcome of the specatcle. There is VAR in football, TMO in rugby and the third umpire in cricket; three technologies which improve accuracy but do not dictate a winner. In F1 however, technology does not simply play a part, it drives it. 

This week, the F1 teams pulled back the sheets on their cars for the 2020 championship. On these machines – the physical showpiece of technological endeavour – sit the logos of the brands who partner with the teams in this pursuit. A relationship of reciprocity in the form of a real-time technology test bed, as well as a global, romantic, aspirational and influential platform for shifting brand preference. The longevity of the technology brands in the sport’s ecosystem is testament to the effectiveness of this union; Microsoft, Dell, Bose, HTC, Qualcomm and Amazon Web Services, amongst others.

The paint has dried for this season’s car designs, but it is those that will be revealed next year that should command the attention of forward-thinking technology brands. In 2021, a revolutionary new car design and box rule will be imposed, development budget limitations put in place and the outcome of a new Concorde agreement between team owners and Formula One Management will be finalised, with digital content rights expected to be high on the agenda.

With this in mind, here are five business sectors whose technology can have a telling say on the order of the grid in 2021 and beyond.

Virtual design 

The technological arms race is no longer a financial one. For the first time in F1 history it is introducing an on-track performance cost cap, to the tune of $175 million per team per season, halving some teams’ budgets. The trial-and-error, test-and-learn goal posts are being shifted, with the majority of the car design process needing to be conducted on digital twins: a virtual, essential cost-saving exercise in mapping the design and build process. Particular interest will be paid to reducing the use of the notoriously expensive wind-tunnels, with virtual aerodynamic flow testing, apprising front and rear wing alterations, expected to be a key differentiator on the grid.

Any brand or business which can provide expertise in computer-aided design, particularly factoring-in driving conditions and stress-testing designs, will be an invaluable partner as teams seek to effectively navigate these rule changes. 

3D printing

Production is another area where teams can shave off valuable weight, cost and physical fragility.

Just as 3D printing has changed the realms of possibility in other industries – from food and fashion, to architecture and aerospace - it is on a journey to do the same in F1, and the wider automotive industry. With technology evolving to encompass printing in metal, teams will be able to produce an entire car shell in a single print run. Brands who are leading this production revolution will be in high demand to assist in this sporting evolution.

Big Data

F1 is big business, and at the heart of it is big data. More than 1.5 billion pieces of real-time data per car, per race, is simultaneously accessed by the pit lane and transmitted to team headquarters across the world, informing instant, in-race decision making.

Add to this, data permutation modelling in pre-season testing, cloud storage requirements and live dashboard applications, and it begins to paint a picture of the scale of the sport’s data requirements. It also highlights a ready-made case study for showcasing tangible data expertise to the myriad of financial institutions, markets and big businesses for whom real-time use and analytics of this commodity is critical.

Digital transformation

The digital shackles were removed by the new owners back in 2017, with the subsequent Snapchat partnership and more recent popular Netflix series evidence of this changing of the guard.

This new digital rule book and impending Concorde agreement, enables the teams, who by their own admission are ‘behind the curve’ digitally, to revolutionise and commercialise their footprints, interacting directly with their fan’s around the world. Expect more specialist teammates to be called in to help win this particular race.

Consumer Electronics

Walking around the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in January, I was struck by how on the screens of every simulator demo kit was not football or first-person shooter games but F1.

The sport has an authentic touchpoint for each consumer electronics channel; scintillating slow-mo shots for the new breed of 8K TVs, engines which test the limits of even the finest of noise-cancelling headphones, the reintroduction of more trackside music concerts, a simultaneous esports championship, and prominent drivers who bridge the gap between sport and lifestyle. 

A sustainable playground

Perhaps the biggest perception paradox in F1 is sustainability. The cars may not run on electricity, but the sport is fuelled by environmental empathy. A commitment it has put in writing; plastic-free by 2025 and carbon neutral by 2030. The paddock and team headquarters will be transforming into a green shop window for renewable energy generation, battery storage and energy management solutions. 

No one is denying the brilliance of Lewis Hamilton, but he would be the first to admit that the car he sits in is essential to his history-making efforts. From 2021 onwards, this balance between driver and car will never have been so influenced by the technology which is powering it and it will be these new regulations that pique the interest of technology brands across a range of different areas.