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5 Ways Motorsport Teams Will Innovate in 2020

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 28, Feb 2020
5 min read

This year is set to be one of the most significant in motor racing history. With more restrictive legislation, long-term investment challenges, the threat of new race entrants from all over the world and the continual release of revolutionary technologies, how can teams innovate to secure their drivers a spot on the podium?

5 Ways Motorsport Teams Will Continue to Improve Performance

1. Bending the Rules

Motorsport teams around the world have never shied away from bending the rules, as evidenced by the introduction and subsequent banning of revolutionary and often controversial projects such as McLaren’s brake steer system and Williams’ continuously variable transmission prototype.

February 2020 added another controversy to motor racing history with the Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system. Recent social media posts showed champion Lewis Hamilton using the system, which appears to alter the toe angle of the front wheels, reducing drag and tyre temperatures. After initial reports suggested the technology was legal and compliant with racing regulations, Mercedes has been told to cease use of the DAS system due to Article 10.5 of F1's Technical Regulations which states, ‘The re-alignment of the steered wheels… must be uniquely defined by a monotonic function of the rotational position of a single steering wheel.’

As history would suggest, racing teams are more likely to use these setbacks as motivation to continue innovating. Mercedes’ Team Principal Toto Wolff agree: ‘Innovation will always be at the core of Formula 1. This is what we do and it’s part of the DNA.’ Inevitably, designers and engineers will be pushing harder to bend existing rules and develop new tech that surpasses competitors whilst staying within industry rulings.

2. Creating More from Less

Whilst many rules can be bent or even broken, some new practices will be mandatory and heavily regulated. The Concorde Agreement will drive unprecedented changes to Formula One from next year. Following the announcement from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and F1 governing body of a strict $175million budget cap, most teams will be faced with the challenge of reducing their current spend (many up to $500million) whilst maintaining and exceeding performance standards. The monetary restriction will apply to all aspects of research, innovation, technology development, logistics and thousands of worker and leader salaries.

Whilst the budget cap could restrict experimentation with new concepts and technologies, the Concorde Agreement could act as a catalyst for further innovation. F1 engineers and technicians are more likely to think even further outside the box by exploring Virtual Reality (VR) to design and test out thousands of new options for vehicle designs and upgrades before making even a single prototype.

3. Working with the Environment

The Automotive industry generates over one tenth of the total carbon dioxide emissions produced by Europe every year. Car racing events alone are responsible for more than 250,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution every year – the equivalent of powering 30,000 houses.

In 2019 leadership executives committed to making Formula 1 completely carbon neutral before 2030. To reduce carbon emissions by 50% in the next decade, teams will need to implement the use of biofuels. Transitioning to sustainable fuels will dramatically cut greenhouse gases and, as biofuels can be created from used cooking oil or surplus crops, reduce cost and waste. Motorsport engineers, technicians and leaders will need to work together to develop new technology that best incorporates biofuels and other sustainable resources to get an edge over the competition.

The advancement of the sport will also rely on sustainable methods to construct new racetracks and maintain and continually develop them for optimum performance. For the building of a new 2.5km test track at the M-Sport Evaluation Centre in West Cumbria, construction suppliers used over 200,000t of repurposed ‘recycled’ earth. The site will also feature ‘balancing ponds’ nearby that gather rain from the racetrack and direct it to flow down a new drainage system to prevent the water from causing nearby rivers to flood. The truly sustainable track will be finished in late 2020.

4. Driving Profit from Fan Engagement

Although Motorsport has been a popular pastime that has incited passion and die-hard fandom for over a hundred years, rising costs and stricter regulations such as the Concorde Agreement have meant recent financial losses. However, this is about to change: for the first time in three years, the Formula One Group made a profit in 2019. Despite significant cost increases in 2019, last year saw Formula 1's overall income rise from $1,827million in 2018 to $2,022million in 2019, and after posting losses of $37million in 2017 and $68million in 2018, the group made a profit of $17million.

F1's financial performance increase was led by a boost in primary revenue, mainly derived from broadcast fees (38%) and sponsorship (15%). Digital media revenue in particular drove advertising revenue. Formula One has been the fastest growing sport on social media for the last five years, across channels and metrics. NASCAR attracts more Fortune 500 sponsorships than any other sport by using emerging technology to build communities and using customer insight platform to develop insights into what fans most want and value.

When tasked with matching competitor innovation against stricter budgets and regulations, alongside obtaining sponsors and investment, digital innovation to engage fans will become ever more vital to securing the longevity of both individual teams and the sport itself. Continued digital and social media technology development using Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, interactive racing experiences and new screening options will help drivers, teams and leadership connect with younger audiences and promote the sport around the world.

5. Safety

February 2020 saw NASCAR driver Ryan Newman in a serious crash after his car flipped on the track, was hit by another vehicle and burst into flames. Fortunately, Newman was saved by safety innovations developed following a previous fatal crash in recent years. Impact-absorbing technologies such as toe board foam protected Newman’s extremities during frontal impact and helped prevent another tragedy.

Although Automotive safety has been high on the agenda for decades and has continually improved to an excellent standard, the serious crash shows there is always an opportunity for improvement – and innovation. This year Newman’s Daytona 500 vehicle will be painstakingly assessed by NASCAR to identify any gaps in safety and areas for development. When challenged with increasing performance against tighter regulations, safety will become even more of a priority on lower budgets, encouraging engineers to work with industry bodies such as the FIA Foundation to protect drivers and teams without losing any speed or entertainment value.


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