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Passport To Success: How BlackBerry Has Helped Mercedes To Formula One Glory

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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BlackBerry devices key to getting Mercedes F1 on track for pole position, team tells TechWeek Europe

Becoming a World Champion takes hours of dedication and hard work, and when your sport is Formula One, when titles can be won or lost by fractions of a second, gaining a competitive advantage is vital.

Mercedes F1 has enjoyed a terrific season this year, winning 13 of the 17 Grand Prix so far to wrap up the Constructor’s Wold Championship two weeks ago in Russia, much of which has been down to the team’s ability to react to ever-changing regulations and develop what has been a truly dominant car.

The sheer volume of work undertaken by a huge workforce is staggering, but in order to keep a team connected, you need string communications – which is where BlackBerry, a Mercedes official sponsor and technical partner, comes in.

Toto Wolff BlackBerry Mercedes AMG Petronas 6 PassportJet-set

TechWeekEurope was invited by BlackBerry to Mercedes F1’s headquarters in Brackley, Northamptonshire, to find out how the two companies work together to produce a winning team, and it’s clear to see the two have rubbed off on each other.

Mercedes F1 currently has around 200 BlackBerry devices (including Z10s, Q10s, Z30s and Passports) disseminated throughout its staff, the team’s IT Director Matt Harris told press at the event, with boss Toto Wolff (pictured left) accounting for three of these on his own.

Wolff, who admits that he rarely stays in the same country for more than two days during the season unless he is at a race, also revealed that his BlackBerry Passport has replaced his MacBook due to its performance, screen and keyboard.

The Passport’s wider screen makes viewing emails and spreadsheets much easier when on the go, especially during his over 1,000 hours of flying a year, with the rest of his communication needs provided by his other BlackBerry devices.

“I have a work phone that’s a BlackBerry, and a business phone that’s a BlackBerry,” Wolff said. “And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

On the go

The constantly changing nature of Formula One means that the team’s two cars are designed, constructed, tested and redesigned in a never-ending, 24-hour cycle, with improvements sometimes flown out during a race weekend.

With teams limited to how many staff they can take to each race, this means that communication between the pit lane and the Mercedes factory is key.

Both Wolff and Harris sang the praises of BlackBerry’s BBM instant messaging service, which allows quick dialogues between individuals or groups wherever they are in the world, but also revealed that the team uses the company’s Voice and Video call options when more immediate communication is needed. This included one instance where Harris used the latter to guide a couple of technicians though some unfamiliar garage procedures.

Safe and secureBlackBerry Mercedes AMG Petronas 5 Passport

In such a competitive sport, security is paramount, with teams jealously guarding secrets from each other, and outsiders (like your reporter) often banned from taking photographs in sensitive factory areas.

“For us as a business, security is as important as the performance of the car, because otherwise we give away that performance to other people,” said Harris, although he noted that the McLaren/Ferrari “Spygate” scandal of 2007 did go a long way towards improving inter-team relations.

These concerns extend to the mobility side of Mercedes, with Harris saying that security was a key part of choosing a partnership BlackBerry, as employees can use the device’s Hub feature to separate work and personal data and information.

The team also uses BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10) encrypted solutions to deliver unmatched mobile security across its operations, as it races at 19 locations globally during the course of a season.

“BES10 allows us to know what’s going on with the data – we know that it’s secure, whether I am sharing with a member of the marketing team, an engineer or a designer,” says Harris. “It enables people to carry on working where they are. One of the main features that we really like is the ability to secure your personal and work information.”

Mercedes’ partnership with BlackBerry has gone from strength to strength so far, and with three races still to go this season and the driver’s world title set to go down to the wire, both companies admit they are excited about how the team can develop.

“What you see on the racetracks is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Wolff. “There is such a big structure below it; 90 percent of the car’s performance is being done in the factory and even the tiniest of jobs is important.”

“Each of us has an opposite number in the other organisations and you shouldn’t forget that. You might be thinking you are just adding a little bit to the car’s performance but if you do your job better than your opposite number in the other team, that brings lap times down. You know, it drives me nuts to see a dirty entrance to the building because I want everyone to come here and say ‘Wow, that’s how I expect a Formula One team to function.'”

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