Cloud Expo Europe: How McLaren’s CIO Makes Its Cars Go Faster

McLaren F1

We heard from Craig Charlton, CIO at the McLaren Technology Group, about the organisation’s use of tech

Anyone who follows Formula One will know that it is one of, if not the, most technologically advanced sports in the world, with teams relying on multiple different technologies in a huge range of areas.

Mercedes, for example, is trialling the use of 802.11ad Wi-Fi to give race engineers access to more detailed data more rapidly, which could provide a telling advantage given the amount of data that is collected every race weekend.

Williams F1 is also adopting a technology-driven mindset, using biometric analysis to get pit stops consistently below 2 seconds through a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) and video analysis, as well as looking towards the use of automation and artificial intelligence.

Not wanting to be left out, McLaren was in attendance at Cloud Expo Europe this week, with Craig Charlton, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the McLaren Technology Group, talking about how technology is helping the business both on and off the track.

 McLaren cloud expo

Driving the business

The organisation has four business units: Racing, Automotive, Applied Technologies and Marketing. “We’ve put in place a dual-axis IT strategy,” Charlton explained. “That’s figuring out across these four businesses what do we require in terms of infrastructure. What are the core standards that we’re going to push across the group?”

There are of course differences across the various units in terms of requirements and consumption and different solutions are also more relevant to certain business units than others, depending on the specific needs. For example, the Racing unit is obviously about winning, so the technology used needs to be geared towards enabling that.

In comparison, the Automotive group is about providing the best customer experience “from website to showroom to purchase”, while Applied Technologies is all about innovation, where best practices from Formula One related to design, performance, engineering and simulation are translated into other industries such as healthcare and transportation.

For Charlton, the use of technology across the business is approached from five angles: Cloud & mobility, business platforms, managed risk, people-centric and partners. 

“As far as I’m concerned cloud is ubiquitous now,” he said. “It’s there, if you’re not using it you should be figuring out how to use it. For us it’s a play on agility, it’s a play on disaster recovery, it’s a play on legacy reduction. It’s not a cost saving, it’s an enabler.”

As well as working with its partner NTT Communications, McLaren also works with several public cloud providers to help it get the most of out of the technology.

“It’s demonstrated to us that we can get much much better performance in terms of high performance compute at a fraction of the cost and with much better ingenuity. It’s front and centre,” said Charlton. 

He also spent a lot of time talking about the organisation’s people-centric approach, i.e. focusing on the user experience: “This is a philosophy that we brought into McLaren IT. Creating IT solutions that are accessible, that are easy to use, that are consumable and simple.

“And that includes everything from PC performance right the way through to the business applications and bespoke applications that we run. We need to have that simplicity across our estate.”


Race day

Of course the race weekend is when things get really interesting and, as Charlton explained, there are several rather unique challenges to try and solve.

“Racing is an interesting proposition. We send a car around a track at 300kph, 21 times a year, somewhere else in the world every time we do it. We change dramatically from race to race. The car that you see at the beginning, by the end of the season 85 percent of that car will be different in terms of component parts. So huge innovation goes into that,” he said. 

But what does it mean from an IT point of view? On race days, the main priority is the infrastructure. With up to 300 sensors generating over 100GB of data every weekend, the fast and reliable transfer of this data is critical.

“I need to make sure that the data gets from the track to Woking where all the key decisions are made in terms of aerodynamics, car setup and strategy,” Charlton said. “I also need to make sure the data gets back to Sakura in Japan where Honda is monitoring the engine. If Honda can’t see the engine in terms of the dashboards that they have, they will pull the car off the track.

“So it’s critically important over a weekend that I’ve got strong network resiliency, that the infrastructure is resilient. Rapid, robust networks are absolutely critical.”

The second issue is the temporary and “multi-site nature” of Formula One. Races take place in 21 different locations around the world each season, often with just a one-week gap in between, meaning the network has to be set up on the Wednesday and taken down on the Monday.

Charlton finished with a quote from the company’s founder Bruce McLaren: “Life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.” And what better place than a race track to see those achievements born?

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