High-Stakes Security & Speed: Fastly Speaks with Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team IT Director Michael Taylor
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Taylor, IT Director for Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team. We discussed the role cloud technology and security play within their Formula 1 team, both on the track and behind the scenes, as well as ways we hope to work together through our new partnership to push the limits of innovation, performance, and the fan experience.
Margaret Arakawa, CMO, Fastly: When most people think of IT, they think of typical IT responsibilities like managing desktops, cloud and app deployment. Can you tell us how that differs at Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team, and what you're responsible for?
Michael Taylor, IT Director, Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS: You're absolutely right. We provide all the IT services and infrastructure and underpinning services to all areas of the business. Whilst we do look after desktops and mobile phones and meeting rooms, we also look after things like rigs and simulators, where we perform physical and virtual tests on the car or its parts, or simulate the car in the virtual world. We also carry out high performance compute and stress testing of parts and components in the chase for performance.
In the trackside environment, which is the most exciting environment, we look after all of the systems that connect all the car’s data together with the engineers, both locally at the track as well as remotely in Brackley and Brixworth. Our trackside IT team is supporting anywhere between 60 and 200 people, across all of the different functions of aerodynamicists, engineers, mechanics, garage support, marketing, finance, legal, and everything else in between.
They upload and download data from the car and ensure our information systems – which everyone relies very heavily on to make informed decisions regarding the car – are functional, working, available, performant, and secure.
Margaret: How are your technology partners helping you, and what are your goals and philosophy when you adopt new partners?
Michael: We have a fantastic portfolio of partners as a team – and in recent years, there's been much more of a technology focus to those partnerships. We always work with partners who can help us solve business problems or business challenges.
Fastly is very appealing for me for a number of reasons, primarily because you've built your organization and your technology, focused around similar values of speed, security, and innovation. So, there was great synergies straightaway. And, it was very clear that we shared common values that are so important in terms of partnership.
There's a certain user experience and expectation of a premium brand like Mercedes, so we needed to make sure that we are working with the very best – a company known for industry-leading breakthroughs.
Our digital plan is to get much closer to our fans and be able to engage with them across multiple different platforms and in different ways. I want to make sure that everyone has the best possible experience, no matter where they are in the world. Because that's what they attribute to the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 team, in terms of our on-track performance, our world championship success – so that's got to be the same level of feeling and experience we want to build for our customers and our fans. And it’s what we are excited to help build with Fastly.
Margaret: Can you talk a little bit more about security? We all know it's important in IT, but how do you think about the physical as well as the digital and IT aspects of security?
Michael: For me, it relates all the way back to our brand and our responsibility to our fans and our customers. Our fans must be able to trust us, to know that the information or the digital asset we're providing them is credible and trustworthy.
You can only be 100% confident around credibility and trust when you're completely confident about your security. So securing digital assets for fans, they need to know it's at the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 Team level of security and credibility.
Motorsport is dangerous so ensuring a safe and secure operating environment is imperative. Our responsibility extends to the drivers, competitors, our team, officials, fans, volunteers – the list goes on, ultimately keeping people safe and able to perform is an important aspect of what we do. Our focus (IT) is very much on information security, keeping our team safe, protecting our intellectual property and minimizing risk of disruption through compromise or adversaries. It’s an evolving landscape and fascinating challenge of how far you go v’s. how much you impact the organization. A challenge for which we welcome the expertise, support and experience of our partners.
Margaret: In the racing garage, it’s clear you have a lot of tech you have to secure to gain a competitive advantage.
Michael: Yes, absolutely.
There’s a lot that's of interest to our competitors, especially in the rear of the car, around the engine – the packaging of the power unit, the rear suspension, all those intricacies that are hidden in the underbody or the inner body work.
In the world of Formula 1, protecting true intellectual property is vitally important because there's no ability to patent anything. As soon as anything is on the car, it's in the public domain. Anyone is free to copy it.
What you want to do in the world of Formula 1 is to protect innovations that are going to bring two- or three-tenths of a second improvement in lap time performance for as long as you possibly can. And the first time anyone really gets to see it is when it's on your car because it will take them a period of time to develop their own version. And if it takes them a month, it's likely that there's been two or three races in that period, so we are reaping the benefits of that two-tenth of a second performance improvement whilst they're chasing the development cycle.
Margaret: When I took the factory tour, I noticed even the damaged parts of a car are looked at as a treasure.
Michael: Absolutely. If we do have a failure, for example, we need to understand how, where, and why the failure occurred, so we can then improve and evolve to make sure that doesn't happen again. Paired with the data that’s logged on the car and broadcast back to us in real time, we can deconstruct what happened and why. We analyze everything that fails, everything that goes wrong in this organization – always in the pursuit of improvement.
Margaret: In technology, we have hardware, software and the network that binds them – but, in the end, there is a person who helps lead and direct and manage it. It seems very synonymous with F1 racing. I.e. there is hardware (the car), software (all the tech on premises and in the cloud) and the driver. Do you think this is the case?
Michael: Absolutely. The beauty of Formula 1 is human and machine. It's a combination of both. The machine side of things is a combination of physical parts, underpinning technology, which enables – from a design standpoint but also a manufacturing standpoint – those parts to come together. And then the human factor, the human element, is the driver. They can't operate individually. The most successful partnerships are always when driver and machine are in complete harmony.
I often get asked the question, "Do you think Formula 1 will ever go fully autonomous?" And my answer is always a categorical “no.”
I think there'll always be a human factor. We'll never go fully autonomous in Formula 1 because it would just remove the real essence of the sport.
Margaret: It was pouring down rain at the Hungary Grand Prix. And then it was cloudy and then it was sunny. The track was warm on Friday, but by Sunday, it was 20 degrees colder. And I thought, "who's helping forecast and manage and coordinate the weather and all the implications of the weather on the race?" It must be a massive effort, with many levers of input. How does technology help you with communication and making race-day decisions?
Michael: That's a great example. There are many different environmental factors that make up the challenge of how the team effectively manages the race weekend. You're right to point out, on Friday, it was really blisteringly hot. Track temperature was really, really high. So the tires on the car worked very differently to Sunday, when it was much cooler and more challenging. These are all of the variables the engineers have to account for and make some predictions, and then engineer the car suitably for the conditions.
Everything in Formula 1 is a compromise. We never have enough time. We have to make predictions, based on many, many years of historical data, from weather conditions all the way through to the physical and actual data from the cars.
And it's down to the engineer. So when you hear Lewis talking to Peter Bonnington, Senior Race Engineer, on the radio – that’s his race engineer, who is responsible for engineering Lewis's car and for making those decisions. He'll work with the driver, he'll work with the wider team. He'll work with the mechanics. He'll work with the strategy team. He'll work with Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, who leads the engineering group at the track and who has the ultimate call on things. But they'll work to put the car into what they feel is the right window for the conditions, for the track, for the weather, and just to enable the driver to maximize what they can get from it.
But it's all based on data. That's why we generate and model billions of data points across the course of a weekend, both for actual learning there and then, and decision making at the event, but also for historical learning that we can then reference back to.
Margaret: It would be very cool if fans could see and hear more of those strategies and decisions in real time. We’d all love more insight into what’s going on in the background.
Michael: Absolutely. That's another growth opportunity for the sport. And as we start to provide those experiences and engagement with our fans, that may well be an opportunity to differentiate. So how we do that, how do we bring those data insights together with the trackside experiences or the home multi-screen viewing experiences, I'm hoping we'll see the sport bring further developments in the coming years on those things.
We’re very secretive about that at the moment, which is why it's code on the radio. But, in time, I think that will develop and become a real growth opportunity for all teams and fans and spectators to get even closer.
Twenty years ago, when I started in this sport – race to race, there was interest, on television and in-person at events. But when you weren't racing or testing, there wasn't really that much in the way of interest or coverage. These days, fans want to know what's going on behind the scenes with the team principals, the drivers, the factory, even in marketing, as much as they want to see the on-track action. Formula 1 never sleeps now. It's 24/7 in terms of the desire from people to consume information.
And I think we've done a good job in a number of areas to enable that, but I think there's a whole load more opportunity to come. So again, a great thing for Fastly to be working with us now to make sure we're able to deliver it quickly, securely and with credibility that's so important for our brand.
Margaret: Thank you for your time, Michael. This was so much fun. We learned a lot.
Michael: It's always a pleasure. I look forward to seeing you all soon.