Formula 1 racing provides a fascinating, if somewhat contradictory, analogy for corporate sustainability management. A team of engineers have to work closely together to allow their two leading drivers to succeed. The difference between 1st and 2nd place is less than a 1% difference. This involves ensuring that the car is the fastest and most dynamic. It mustn’t fail and, most importantly from an environmental perspective, it mustn’t use fuel excessively nor wear the tyres to the point where the driver cannot control the car. F1 cars are only allowed one tank of fuel per race, they cannot refuel. The number of sets of tyres they can use throughout a race is also limited. The efficient use of limited resources is key.
To optimize performance the team engineers collect big data. At the G8 Global Innovation Conference on 14 June, Ron Dennis, Executive Chairman of McLaren Group stated “We are harvesting, in the course of a Grand Prix, something like 6.5 billion data points…Two Grand Prix cars, 13 billion data points and its coming at you in real-time.” Before the McLaren car reaches the track its performance is modelled in technical software, such as MATLAB. Once the cars are on the track then telemetry systems collect data from approximately 160 racing sensors and is then processed in real time by big data analysis tools, such as SAP HANA. This analysis is not done at the racetrack, but by super-computers at the McLaren HQ in Woking, UK.
Large corporations are collecting and using even increasing amounts of sustainability performance data. This data is more fragmented and heterogeneous than the microcosm of F1 racing, but the need for up–to-date company information is proving valuable in supporting executive and management decisions in real time. The availability of this information provides evidence for business planning in support of sustainability objectives and it also allows for feedback on corporate innovations.
McLaren is producing a limited edition £870,000 hybrid supercar called the P1. A 1000 HP supercar to compete with Ferrari & Porsche, but with emissions of 200 grams of CO2. This is a sign of the times. McLaren is also providing the electric drive train for the new Formula E Championship cars. In 2014, the ten Formula E Championship teams will race in ten cities around the world with 100% electric powered racing cars. These cars will be produced by a partnership of Renault working with Spark Racing Technology with the intent of furthering electric car R&D, changing public perception of electric cars and also showing car racing in a more environmentally-friendly light. These developments in the arena of high powered cars is an indication that even the most Alpha of markets recognize the need to change for a more sustainable future.