"If you find the holy grail of AI... you could definitely find a competitive advantage" — why the future of Formula 1 may be more AI-focused than ever

VCARB Formula 1 Miami
(Image credit: Shutterstock / cristiano barni)

In a sport where glory can be won or lost by making split-second decisions, and the margin between victory and second place can be measured in tenths of a second, having a competitive advantage can be key.

Like many businesses and organizations, Formula 1 is exploring a variety of ways to make the most of AI technology, boosting efficiency and performance not just on the racetrack, but back in the factory as well.

The battle for positions has never been tighter, and TechRadar Pro got the chance to visit the Visa Cash App RB team at its base in Faenza ahead of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix to find out more on how it is embracing the AI future of the sport.

"We are a daring team"

“The very principle of what we’re trying to do as a company is only one thing - to make the car faster," Laurent Menkies, Team Principal at VCARB, tells us, "that is the only thing this company does."

With all Formula 1 teams now limited in terms of the amount of real-world and virtual/wind tunnel testing they can do, AI-powered analytical systems can play a huge role in finding that extra room for improvement. 

On the pit wall itself, AI-based software can carry out billions of calculations every second around any possible permutation of strategy or incident, giving the team the best chance of responding productively to incidents such as a safety car deployment or sudden rain shower.

Asked if AI could help narrow the gap between some of the bigger teams on the grid today with those in the midfield, Menkies is understandably bullish about its potential.

"We believe it can (boost us)," he says, "which is why as a company we are in a position to push each other and feel we can take risks to close that gap...that is Red Bull philosophy - they are a daring company, and we are a daring team."

“You are not going to beat the competition in a straight fight unless you take risks," notes Menkies, "The spread of the field has never been as little as now…you don’t have small teams any more, you don’t have backmarkers any more."

"We are still at the beginning...(AI) is not new," he adds, "but it is exponentially increasing now, and every day we are discovering new ways to make good usage of it."

VCARB Formula 1 Japan

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Jay Hirano Photography)

Formula 1 “is a constant race for development”, says VCARB CEO Peter Bayer, noting, “if you were to find the holy grail of AI, and the right people, and the right team, you could definitely find a competitive advantage."

The team isn't using AI to boost driver recruitment - Menkies notes that “It’s not AI versus the human, it’s to support the human” - but within development, it's clear the technology can play a huge role. 

Menkies adds that there is increasing competition for skilled engineers, especially making the sport remains an attractive prospect for talent, noting, “it is important that Formula 1 remains a place where they want to come, and we don’t lose them to the big tech companies.”

“It’s not about replacing jobs," Menkies continues, "it’s about, if you look at your day, you remove 60% of the stuff where you add little value, and you can focus on tasks where you do add value!”

“Looking at the history of Formula 1, it is a people business, and always will be," Bayer adds, adding that particularly when it comes to making strategic calls in a race, the AI can provide suggestions, but people will still have to make the final call based on experience and knowledge.

“As management, we need to make sure we have a team that is embracing change with an open mind for the new era," Bayer says.

VCARB Formula 1 Japan

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Jay Hirano Photography)

Outside of racing, Formula 1 has long been a pioneer in developing automotive technology that has transported to road vehicles - with power steering, traction control and kinetic energy recovery systems (also known as KERS) some of the biggest examples.

Some of the biggest teams on the grid, particularly Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren, can benefit from AI-based learnings garnered from their road car departments, and Bayer is keen to stress the importance of possible future regulations to ensure a level playing field. 

“If you were to fight the holy grail of AI, and the right people, and the right team, you could definitely find a competitive advantage," he says.

"The fight we are fighting every day is for hundredths or thousandths of a second - it's all we do, all day long…and that's giving us the drive to develop technologies which for other people might take years."

"I cannot predict the future," Bayer adds, "but I’m convinced that on AI, Formula 1 will be leading in use cases that no one else has been thinking of."

So looking forward, it's clear that, for VCARB at least, AI is set to play a huge role going forward - and the possibilities are potentially endless.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.