Lessons From Formula E Racing For High-Performance Teams

Most Americans are familiar with Formula 1 racing, popularized by the Netflix show Drive to Survive. Much less well-known is a fascinating analog, Formula E racing, which was created in 2012 with a mission to show “just what sustainable mobility was capable of, driving electric vehicles to the fore in the race for a better, cleaner future.”

Like Formula 1 racing, Formula E is a motorsport with fast, sleek race cars, albeit battery-powered. Formula E has a commitment to demonstrating the power of electric vehicles as a solution to air pollution in city centers while also breaking down the barriers to the electric vehicle market.

I recently attended an E-Prix race in Brooklyn with Envision Racing and realized the team-critical nature of the sport. Formula E teams are hybrid, diverse, and global, working at speed and in motion (between and during a race), with self-imposed constraints on resources.

I spoke with several members of the Envision team to understand how teamwork provides a competitive advantage in their mission to support the Race Against Climate Change.

Here are the most valuable lessons applicable to today’s business organizations.

Research has revealed that having a clear sense of purpose unites a team. The same is true in the world of Formula E. When most people think about professional motorsports, they think of an adrenaline-filled, for-profit sport. But in addition to the technical elements of Formula E, its foundation and mission are focused on one of the significant issues of our time – climate change. Envision exists to accelerate the transition to clean, secure, and affordable renewable energy and speed up the mass adoption of e-mobility.

As a result, a strong “want to win” mentality permeates the Envision team. Jenn Babbington, Envision’s Racing Operations Director, says, “We are here to win races and to promote our Race Against Climate Change program. That’s clear. The more races we win, the louder our voices are.”

This shared purpose has helped the Envision team attract top talent, with applicants applying proactively, saying, “I buy into the values of this team.”

Corporate organizations are learning this lesson. Global professional services firm Genpact, an Envision partner, recently completed a “purpose-led pivot” with their global team of 115,000 employees. That purpose – the relentless pursuit of a world that works better for people – has led to more innovation, better client value, and improved employee engagement and retention – and their collaboration with Envision.

Utilize collective intelligence from the broad expertise

Studies show that cognitive diversity improves problem-solving, and a diverse collaborative ecosystem – internal and external – enhances it further. Formula E has taken that to heart. A few tenths of a second often determines race outcomes. It’s much more competitive than most sports and if you miss a little bit of something, you can’t win.

As in many organizations today, the Envision team is diverse and global. It currently comprises more than 40 people from more than 15 different nationalities, plus selected partners. Those team members look for ways to contribute. Tom Blomqvist, the reserve driver for Envision, has yet to race. But his goal is to make the team better. How does he do that? In addition to being prepared to race, he watches each race from the sidelines, from a driver’s perspective. He gives invaluable feedback – often in real- time – about what he observes, that is crucial for the drivers. For example, Tom noticed different racing lines and the struggles other racers had taking on a corner, which the drivers could incorporate into their track strategy.

Envision also utilizes several partners because to be competitive at this level, they must be excellent at everything, and that’s not possible in one company. For example, after realizing they had to be exceptional at data analysis, they reached out to Genpact for data collection and AI expertise.

Win with data

Just as big data has emerged as a crucial competitive advantage in the corporate world, it’s also true in Formula E. As Envision’s Managing Director and CTO Sylvain Filippi says, “We lose the data, we lose the race.”

Races are often won and lost by fractions of a second, making data analytics an essential component in Formula E. Drivers spend hours in the simulator ahead of every race. Advanced analytics enable the drivers to learn from every lap, identify strengths and development areas, and improve their race strategies.

Qualification and the race take place on the same day, with only a few hours to analyze practically unfathomable amounts of data from the hundreds of sensors on each car.

During the race, better and faster decision-making is now possible for the Envision team utilizing radio analytics – technology that monitors radio communication between competitor drivers and their engineers and processes this unstructured data into relevant clips to generate insights. Those insights shape critical decisions during a race.

The team also uses AI to pick up trends across the season, such as using their Lap Estimate Optimizer (LEO), an AI-based scenario engine. LEO provides race-day insight during critical race moments – such as when a safety car paused a race, on-track climate changes, or an attack from another racecar. Analysts recently reviewed the impact of a hailstorm, and its effects were incorporated into the strategy.

Fan engagement is another critical indicator of success in Formula E. In the future, Envision will use AI to give the team a deeper understanding of the total Formula E fan universe through their upcoming Fan 360 project. Just as organizations look at the customer journey, Formula E uses data analytics to create a unified fan engagement strategy.

Create a fault list

Leveraging insights is vital for high-performance teams at any organization today. Envision does this constantly during race season and off-season.

Leading with the mindset that “we must know our failures to get better,” Filippi says debriefs are constant. Every race, and week, the team looks at everything from track performance to how people deal with travel and transfers. For instance, given the realities of contemporary air travel post-pandemic, they’ve mandated that all layovers should be at least two hours making it less likely that a team member will miss a flight. They call it the “fault list.”

Even when they’ve had a fantastic race weekend, there’s a call two days later where the team only discusses what went wrong. Filippi says, “Someone new might feel that’s demotivating, but it’s not at all. We are used to it. When you are operating at 97% or 98%, if you want to get to 99.95%, you say, great, this was fantastic.”

These lessons can translate from the global venues where Formula E races to the international offices of today’s business organizations. The success of Formula E racing hinges on high- performance teams – and lessons from high-performing teams in many sports, where the results are immediate, are relevant and critical, and add value to groups in all situations.

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