What Can We Learn About Quality from Formula One Racing?

By Chris Nahil on October 29, 2021

In the ’80s, Formula One saw its worst-ever reliability with an average mechanical retirement rate as high as 48% —that’s almost half the field retiring from a race because of a mechanical issue. Much has changed over the past 30 to 40 years, however. A combination of regulation updates and a more efficient engine type, alongside better working practices, means the cars aren’t retiring anywhere near as much. In fact, in 2019, the average mechanical retirement rate was only around four percent.

There are penalties in place for teams who cannot create a reliable car. Formula One rules allow only three engines per season for every driver. If a driver uses more than the allotment, they are penalized and forced to start at the back of the grid for the next race. Engines must last multiple rounds, whereas once upon a time, they were used for one race, then scrapped. Because the development of Formula One cars has an impact on the technology that goes into our road cars, there’s been a move towards more usability and practicality during race car development.

Along with a push to become greener by the sport, this move means engines and other parts are more reliable and efficient than ever. Some fans may argue that this has made Formula One boring, but it shows an incredible level of engineering skill. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, so teams are consistently pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Within this, there’s a lot we can learn about quality from the sport.

Teamwork

A large part of motorsport is teamwork. It might seem like the driver is doing all the work, but there’s often a massive team behind them — this is even true for grassroots motorsport. Yes, it’s down to the driver to carry the car across the finish line, but it’s a team effort with engineers, designers, pit crews, data analysts, and other support staff playing a vital role in how that car performs.

That is a fantastic analogy for business. No matter what industry you’re in, your business can only be as great as the people within it. Building a self-motivated team invested in the business’ success is key regarding quality and efficiency in what you do.

Consistency

Consistency is vital in business, whether it’s the quality of your  products or services or how your brand is represented on social media. It’s also consistency that wins championships in motorsport. No matter how great a driver is, if they’re not getting consistent points, they’ll never be able to take that top spot at the end of the season.

Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda recognizes how important consistency is in Formula One. He recently told The Daily Mail, “My weakest point at the moment is my consistency, so I need to work hard to get that…. Especially in Formula One, it is really, really important for consistency, so try to work hard and improve that weak point.”

Quality control

Consistency isn’t just important from a driver’s point of view but also in the car’s manufacturer. If a part is manufactured the same way, every time, it’s going to be more reliable than a part that’s manufactured or handled inconsistently. While the drivers and teams are working hard to get consistent points, it’s the job of engineers, designers, fabricators, composites experts, and other team members to ensure that the same consistency applies to the car. This consistency leads to the level of quality we expect from top-tier series such as Formula One.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1’s “Zero Defects” approach

To use a specific example from Formula One, the Mercedes team — which has been dominating in recent years with Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel of the silver arrow — uses a “zero defects” approach to its parts.

When reliability was low in F1, teams took those failed parts and applied a testing process to them to understand what had gone wrong and how the issue could be resolved. Now things are much more sophisticated, with teams such as Mercedes testing components before they even reach the cars.

Much of a Formula One car’s chassis is made up of composite materials. These parts take a significant amount of strain during a race and are, of course, also safety-critical. For the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team, these parts require a “zero defects” quality management process that enables full traceability from the raw materials to the finished part.

While this might be quite an involved process, there are many benefits to this approach. Not only is safety increased, but reliability is too. By managing the quality of parts in this way, the Mercedes team can continually win races and championships — making the quality ROI very high, indeed.

Quality at race speeds

Even at the back of the grid in Formula One, quality is a prime concern — even more so when you’re designing and developing parts as quickly as need dictates. Most businesses will have a long production cycle with as much time as is needed to create the products to the standard expected by customers.

In the fast-paced world of motorsport, however, designers and engineers don’t get this kind of luxury. Gene Haas, the founder of the Haas F1 Team, once talked openly about the challenges in developing a Formula One car and its parts. He told Quality Magazine, “Haas F1 Team gives new meaning to the term rapid development, especially when you consider the fact that the effort is truly global. Machined parts, mold layups, and assemblies are done in the U.S., engine development and wind tunnel testing come out of Italy, and team logistics are handled in England.

“Car development in Formula One takes place at hyper-speed compared to most industry timelines. Parts need to be made in days, not weeks, and they need to be right the first time. At the end of the day, each race is really a metaphor for the development process to get there—speed, precision, quality, and no room for error.”

Monitoring at the track and home

On top of monitoring the development and manufacture of parts, analysis during a race event is key. Data plays a prominent role in motorsport, whether in NASCAR, the Le Mans 24-hour race, or Formula One. At the factory and the circuit, teams of people monitor the health of parts, the car’s telemetry, the other cars on the track, and even the weather. This data is used to dictate strategy, and it’s the teams with the most tech and best people that are likely to win.

That shows the importance of collecting and analyzing data within your business. Whether you’re using ETQ Reliance to collect real-time data to help in decision making, or you’re searching for ways to reduce errors and improve quality, proper monitoring is vital. Just as in motorsport, those with the best people and the right technology supporting them are the ones going to succeed.

There’s a lot we can learn from motorsport, particularly Formula One, about quality ROI. Quality and consistency within a team always pay off, but reading the data and constantly improving brings you to the next level. If you’d like to learn more about improving quality in your business, start by learning why quality matters in the first place and avoid those nasty starting grid penalties in your organization!