Success in F1 isn't about building the best car, or hiring the best driver, but rather more about how those components are exploited by number-crunchers during a race.
That's the view of Simon Williams, whose company, QuantumBlack, provides 'bespoke algorithms, data architecture and decision visualizations' to 'give real-time intelligence to the race team'.
"It's a theatre, an opera," Williams
, "The fun isn't in the race, it's in the strategy, [as] the smallest margins win or lose races."
won't disclose which team he currently advises, he acknowledges that it's a front-runner, making the quality of his information all the more crucial to potentially winning or losing a grand prix.
Thus, as much as Adrian Newey may be credited with producing a string of near-unbeatable F1 cars for Red Bull, or Fernando Alonso
feted for hauling Ferrari
into contention for a world title, it is people like Williams
who may actually hold greater sway over how a grand prix is played out, by advising the teams how much fuel should be put in before a race, what tyres to use when, how often to change those tyres, and when to make what could be the crucial pit-stop.
"Prior to the race, we look at millions of scenarios,” he explained, “You're constantly exploring.
While using the tens of billions of calculations per second that are made possible by modern computer technology may produce the best strategy for the race, however, Williams' algorithms really earn their money when it comes to adapting 'on the fly', helping his client adjust that carefully crafted gameplan to take account of unforeseen events, such as first corner crash or sudden rainstorm. But the data he uses doesn't always come from the most obvious sources.
"You all line up, the lights go out [and], three seconds later, someone's crashed or overtaken and plans go out of the window,” he acknowledged, “So the real advantage is being able to pick out what's happening on the track, learn and adapt. The teams that do that win.
"We listen to the engine notes of competitors' cars, on TV, [as] that can tell us their
settings. The braking profile of a car on GPS as it goes into a corner can also tell you all sorts of things.
"If you are taking more than ten seconds to make a decision, you're losing your advantage. Really you need to be under the eight-second mark. A human couldn't take in that much data and process it fast.
“There's a ton more data around,” he says of the world in general, “There's new ways of handling it, processing it, manipulating it, interrogating it. The tooling has changed. The speed at which it happens has changed. You're shaping it, sculpting it, playing with it.”