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Buckle up--we are exploring analytics at high speeds! This week's episode is a rebroadcast of a conversation with McLaren Racing in a webinar that occurred in November 2023. You'll get to hear from McLaren Racing's CEO, Zak Brown, about how they use analytics and AI to optimize racing cars through collaboration, transparency, and consistently delivering accurate insights







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Episode Transcription


[00:00:00] Megan: Hi everyone. We recently launched a short engagement feedback survey for the Alter Everything podcast. Click the link in the episode description wherever you're listening to let us know what you think and help us improve our show. Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture.

Today we have a special episode for you about McLaren's formula to success with AI and analytics. This is a rebroadcast from a webinar that occurred in November 2023. You'll hear from Alteryx's CIO, Trevor Scholz. And McLaren's CEO, Zach Brown, about how McLaren adapts to the ever changing racing environment with Alteryx.

We hope you enjoy! 

[00:00:44] Trevor Schulze: Hello everyone, and welcome. I am Alteryx CIO, Trevor Scholls, and I'm really excited to welcome Zach Brown, CEO of McLaren 

[00:00:54] Zak Brown: Racing. Hey Trevor. And hello everyone. 

[00:00:57] Trevor Schulze: Hey, it's, it's great to see you again. So today we're going to talk AI, analytics, and how teams like McLaren adapt to this constantly changing formula and racing environment.

So before we dive in. As a long time F1 and McLaren fan, I have to start off, I'm curious, can you share one of your most memorable moments during your time with McLaren Racing and maybe one that you're particularly proud of? 

[00:01:25] Zak Brown: Uh, that's a pretty easy one because that would be Monza 2021 where we finished first and second with Daniel and Lando.

That was a unbelievable day. Everything came together. We qualified, I think it was second and third, so we qualified very well. We had the fastest pit stops of the race. We had the best launch, which we measure and we finished first and second. So not only did we win, we won it in, uh, won it in style. And I've got the, the tattoo here for Monza to, to prove it, uh, which is quite painful and I don't recommend, uh, for those of you that are scared of needles like me, but that was a, that was an awesome weekend and certainly my, my highlights since I've been.

Working at McLaren and then I've had a ton of highlights as a kid growing up being a massive McLaren fan. Ayrton Senna, that was my favorite racing driver, but then getting to meet, I never met Senna, but getting to meet, hang out, call me Gacken and a friend and Emerson Fittipaldi, our first world champion.

Those are, those are pretty special moments. Yeah, 

[00:02:33] Trevor Schulze: I remember the, the 21 Monza race, the Riccardo Norris 1 2 finish was certainly a race to remember for the, the Papaya Army. And just, when I was looking that up this morning and thinking about it, it reminded me of just the rich McLaren racing history in Formula 1 and all the other series out there.

I mean, 12 drivers, world championships, you've had Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lada. Senna, HÃ¥konen, which I had a pleasure meeting, just what a, what a wonderful person and of course Hamilton. 8 Constructors Championships. I didn't realize this, you guys are approaching 500 podiums pretty quickly here. And the 48 1 2s, it just goes, it goes on and on, just the legacy of McLaren is just so impressive.

And if you think about How are you balancing and honoring this team's legacy while striving for innovation and success in this modern F1 

[00:03:29] Zak Brown: era? Yeah, I think, uh, we've got a, a, an unbelievable history, uh, really only second to, uh, Ferrari. And, uh, this year is our 60 year birthday from when, uh, the company was founded by Bruce McLaren.

And we're the only team to have ever won the Triple Crown, which is the Monaco Grand Prix, which of course is Formula 1. The Indianapolis 500 for IndyCar Racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which we won on our debut in, uh, 1995. And so this year we've been celebrating our great, rich history with some of the most famous racing drivers in the world and centered it around the Triple Crown.

So in Monaco this year, we, we ran a Combined livery of those three liveries that we won on, won in, and then at the Indianapolis 500 this year, we ran three cars. We ran each car, one livery, one in the Formula One livery from when we won Monaco, and the Indy 500. So we, we love celebrating our history, but we also know that we're here.

Not only to celebrate our history, but more importantly today, which is make new history. And so it's a privilege to, to work for such a great racing team and such an iconic brand. But that comes with a lot of pressure and expectations that people expect you to be at the front. Cause you've got a huge fan base and it's, it's not easy.

So, so carrying that with us, knowing that we have. Uh, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of fans that, uh, expect us to continue to win is, is fun, but challenging at the same time. Yeah. Awesome. 

[00:05:08] Trevor Schulze: We at Alteryx are just so happy to be a part of this as partners, and we appreciate the insight that you guys are giving us.

So let's, let's jump in. Let's, let's get into this analytics piece, something that's near and dear to us as a company. Alteryx, obviously we're, we're working with you and we have our capabilities across your business. My goal this year, I was in Miami, I'm going to Austin. I'm trying to figure out how to get a ticket to Las Vegas.

So my goal is always to get with your commercial tech team and see the ground and get more information. And Ed Green, your head of commercial technology, he gave me a tour of the pit, and he gave me some incredibly cool statistics that I was able to see, and we were geeking out as IT guys, and what I didn't know, and I've been following the sport since about 2012, that the telemetry That each car accumulates 100, 000 data points, 300 sensors between Lando and Oscar's car.

They pull in about 1. 5 terabytes of data from race start to end, and that all has to go somewhere to be analyzed. I mean, it's a. A lot of data to really just be analyzing and trying to figure out how to optimize your car and the environment. So, so with all that, Zach, you and the team working in an incredibly competitive environment and in sort of recognizing that, how does McLaren stay at the forefront of innovation?

And more importantly for me and my, my company is how does Alteryx contribute to maintaining that competitive edge? 

[00:06:40] Zak Brown: Yeah, it's people, technology, and partners. And we are in a sport that's cutting edge. You mentioned some of the data points. So I would add to that. We do 50 million simulations, a race weekend, our race car of what we're allowed to change 80 percent of the race car changes from the start of the year to the end of the year.

If you take the car that qualified on pull. And you didn't touch it, Paul being first place, at the start of the year, and you didn't touch it, it would be last by the end of the year. That's the pace of development of the entire sport. So we're literally a sport where if you're standing still, you are going backwards.

And we're a data driven sport, we're over a thousand people, there's one and a half terabytes of data coming in, over 300 sensors, mission control back here in England, so whether we're in Australia or China or America, the data's being generated at TRAC and at the factory. We have about 150 people on site, about 50 people back at the factory that are analyzing data.

And with that quantity of data, You need partners such as Alteryx to help you sift through it and figure out what's the good data, what's the bad data, what's the relevant data, what's the data you need now, and you need it real time and you need it reliably because everything we do is a data driven decision.

You'll ultimately have some race or instinct that kicks in, but the, the days of old, when I was growing up watching, it was a stopwatch, a little bit of data that you didn't get real time, you got it after the race. So you, you, you made decisions based on experience and an instinct, and as data has taken over, there's just too much information going on and things are happening too fast.

For a human to be able to, to process and sift through it. So we, we are dependent upon our technology partners, such as yourself, to help us go faster and make smarter data driven decisions. So long gone are the days of a sticker on a car. Our technology partners are part of our racing team, and that's an important part.

Of when we are fortunate enough to bring partners on, we look at what can they do to help us be smarter, make us go faster, make us more efficient, because that's the, that's the name of the game in the competition, I would add. That Alteryx in 21 when we won in Monza. So you're a good luck charm. Our engine cover we rotated partners through to give 'em a little bit more bang for their buck.

And in Monza you are in the right place at the right time because Alteryx was on our engine cover, so, which I believe you have hanging in your lobby at your headquarters, which I just visited. 

[00:09:26] Trevor Schulze: Yeah, absolutely. I have a picture of that and uh, maybe we should just put our, our, uh, label on a car every race, you know, make 

[00:09:32] Zak Brown: that up or I'll get a tattoo on the other arm.

[00:09:36] Trevor Schulze: Oh, an Alteryx tattoo, we have customers that have Alteryx tattoos. That's how loved our product is. So, uh, I love that. So data driven business is the new normal and time to insight matters. And, and we're, we couldn't be prouder being a part of your modern data stack and helping be a part, a small part of the success of, of McLaren.

And, you know, the thing I'm wondering though, is, is you get these insights in Formula 1. How do you take these insights that you learn in Formula 1 and pull them to like IndyCar and the other racing areas? 

[00:10:13] Zak Brown: It depends ultimately on the knowledge that we, we learn. The, the different forms of racing, we have an IndyCar team, Xtreme, Formula 1, but they're, they're all different technologies.

So, there's some knowledge and know how, it's more process. And, and how you think as opposed to the data that's coming off a Formula One car is radically different. Then the data that's being pulled off of an IndyCar, but a lot of the time, strategies are the same. A lot of the learnings are applicable, but the technologies are totally, totally different.

And the types of, of racing in an IndyCar, you routinely get safety cars, Formula One, they happen, but on a less regular basis. So the racing is quite a bit different. The way you go racing is usually the same. 

[00:11:03] Trevor Schulze: Yeah, absolutely. And, and I bring up IndyCar because I know that there's people who are going to be listening in who are massive IndyCar fans.

I mean, it's a sport that's growing quite well in the States. And it's interesting to see how these series differ and how your fans interact with your brand across the different regions. So it's, it's amazing to see the sports grow, both Indy and Formula One in the U. S. Couldn't be happier as a race fan myself.

Uh, if we think about One Big Win, let's go back to Formula One. Earlier this year, we had the big upgrade package, it had a Silverstone, we saw Lando land his first podium of the year. How did McLaren use AI and analytics to ensure these new upgrade packages and these new redesigned cars? They're delivering them a really incredibly exciting performance boost for the 

[00:11:51] Zak Brown: fans.

Yeah, it was, we started off in Austria with a single set of upgrades with Lando, because we're trying to produce upgrades as quickly as possible. So we live in a, in a prototype world. What's new today is old tomorrow. And so we decided sometimes you get upgrades done at the same time and you put them on both cars.

Sometimes one comes out of the oven if you'd like sooner than another. So we debuted them at Austria. Oscar didn't have them, Lando did, Oscar, or Lando qualified great, I think, fourth or fifth, but it was clear they, they worked and, and really the process they, they go through is they obviously get designed, then they go into CFD, then they go into the wing tunnel, then they go into simulation, then they go on to the racing car, and sometimes they go straight on that journey, other times, You design them, you go into the CFD, you go back to design, or they make it through the simulation, but you find something on the simulation, you go back to the CFD.

So it's quite an intense process to, to develop a racing car. AI is something that's very exciting for us. It's new to us like it is a lot of the world. So we're working to, to figure out what's the best way to start embracing AI because Being a technology sport, we need to be on the front end. So it's awesome to have Alteryx, Google, Cisco, Dell.

I mean, these are the world's greatest technology companies. And so we lean into our partners to help educate us. We, we know what we want as an output, but we don't necessarily know how to get there. So we work with our partners on our, on our problems. We would love if we could do this. We would love if we could figure this out.

And then we work with our partners to say, here's our challenge, and then we let our partners see, thrive on the kind of technical challenge, come back to us and say, hey, we either have something off the shelf that we can use, quite a few of them like to get into the customization because it's a challenge for their technical team.

[00:14:03] Trevor Schulze: Yeah. Love that. So AI, analytics, helping you optimize your aerodynamics, car characteristics, pretty much pervasively going to change the sport. And I appreciate you talking about the partners. It's no surprise, I think, for the audience that an F1 team requires a ton of collaboration. It can be engineers to Lando.

It could be, as you referenced, you and your partners, your partners talk to each other. We try to figure out how to help come up with innovative ways to help you. Entirely within your organization, collaboration is essential, I would imagine, to this really complex endeavor that you're experiencing writing a race organization, Formula 1 specifically.

So maybe tell me more about how McLaren fosters collaboration amongst its engineers, designer, data analysts, which I'm most interested in. How do you, how do you foster this collaboration to execute these upgrades so successfully? It seems like they're really coming 

[00:15:01] Zak Brown: together. Things are coming together really well.

As I mentioned, we're about 1, 200 people. I just met with our aero department this earlier on a town hall, and there's about 140, 150 of them. And it's amazing how you have a team of 30 people on a, on the floor, as an example, and the collaboration they need to have on who's working on what, what's working, what's not working.

So a lot of meeting. And then we have, we're traveling the world, so we're also developing the car. Real time. So I think communication is, is critical. A lot of information sharing, a lot of video calls, a lot of meetings. And what's very important is having the right people in the, in the room, because it is a team effort.

I think the best illustration of collaboration is a pit stop. You have about 20 people that come together. To do a two second pit stop and you're only as strong as your weakest link and that's that's tough Synchronizing 20 people to change four tires in two seconds is not easy And there's a lot of room for error and three seconds isn't quite a disaster but over three seconds is a disaster so the the margin of error is a very very small or Our industry, if you'd like, about 3 percent separates the best from the worst.

So if you think about industries out there, there's probably not many industries out there where the best and the worst are separated by 3%. 

[00:16:31] Trevor Schulze: Yeah. It's amazing. If no one's ever watched slow motion. A pit stop in formula one to see the ballet that happens in those two seconds. It's truly inspiring. So let's, let's keep on the theme of innovation and adaptation in motor sports.

Cause I, I think things are changing rapidly and there's a lot of new decisions and insights that you're going to have to pivot on very quickly. So how does McLaren see the role of data and analytics evolving in formula one in the coming years? 

[00:17:05] Zak Brown: Well, if I look at Where it has, has been, it's, it's cutting edge.

It's, it leads from the front. Things like connected cars, we've been doing that for 20 years. In fact, it was outlawed in the, in the nineties because people were saying that the teams had too much control of the cars and the drivers didn't have enough control. And at the end of the day, we're a sport with a.

The drivers are the heroes, but technology, as we know, we can send stuff into space without them being human guided and, and race cars were going that direction 20, 20 years ago. And so. There's, there's a constant push by the regulations that slow us down because we keep speeding up. And so that's where our partners come in because we don't necessarily know what our partners have in store.

That's why we rely on the Alteryxes and the Googles. You're leading the way and that's who we need to learn from. And that's why you get embedded in the, in the racing team. What we do know is if we're not cutting edge technology, we'll fall behind. Quickly, which is one of the problems we had this last decade, we were behind in our CFD technology.

Our wind tunnel was a bit outdated and which we had to renew. So you can have the greatest drivers and the greatest team, but if you don't have the greatest technologies, forget it. It's game over in 

[00:18:30] Trevor Schulze: Formula One. Yeah, absolutely. And in Formula One truly is a team sport. It's, it's the epitome of team sport and all teams need great leadership.

So let me, let me change gears on you here, so to speak, Zach. Formula One World is all about precision, strategy, split second decisions. If you, Zach, could translate those skills into any other aspect of your life, whether it's a hobby, I don't know, a daily routine, quirky talent, what would it be and why?

[00:19:04] Zak Brown: Well, I'm not sure how relevant it is, but I love baseball. Heh, heh, heh, heh. And I think what's funny is all sports now are using data to make data driven decisions. Gee, you wouldn't. You don't necessarily think about that when you think about baseball, but that's how managers manage now. Whether it's pitch count or what lineup to put together, they're, they're making data driven decisions.

You see him walking around with some sort of a notepad and that's data that's getting pulled up. So I, I think our mindset in, in sport and performance and how we're using data to be educated on the decisions that we make. I think you can apply that to any, anything that you, you do. So if I, if I had another job, it would be baseball.

And, and, and I think while you're not making stuff with data in the same way you are a Formula One car, I still think strategically data plays a big role. And it's no different than I'm not a big football guy, all those plays and how they're setting it up. Those are data driven. Hey, last time we played this team, this worked, this didn't work.

This normally happens when this linebacker's in, and so I think all sports now are embracing data. I've even had some professional golfers, uh, reach out to understand how we use data, because I think the younger generation have all grown up around data now, right? We all live on our phones, and that's data.

And so I think data is going to drive decision making on whether you use it as a human or data is being used that's captured from your user habits and things are being teed up to you because data is saying this is what Zach and Trevor like to do in their spare time. So I think data is taking over the world and personally, it's interesting and I know there's a lot of Controversy around data capture at times from consumers.

I think as long as it's used in the right way, I'd love someone to know what my habits are and tee up to me things that they think would be relevant to me because that's what the data tells them. Interests me, it kind of short circuits my, my purchasing habits. Yeah. I love how 

[00:21:22] Trevor Schulze: you started off with baseball.

It was reminding me of the movie Moneyball. I think, I think the, I think the two sports that really picked up on data and analytics early was baseball and racing. The telemetry coming off your cars, the amount of information in baseball is just It's amazing how it can make you a competitive advantage if you use data analytics to your advantage.

So we at Alteryx are feeling every sporting, like basketball, baseball, football, people are coming to us and asking how do they make data and analytics a competitive advantage for them? It's, it's changing sports. It's awesome. All right, ramping up, maybe a final question here. How has the collaboration between McLaren and Alteryx exemplified the power of data analytics?

And it's sort of revolutionizing an industry as dynamic as Formula 1. 

[00:22:15] Zak Brown: Well, I think without you, we wouldn't get the information we need real time accurately and the relevant information, right? When you're pulling down one and a half terabytes of information, there's a lot of noise in there that is not relevant in, in the moment.

And so I think we need to make split second decisions, literally. Split second decisions. We know as the car is going around the track, what decisions we can make and how much time we have to make them. And so we'll know if we're going to make a pit stop, as an example, on a certain track, we'll know it's 16 seconds to by the time we call the driver that we're in the pitch.

And so if you look at this last weekend or it's raining, et cetera, we literally have a second to make a decision. So we need the right data quickly. Accurately, so we can make split second decisions and that's where you help us do. 

[00:23:13] Trevor Schulze: That's great. Zach, it's always a pleasure to spend time with you and thank you for joining us today.

[00:23:20] Zak Brown: My pleasure. And I hope our next win is with a, another big all tricks on the engine cover. 

[00:23:26] Trevor Schulze: I love it. I hope so too. See you soon. Cheers. 

[00:23:31] Megan: Thanks for listening to check out resources related to this episode, including a blog with a machine learning demo with racing data. Head over to our show notes on community.

alltricks. com slash podcast. And if you liked today's episode, leave us a review. See you next time.

This episode was produced by Megan Dibble (@MeganDibble), Mike Cusic (@mikecusic), and Matt Rotundo (@AlteryxMatt). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.