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Issue 07 / October 2015

Risk management strategy in Formula 1

At a glance
  • Teams can manage risks and identify problems far more proactively due to more live data
  • Strategies are mapped out in advance to allow for different scenarios based on risk tolerance
  • Trust, communication and shared goals are vital within 500-people team getting the car to race track
How live data and thorough preparation helps to manage the pressures and risks of top-flight motor racing. A conversation with Susie Wolff, Formula 1 test driver

How conscious are you of the risks of motor sport?

In Formula 1 there is always risk but the risks we take are almost always calculated. I am often asked if I feel fear; I don’t really feel fear, but I have respect for the risks involved. Risk taking has a lot to do with character: racing drivers have certain characteristics that enable them to take calculated risks quickly and under pressure.

Watch Susie Wolff making history
Watch Susie Wolff making history


I see myself as a risk taker, but a calculated risk taker. I believe in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I always analyse the risks first and make conscious decisions.

How has data and analytics changed Formula 1?

As more data has become available, teams have been able to manage risk far more proactively. Live data is now produced on almost every element of the car and used to improve performance, identify problems and make decisions about risk.

Decisions are now much more numbers-driven and calculated. These numbers help us to decide how much risk we are willing to take, so we are now able to make more informed decisions and operate closer to the limits.

For example, information on tyre pressures, engine temperatures, the aerodynamic load on certain elements, allows us to optimise performance and to judge the optimum strategy for the race.

How does your team formulate risk strategies?

It is about having targets and goals and adjusting them as the environment changes.

We have strategies mapped out in advance to allow for different scenarios based on the risks we are willing to take. We have a dedicated team of strategists who spend hours poring over the data and scenarios, and calculating our risk appetite.

There are different options that can be taken depending on how the race unfolds – for example, if a competitor pits early, we have to decide quickly whether to take the risk and come in earlier than intended. 

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How do you and the team perform under pressure?

Drivers and the people on the pit wall are selected for their ability to absorb the pressure and make quick decisions. We do not allow emotions to influence us and, because we have worked through the scenarios and know the strategies, we are able to make fast, informed decisions.

A lot of a driver’s race decisions, such as whether to overtake, are second nature. But preparation is key for any high-pressure environment and you have to stay focused on the moment and not worry about what might happen.

How is risk management embedded throughout the sport?

Risk management goes right through the team, right up to the driver, and is engrained in the way a Formula 1 team runs. Nothing in the sport is left to chance – everything is developed with an awareness of risk factors built in at all stages. And nearly every part of the car is designed and manufactured in-house, ensuring that everything is absolutely designed and tailored to our specific needs.

Many people do not realise that behind a Formula 1 driver is a huge team effort. There will be 500 people working behind the scenes to get the car to the race track. You have to have trust, communication and share the same goals. 

Susie Wolff’s racing career

From karting with Lewis Hamilton through to test driving with Formula 1 team Williams Martini Racing


Susie Wolff’s racing career

From karting with Lewis Hamilton through to test driving with Formula 1 team Williams Martini Racing

British motor racing driver Susie Wolff is currently a test driver with Formula 1 team Williams Martini Racing. Susie started off in karting, aged eight, where she raced against future world champion Lewis Hamilton.

In 2002 she moved up to Formula Renault 2.0, followed by Formula Three. She also competed for Mercedes-Benz in the German Touring Car, the Car Masters, one of the most popular championships in the world. During her career Susie has won many accolades, including being the first woman to be nominated for McLaren Autosport Young Driver.

She is also an Ambassador for the Women in Motorsport Commission. In February 2015, Susie became an Ambassador for Willis Group. 

Formula 1 has an impressive safety record, but that hasn’t always been the case. How has it improved in this area?

There have been big improvements in safety and the numbers of fatalities is far lower than 20 years ago. But as was seen with Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident last year, accidents can still occur.

A lot of work goes into minimising the risk for drivers and the sport’s regulator has helped reduce a lot of risk.

Formula 1 is pioneering in terms of research and development and continues to look at innovative ways to reduce risk and improve performance. It is the pinnacle of the automotive industry and many of the advancements trickle down to the cars on our road.

With the new Mercedes power unit, we are able to do the same race distances with one third less fuel, by reusing the energy created under braking. These advancements we will see trickling into the mainstream in the coming years.

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