When the Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix revs up this Saturday and Sunday, tech companies will compete for the podium every bit as much as frenemies Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Formula One has long been among the most technologically sophisticated sports, continuously attracting partnerships and sponsor agreements in the tech sector. The circuit’s recent growth in the U.S. has accelerated the trend.
For 2022, Chinese technology company Lenovo became an official F1 partner, and will collect on-site data used to support broadcast applications, an effort driven in part by the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series.
Another important F1 partner is Amazon Web Services, which has provided insights that went into the design of the circuit’s new car. AWS engineers were able to run millions of simulations to help design the new car 70% faster than they would have otherwise. “This new bodywork design includes a new front wing design, simplified suspension, a new read and layout, and a few other improvements,” Priya Ponnapalli, senior manager and principal scientist at the Amazon Machine Learning solutions Lab, told Sportico. “The downforce loss has been reduced from 50% to 15%. And what this means that there is more wheel-to-wheel action on the track, leading to a lot more excitement than there was before.”
AWS is also helping F1 with data collection to help fan engagement. “Every F1 car is equipped with 300 sensors, generating nearly 1.1 million data points every second,” Ponnapalli said. “All of this data coupled with historical race data going back 70 years is stored on AWS, and is being used to create new insights that bring fans closer to the race and give them insights into split-second decisions their favorite drivers are making.”
At the team level, there’s a showdown between tech giants Oracle and Dell Technologies. In February, Oracle expanded its existing partnership with Red Bull Racing, with the team altering its name to Oracle Red Bull Racing. This season the team will use Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services to improve performance on race day and to train up-and-coming drivers. Oracle technicians will also help Red Bull design its next-generation engine. The partnership has proven successful prior to this season as team principal and CEO Christian Horner said in a statement he believed the technology helped Verstappen achieve his dramatic 2021 championship in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, McLaren Racing has extended its partnership with Dell Technologies that started in 2018. Texas-based Dell will help McLaren both in training drivers and developing new aerodynamic changes to the car.
“The sport is getting closer and closer and the margins are even smaller,” said Edward Green, head of commercial technology at McLaren Racing. “Sometimes the difference between positions on the group can be as little as two or three percentage points for that time, the margins are really fine. You’ve got to look for lots of ways to develop and find that competitive edge and I think just give you an example then on the technical front as well, that the reason technical partnerships are crucial.”
AWS has also partnered at the team level with Ferrari, whose new car has finished in the top two at each race this year. “Ferrari is using AWS machine learning, analytics and our computing and storage to improve their car design as well as racing strategies,” said Ponnapalli. “And we have agile techniques to experiment and come up with these strategies quicker.”
Tech isn’t just for machines, it’s for the people inside them as well. Miami-based Eight Sleep, a fitness-sleep company, recently announced a partnership with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team. The Mercedes-AMG, including drivers Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and team principal Toto Wolff, will use Eight Sleep’s products this next season of F1. The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed. Last spring, Eight Sleep completed a series C fund that generated $86 million, pushing its valuation to nearly half a billion dollars.
“This is a product designed to improve your sleep performance. Hundreds of athletes from the NFL and NBA are already using it,” Matteo Franceschetti, one of Eight Sleep’s co-founders, told Sportico.
Franceschetti, a former auto racer, understands the importance of sleep when traveling around the world and racing in different time zones. He also understands partnering with an F1 team will bring more eyeballs to Eight Sleep.
Franceschetti said the growing U.S. popularity of F1, which was purchased in 2017 by Liberty Media, will inspire more partnerships. “Formula One is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, and since a U.S.-based company acquired it, they started doubling down,” he said. “The real value of our deal is more about having the ability to use all the assets on social media in our campaigns with Mercedes drivers. That is how you elevate the brand.”
Israeli sports tech company Blaze Pod had a similar but more organic path to success last year after a handful of Formula One drivers, including Verstappen, used the product in an episode of Drive to Survive. Blaze Pod, a training platform, has raised $10 million last year and partners with many athletes from NFL and NBA.
F1’s technical aspects coupled with the personalities of the drivers have spiked fan interest, something that’s likely to drive further tech sponsor demand. “I think Formula One is this unique combination of driver and car,” AWS’ Ponnapalli said. “And there’s a battle between the world’s greatest drivers. But there’s also a battle between the world’s most innovative engineers. And that’s what makes it so exciting.”