Formula 1 and Innovation



Sunday’s incident will add to the continuous and intense pressure to make improvements that combines with a competitive test every two weeks to make the Formula 1 season an outstanding cockpit for innovation in the motor industry.

Next week: Imperial College’s Incubator encompasses four different kinds of accelerator.

Alonso’s survival in the Australian Grand Prix is a tribute to the crash structures of the car, though a set-back for McLaren this season. It will need all its innovation skills.

McLaren, like all Grand Prix participants, fights to improve the performance of its cars every two weeks, in preparation for the next event – a demanding schedule for innovation like no other. What marks out McLaren’s methods are: sheer speed of iteration and development, sophisticated testing and rapid feed-back; and predictions. All driven, no doubt, by boss Ron Dennis’s perfectionism.

Even during a race, wherever in the world it may be taking place, vast amounts of telemetric data is streamed back to the factory at Woking for instant analysis. Other sources of information include the driver, the mechanics, its observers, and cameras; and these are immediately trawled for ideas for improvements.

Between races, McLaren say that innovations can take place at the rate of one every thirteen minutes – i.e. several thousand between each two-weekly race. Some can be put into effect for the very next race; others might take longer.

McLaren relies on others for several aspects of their cars: engines have always been provided by others – though the supplier has been changed from time to time; as of course have tyres. Everything in-between is down to McLaren, and with their own wind tunnel to hand, aerodynamics is a focus.

The biggest development issues are testing and prediction. Alterations to one aspect of the car can influence others – particularly in relation to aerodynamics, an aspect of performance that attracts current interest. Its own wind tunnel provides a controlled test environment. And computer simulations test all aspects of performance. But there always remains a gap between those controlled tests and actual performance on the track – where only unique expertise can hope to predict performance.

Occasionally there are bigger break-throughs, such as when McLaren developed brake-steer, where braking one rear wheel pulled the car into the apex and caused the differential to transfer torque to the outside wheel when accelerating away from the corner. While advantages like this are always sought, they are rare and do not usually last for long before competitors learn about what you are doing and catch up.

The energy-recovery systems that the current regulations require are attracting interest, and the extra power that enhanced battery technology might deliver is seen as having potential; and intensive effort will evidently be devoted to its applications.

Feed-back and speed play vital parts in all innovation projects, and the tougher the problems, the more significant they are. Hand and eye, expertise and creativity pervade the whole of McLaren, driven too by the passion and expertise that motor sport engenders.

John Whatmore                                                                                                                         March 2016

For another slant on the management of innovation, see: The National Theatre’s Studio:  I visit a uniquely successful Open Innovation incubator – in the Arts. Oct 2012






Five approaches in which identifying big issues is the carrot that leads the innovation process

Focusing on major issues rather than relying on people with good ideas is likely to be a good source for the 6% of businesses with hi-growth potential (- and Unicorns)

 Most of the commercial supporters of hi-growth businesses depend on who turns up with a good idea: just a few focus on issues of strategic, technical or sociological importance – like basic needs, lifestyles or communities.

Several industry sectors have identified aspects of the development of their businesses and then invited interest from relevant parties, including the food and drinks industry through a meeting at the Institute for Manufacturing in Cambridge, and the aerospace industry’s more extensive National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme, which aims to support the development of some 30 innovative technologies in the short to medium-term.

In 2014 Nesta launched the Inclusive Technology Prize to inspire people to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people. The challenge prize received over 200 applications, which have now been whittled down to 10 finalists, ranging from affordable 3D printed bionic hands to an open source communication aid.

The Mayor of London’s Smart London plan has identified five priority areas: Environment, Buildings and Homes, Transport, Health, Resilience and infrastructure; and has invited applications from interested parties to pitch. Short listed companies will be selected and given the opportunity to present their innovations to leading technology investors, key decision makers and thought leaders within the public and private sector. However they must already have a demonstrable product/service, which is past proof of concept stage, and a clear business case for investment of between £100,000 to £5m.

 Vinnova Sweden’s innovation agency is moving towards a challenge-driven strategy, addressing essential or critical needs in society and industry, promoting new cross-sector collaborations and fostering systemic approaches – which address different social subsystems, framework conditions, political, commercial, technological subsystems, etc.

Nesta has been a protagonist for challenge-led innovations for some time, and has set out the best ways in which Prize competitions are being made effective, including a develop-ment period, which allows for:

*          Hack days,

*         wider public or peer commentary,

*         opportunities for peer collaboration and support, and

*         for users/purchasers to have an input into development. Moreover Nesta’s earlier work – with P&G – underlined the importance of having a buffer (100%Open an exemplar) between the ideamongers and their potential exploiters. Nesta’s work needs to be more widely exploited.

John Whatmore

March 2016

Accelerators attacking bigger issues?

If Accelerators can support hi-growth SMEs as well as startups, can they also be adapted to focus on tough problems and emerging opportunities in all sorts of fields? Oct 2014 


Reversing a topsy-turvy approach to a better world

Focusing on major issues rather than relying on people with good ideas is likely to be a good source for the 6% of businesses with hi-growth potential (- and Unicorns) Oct 201 







Growth Builder: a new initiative for hi-growth SMEs


Growth Builder is a new initiative for hi-growth SMEsAimed at supporting key drivers of the economy, the programme builds on recent experience with accelerators, but is minimal in relation to overall needs.

While the last few years have seen a focus on startups and early stage businesses, a report just published by the government’s British Business Bank, has suggested that “a lack of businesses scaling up” was dragging down the UK economy, a verdict supported by data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and that “there remains a need to stimulate a greater volume of businesses that can be scaled-up, including small and medium-sized exporters – to counteract the UK’s lagging productivity” – an issue that is also being addressed by the new Scaleup Institute.

The new Growth Builder scheme, just launched, aims to help 50 hi-growth companies through a 12-month programme of workshops, offering advice and mentoring on every challenge that growing businesses face, from creating an HR department to exporting and managing cashflow.

The components that are ‘compulsory’ are:

  • a curated exclusive high-growth peer network.
  • Six tailored workshops with successful inspiring high-growth founders, sharing insight into their experiences and lessons they learned from their supporters to apply in the selected business.
  • Six profesionally facilitated tutor groups offering an opportunity to share knowledge and challenges and gain a fresh perspective from peers in a supportive environment.

And optional are:

  • Monthly events tailored to individual growth challenges to inspire and inform.
  • Four networking events bringing together successful high-growth founders, influencers and decision makers within the public and private sector to facilitate beneficial connections.

It is a joint venture, supported by the Government’s export arm, UK Trade & Investment, as well as NatWest, BT, UCL, Loughborough University, the UK Business Angels Association, PIE Mapping and Fast Growth Forum.

The initiative is headed up by co-founder Brent Hoberman, growth champion Sherry Coutu, and Betfair co-founder Ed Wray, who will act as mentors for the companies involved.

In a poll of businesses turning over more than £1m, 60% of those surveyed claimed that the “scale up” phase was the toughest they had faced in business, compared to 19% who said the start-up phase was the most difficult; while just 4% struggled most as a medium-sized firm, according to the research, commissioned by the Telegraph and conducted by entrepreneur network The Supper Club. More than half of these entrepreneurs claimed that hiring people and managing staff were among the toughest challenges for fast-growing start-ups, with raising finance and business strategy also high up the list.

Any company turning over more that £1.5m or employing 20 staff or more is eligible to apply, provided its sales are rising by more than 20pc a year. Applications have to be in by mid-March.

The Government’s recent abandonment of the Business Growth Service (which provided access to mentors for businesses with hi-growth potential) seems more than perverse just at the moment when Innovate UK had begun to roll it out to its grant winners.

Among other recent initiatives,Tech City, the Government-backed organisation that champions the UK’s technology sector, unveiled its Upscale initiative last month, which also aims to help 30 firms. The International Business Programme, has also just been launched by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, which will offer 50 fast-growing firms the opportunity to join trade missions to the US, India, China, and Europe.

While all this is encouraging, it bears no relationship in quantative terms to the 6% of businesses identified by Nesta as the most significant contributors to growth of the UK economy.

John Whatmore, March 2016