Tibco hits the Formula 1 track with Mercedes


The Tibco/Mercedes partnership shows F1 is becoming a real fighting ground for decision support vendors

It may be bleeding edge technology in many ways, but F1 racing always carries the strong brand images of its sponsors – expensive watches, smart drinks, flashy cars and the rest. But decision support systems?

Well, yes, and in a competition where much of the real racing now takes place behind the scenes, where ‘marginal improvements’ measured in milliseconds really count, supporting thousands of decisions a minute in real-time is now going to make or break a racing team

This is about the current Constructor’s Championship holder – and holder for the last three years now – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport. Whatever one thinks about F1, this is no mean achievement, especially in a competition where that concept of `marginal improvement’ can mean so much.

This is a sport (and OK, some will argue about the use of that word in this context) where a couple of minutes can cover first to last after the best part of 200 miles of racing. Gaining a tenth of a second a lap on your rivals equals ‘total dominance’.

So the news that Mercedes has decided to partner with Tibco for the provision of advanced analytics tools has to be seen as something of a feather in the latter’s cap. Mercedes plans to use Tibco’s Insight Platform for visual, predictive, and real-time streaming analytics, integration, and business process management.

Sponsoring F1 cars has quietly become a focal point for IT vendors in the data analytics and decision support field, which at first may seem a bit curious. Most of the sponsors choose it because they target the consumer markets, either in the form of car users themselves (so fuels, oils and car parts are obvious candidates) or those that see themselves as hot-shot putative F1 drivers in waiting, where `drinking this’ or `wearing that’ is a demonstration of that desire.

IT vendors have dabbled in FI sponsorship before, of course, though the likes of Compaq and HP have been more interested in using it to sell PCs to individual users than datacentre resources to global corporations. Complex decision support services don’t naturally fit this model either.

Yet here they are, moving in on the business, and the reason is actually quite straight forward. F1 is now all about racing the `processes’. The difference between the cars is now so small it is in other areas that championships are won and lost.

The obvious example, of course, is with the pit stops that every car is obliged to make. Here, the ability for a pit crew to change all four wheels in under three seconds is only part of the process. The other part is the analysis of when to make the change relative to the position of the car against the competition, where in the race the car will emerge on track after the change (‘clear air’ = good….behind a slower car = very bad) and the current rate of tyre degradation (will it get round the next few corners at performance speed).


But there are equally complex analytics going on behind the scenes, often with data transmitted from the pit-based systems to main IT resources back at the factory. Here, real-time adjustments to car aerodynamics components are calculated and a wide range of engine and chassis parameters (upwards of 2,000 of them) are monitored in real-time.

Suddenly, F1 has become a serious – and real – fighting ground between the real-time data analytics and decision support contenders. This is not just about F1 teams getting some bleeding edge analytics technology for the `cost’ of a bit of space for a sponsor’s logo and access to the team’s hospitality lounge on race day. In a world where hundredths of a second can be the difference between winning and losing, being part of the IT `glue’ behind a team may well end up as THE key differentiator in the decision support marketplace.

And let’s face it, markets like FinTech face exactly the same elapsed time problems – probably more so.

So for Tibco, this partnership is not only a feather in the cap but also a potential Sword of Damocles hanging over its head. Mercedes has won the Constructors’ Championship three times. It – and many commentators around the sport – have high expectations of a fourth Championship for the team this year. So there is a risk that, for Tibco, the bigger story would be Mercedes’ hold on the championship slipping from its grip. Where might the fickle finger of fate then point?

But to be fair, existing challengers in the F1 analytics and decision support stakes have not a huge amount to shout about. Microsoft Dynamics, for example, is a partner with Renault, while SAP is a partner with McLaren-Honda. Neither team has yet scored a point in the 2017 at the time of writing.

My take:

I shall, of course, sue anyone who suggests this is my attempt to create the job of F1 Correspondent for diginomica. However, there is now a need for CIOs and the like, who are under pressure to provide new, or better, decision support capabilities for their business, to cast an eye over the results from races this year. And if they get an invite to attend a race, they should not see it as just a chance for a free Gin Sling or Brandy Alexander. Take a notebook, and perhaps a stopwatch. The results could be important to you.

Image credit - Mercedes