How Formula 1 drove cloud expertise to accelerate the future of motorsports
Neil Ralph, AWS Principal Sports Partnership Manager reflects on five years of working with Formula 1 in a conversation with Chris Roberts, F1 Director of IT, who spearheaded the organization’s cloud transformation journey.
In the high-octane world of motorsports, Formula 1 (F1) has perpetually balanced innovation and safety in pursuit of delivering exceptional fan experiences to its global following. Founded in 1950, the organization has historically kept IT, broadcast, and racing systems operations running with on-premises hardware at its UK headquarters and traveling the world, remaining protective of its exceptional program experience and brand identity. After reflecting upon the changing media landscape and the desire to maximize fan experiences, F1 initiated a cloud transformation with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2018 that continues today. Now, many of F1’s race-critical functions run on AWS, and as F1’s fanbase has grown, it has built an internal team of cloud experts to support its growing innovation.
“We’re driven by ambition and knew that integrating AWS would help us evolve the business, but we lacked the capability and bandwidth to make it a meaningful endeavour,” noted Chris Roberts, F1 Director of IT, who’s been with the company for over 20 years. “While we wanted to extend our business into the Americas, we didn’t have the depth and breadth to run at any speed on AWS, so we leaned on AWS Professional Services to provide that key knowledge transfer piece. They helped us deliver technically as we were getting started, and enabled us to upskill the cloud team we were building.”
Getting the green light from leadership
Millions of devoted fans from around the world tune into each race weekend with high expectations, leaving no room for error. While keeping race operations running seamlessly out of their UK datacenter, F1 embarked on a journey towards a hybrid infrastructure setup in tandem with AWS and AWS Partners. The F1 team worked with AWS Professional Services consultants to establish good platform governance and best practices for security. The framework they built continues to provide the foundation for developers to work in clean, well-architected environments, as they focus on accelerating innovation in the sport and bringing fans closer to the action.
“Strong governance helps fuel innovation. We’ve sandboxed our environment so that we don’t have to worry about things running where they shouldn’t be, which was key to getting buy-in to a cloud migration from company leadership,” Roberts explained. “AWS came in, sat down with us, and helped us scale our business. They held workshops for us and helped train our talent. As a result of this work and the power of having AWS expertise in-house, we can more easily build solutions that we can rapidly deploy and scale.”
Understanding cloud economics has been vital to F1’s successful cloud adoption. Spending guardrails, along with establishing expectations and control mechanisms, help ensure the team is optimizing its cloud spend, including the selection of appropriate compute instance types, and scheduling their shutdown when not in use. In addition to the hands-on educational sessions provided by the AWS team, F1 engineers further advance their skillsets through rigorous AWS Training and Certification programs ensuring that its in-house team is qualified and up to date on the latest cloud offerings.
Investing in cloud growth enables cost-effective scaling
Since F1 first partnered with AWS, the organization has more than doubled its number of employees and significantly expanded its digital footprint. Along with providing access to more cost-effective, scalable compute power, the new setup has made it easier for F1 to leverage an expanding array of managed AWS services to enhance internal operations and the fan experience. For example, using Amazon SageMaker (AWS machine learning technology), F1 can deliver more data-driven insights that help to educate and entertain fans through timing and telemetry data captured by hundreds of sensors on each F1 car, relayed real-time to AWS compared to historical data stored on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Beyond comprehensive performance analysis and predictions used to drive the F1 Insights broadcast graphics, AWS is also used to guide race car design, and host the F1 TV digital streaming product, among other applications.
“The speed at which our AWS deployments went from experimental to race critical was surprising. AWS has quickly become ingrained in our race DNA, and we installed AWS Direct Connect for dedicated, faster throughput and redundancy to our datacenters,” said Roberts. “We can go live with new features that are adding value for fans quickly. It’s a fantastic capability and a testament to the speed at which we can build ideas into products and have them integrated into the F1 ecosystem.”
Building internal cloud expertise
At the beginning of F1’s cloud transformation, AWS focused on providing hands-on support to augment the capabilities of F1’s small in-house team. The AWS team supporting F1 also kept F1 appraised of upcoming AWS tools and features as well as those from AWS Technology Partners that would benefit their organization. Working together in this way allowed for F1 to prioritise investment in internal personnel development—giving Roberts the results to expand the cloud capability. Today, F1’s internal IT team is split equally between on-premises and cloud specialists, including Lead Cloud Architect and Team Manager Ryan Kirk, who started with the company as an IT intern in 2015 working in traditional infrastructure, invested in cloud training and certification, and now oversees the company’s entire AWS operation.
“Our AWS team has been very good about making us aware of what’s on the roadmap, and that’s inspired us to innovate. When you wave new tech at techies, of course we want to jump on it,” commented Roberts. “They’ve helped us build out our AWS and Partner implementations and create an effective internal team that can run on its own.”
Gaining efficiency through automation
With its robust AWS framework in place, the internal F1 team is evaluating areas to offload low-value activities, freeing developers to work on more cutting-edge projects. To date, F1 has leveraged 96 different AWS services and solutions, a number that will likely only continue to grow. As for what’s next, Roberts offered, “I’m very interested in AWS Managed Services. I think it will be a gamechanger for us.”
He concluded, “Even though we’ve primarily transitioned to in-house cloud development at F1, we have a partner in AWS that will work with us to push our team and the sport to keep innovating for our fans.”
To learn more about AWS and Formula 1, visit www.aws.com/f1.