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Decision-Making at Speed – What Start-Ups Can Learn from F1

Understanding how McLaren Racing makes high-speed decisions can help founders think more about their strategies.

Formula 1 Pit Stop
Market Insights
New Technologies

Picture this. You’re driving at an average speed of 130mph around a track, knowing that you have a split second to make a decision that could make the difference between victory and defeat.

“When the McLaren MCL60 car is on track, it takes less than 300 milliseconds for data from more than 300 sensors on the car to travel to Mission Control at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking – this data informs real-time decision-making on the track. Make the right call, and there are points to be gained. The wrong call, and the team risks leaving the track with little to show for its efforts.”

says Randy Singh, Director, Strategy & Sporting, McLaren F1 Team.

Just think about those precious milliseconds for a moment. Despite days, weeks, months of prep from the driver and the team, a split-second wrong decision and the race can be over.  Decision-making is one thing. Decision-making at speed is quite another.  Could you do it? 

Why good teamwork lies behind the skill of split-second decision-making

Founders have to learn to react fast if they are to survive in our increasingly speed-obsessed business world. They need to make decisions at speed about everything from how their business reacts to a global pandemic to what strategy to take in an economic crash.  

But fast decisions also have to be good decisions. It’s not an either/or between fast and good. And, just like an F1 driver, it’s the team behind every founder that is vital in feeding into these decisions. Behind split-second decisions, there may be years or decades of experience, learning, practice and skill. 

At the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, for example, it took 21 pit crew members 1.80 seconds to change all four tyres on the MCL60 and complete a pit-stop, the fastest F1 pit-stop in the world to date.

Following McLaren’s example, the take-away message for founders could well be: ‘make your team the best that it can be, then put your confidence in them.’ 

A good decision-maker has to have focus, strategy and the ability to communicate

For this, we go back to McLaren and that sensor data which reaches mission control in less than 300 milliseconds. 

“This data informs real-time decision-making and pivotal strategy calls. For example, when a Safety Car is deployed, the strategy team – consisting of one person at the track and four people at the MTC – must decide whether to pit a driver for new tyres. And they must communicate that decision to the rest of the team in as little as three seconds.”

explains Randy. 

This is how the McLaren team works at speed.  Behind the thrill of the race itself, there is a body of highly qualified people using technology and experience to inform the decision-making in clear, precise and focused ways.

The take-away for founders? Clear, focused and precise communication is key. 

Every decision is really a team effort

Your job may not involve driving an F1 car, but there’s still a huge amount you can learn from the giants of high-speed thinking:

  • Data is obviously vital, but it has to be seen by the right people, so that they are adequately informed
  • Businesses need to know who is responsible and accountable for each part of the decision-making process, so there are no misunderstandings
  • There also has to be clarity of purpose and a clear team structure so that leaders can act with speed, confidence and the support of their colleagues.

Expanding the tactics behind decision-making at speed to other parts of your business

At its heart, F1 is a race. A highly competitive race. As well as making split-second decisions to affect what happens on the track, teams such as McLaren need to keep up-to-speed on innovation to stay ahead of their competitors. 

The same goes for any company, whether it’s a start-up, a company such as ourselves at Btomorrow Ventures; or our corporate BAT, a proud Principal Partner of the McLaren F1 Team.

As a CVC fund, we are constantly seeking ways to improve and innovate and to help our portfolio companies do the same. Once a founder has worked on effective, efficient and speedy decision-making, we recommend looking at other parts of the business to see where else this skill can be utilised.

Can it be used when hiring new talent? 

Do you need to speed up your decision-making process in the field of recruitment so that the best candidate doesn’t slip through your hands because of your own procrastination?

When it comes to investment, have you lost opportunities because of unnecessary delays? 

If so, where were the weak links? Is it in your supply chain, your management process, your brand building or the way you gather data? Find out and take steps to fix it.

Is your data strong enough to help you drive the decisions you need to make? 

Or do you find yourself hesitating because you are waiting on the feedback of results and analytics? How can this part of the process be speeded up?

By learning from McLaren’s decision-making at speed processes, there’s a lot that founders can do to put their business in pole position to race ahead of their rivals.

Written by
Andrea McVeigh
Communications and Social Media Manager
Written by
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