Formula 1 car screech around the track at AVERAGE speeds of more than 260 km/h, entertaining fans around the world and championships are won or lost by the smallest of differences. None of this would be possible without the huge team of engineers (100 people) behind the scenes, both at the track and in the factory.
F1 team members wear headsets to stay in touch at all times. Communication is an essential weapon for F1 teams, both at the track and at home in the factory. A few people can physically attend meetings, but wearing headsets allows everyone to participate regardless of their location.
The leading F1 teams are great examples of superbly run organizations. As in any business, communication is one of the keys to success. All employees need to understand the factors and available resources that affect their role on the team. When a problem arises, it’s “all hands on deck” to find a solution.
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F1 teams wear headsets so everyone can participate.
Let’s take Mercedes-Benz as an example. As the leading F1 racing team, this organization is breaking records and has won the last eight championship seasons. Communication is one of the most important disciplines practised by this successful organization.
Meetings dominate during the race weekend and in the first days after the team returns to the factory. Communication is critical, whether they are looking for solutions to problems or applauding and congratulating members for individual or group accomplishments.
During a race weekend, the driver and team principal are the “face” of the team, while the pit crew also performs miracles by fixing broken F1 cars overnight or changing tires in less than 3 seconds during a pit stop. Less well known is that the factory is fully staffed at the same time, monitoring and evaluating the progress of the car in real-time. In this regard, it is always gratifying to hear Lewis Hamilton thank the team back at the factory.
The radio connects mechanics, pit crew, drivers, race engineers, team bosses and the specialists at the factory, allowing them to stay in touch across time and space. A complicated hierarchy of permissions determines who hears what. While the drivers are the public heroes of the team, it is ultimately the collaboration between all these professionals that wins the race.
During a race weekend, the team holds strategy meetings at the track in the team camper van. Although only a few people physically attend the meeting, the rest of the staff in the factory, paddock and around the world wear the headsets and can participate remotely.
They cover many topics, including looking at race statistics, changes or adjustments that need to be made to the chassis and power unit, tire degradation, focus for the session and how to better compete against their rivals. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a lot to do! When the performance is not competitive, the team works all night at the track and in the factory to improve the situation.
It’s a joint effort and a chance to bring together all the insights, feedback and viewpoints from a hectic meeting. Meetings in one room are not physically possible, so headsets with live real-time connections are used.
Staff are encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions. Every voice has value, and each person’s contribution is recognized and considered.
How does the F1 team headset system work?
A Formula One team’s radio and headset system plays a critical role in bringing together the disparate resources of the teams. They provide the team with the instant ability to communicate with the driver of the F1 car, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars.
Radios and headsets allow the driver to talk about track conditions, ask for solutions to a problem, or have the team send him instructions. All disciplines (Engine, Chassis, Tire Aero, Marketing, IT Systems, Strategy and Management Divisions) have integrated headsets. These provide many more channels for different departments to communicate with each other.
The conversation is tightly controlled, and individual team members hear different things on their headsets and can speak on their own designated channels. All team members responsible for a particular car can listen to the driver of their own car (remember, each team has two race cars), their colleagues, and the pit crew.
During practice and race sessions, teams typically limit access to key crew members to ensure clear delegation.
During the introductory lap, team radio via headset is only allowed under certain conditions, for example, if the car is damaged or there is a particular danger for the driver.
After the introductory round, the rules for using the F1 radio have changed. There is no restriction on what a team can say to the driver in today’s races; This is very useful as teams can coach their driver in many situations, whether it is to reduce tire wear, fuel consumption or brake wear. They can also discuss strategy and keep the driver fully informed of their main competitor’s situation and if they need to adjust their driving to remain competitive.
Drivers are not allowed to communicate with other drivers, including their teammates. If a driver wants his teammate to perform a certain action, he has to negotiate it with his engineer and the team boss.
What impact do F1 headsets have on an F1 team?
Remember the science fiction series Star Trek and the iconic phrase “Beam Me Up, Scotty?”
The crew used to talk into little communication devices and could talk to anyone they needed, whether on a planet or in the Starship Enterprise, with Scotty complaining that the engines “Can’t take it anymore, Captain!” They never had to look up contact information.
When this series first aired, the technology seemed so far in the future that it was just that, science fiction.
Headsets worn by F1 team members effectively realize the old Star Trek dream. They are a bit bulkier than their Hollywood counterparts; however, they provide a seamless method of communication with anyone in the paddock, on the track, in the factory or anywhere in the world. With digital technology, not only is communication simplified, but contact is immediate and loyalty is crystal clear.
As you can see, F1 teams have meetings with headsets. They are essential tools to coordinate all the different departments and manage the many variables that occur on each race weekend.
Everyone who is part of the team, whether in the debriefing room, elsewhere in the paddock, in the factory, or around the world, must attend these important team meetings.
The ubiquitous headset we see all team members wearing enables this.