McLaren Formula 1 Racing team’s stunning 1-2 finish in the Italian Grand Prix in September demanded innovation, leadership, and skill — along with technology that could excel under the most demanding conditions.
One of those technologies that supercharged their performance was Webex, the collaboration platform that securely connected dispersed McLaren teams from the earliest design stages to race day itself — all under the unique pressures of collaborating during a global pandemic.
“When we establish a technology partnership, like with Cisco,” said Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, “the technology has to be best in class. Especially during a high-speed race, if we get a weak signal or have to dial back in while video conferencing it could be devastating.”
In a recent conversation with Aruna Ravichandran, Cisco’s Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Webex/Collaboration, the two leaders elaborated on their partnership to deliver immersive experiences that bridge the needs of racing fans, partners, and drivers alike during this shift to hybrid sports.
“It went from a sponsorship to a close technology and innovation partnership with the McLaren team,” Ravichandran said. “It’s about the speed, the precision, and the performance in racing. They have to make those split-second decisions, and that’s what Webex is all about – enabling efficient, seamless collaboration. Our two brands also share a lot of the same values and a shared vision.”
That vision includes a mutual commitment to inclusion and sustainability — and the hybrid work innovations that support them.
Brown shared how the work culture at McLaren Racing has evolved with the technology.
“We have very sophisticated communications amongst many people around the world that need to be very secure and in real time,” he said. “It’s one thing to pull a tremendous amount of data back to mission control. But how do you crunch that data and make decisions and communicate those insights as quickly as you can? That’s where Webex comes into play.”
The pandemic, of course, accelerated hybrid work at McLaren, with more teams spanning time zones and languages or connecting from high-decibel, fast moving racing pits or manufacturing settings.
“To reduce the spread of the virus, we became limited on how many people we were able to bring to the racetrack,” Brown said. “That meant going further into hybrid work and doing it overnight. But it has worked out brilliantly.”
Innovating for an inclusive world
Webex has been critical in supporting thousands of organizations around the world in recent months. But Webex innovations didn’t stop during the pandemic; they accelerated.
“Over the last 18 months,” Ravichandran explained, “our engineering teams have really worked hard to prioritize new innovations and use cases. One of them is real-time translation. Webex will automatically translate from English to more than 100 different languages. It’s an amazing way to bring people together where you create more inclusivity.”
The feature has proved to be a great asset across McLaren’s diverse ecosystem of team members, suppliers, and partners.
“English is our main language,” Brown explained. “But it isn’t necessarily the main language of the 25 nationalities in our racing team. We have to make very quick decisions involving a lot of technical terms. And you can’t afford to slow down, simplify, or repeat things during a race.”
Background noise removal is another new AI-powered Webex feature. It’s extremely beneficial for any call from a noisy home, office, or café. But during a race, it can be a life saver, literally.
“You can imagine the noise in a race,” Brown said, “and trying to communicate in that environment.”
During a recent McLaren demonstration, however, Ravichandran heard none of that noise.
“If you are doing a live demo in the garage,” she added, “the noise removal will be on by default. And you will only hear the person who’s actually speaking. We call it ‘My Voice Only’.”
Connecting teams, partners, and fans, securely
Those kinds of live demos touch on another key use case: fan engagement. Webex was integrated into McLaren’s Slipstream, an innovative, digital experience which allows partners and their guests to experience a race day live, wherever they are in the world, and brings millions of fans closer than ever before to the racing environment before, during, and after races.
“We need high performance with our racing team,” Brown said, “but the engagement with our corporate partners and our fans is equally as important. We’re not just racing for ourselves. We’re racing to entertain hundreds of millions of fans. And together with Webex we developed Slipstream. It’s our pre- and post-game show, where we bring partners and fans into the garage and offer virtual hospitality.”
Slipstream brings a new level of interaction and engagement to the fore, and while it was developed to connect fans during COVID lockdowns, it’s not going away anytime soon.
“Slipstream is going to be something that we continue with forever,” Brown added, “because it’s been absolutely brilliant.”
Of course, whether interacting with fans or sharing the groundbreaking new ideas, security is essential in a high-profile sport like Formula 1. But as Ravichandran stressed, it’s built into Webex at every level of design and implementation.
“We are secure by design,” she said. “Security for us is built in and not bolted on afterwards. We take security very seriously; it’s part of our underlying values.”
Security is a key factor in McLaren Racing’s choice for a collaboration platform.
“Whether it’s a competitor in the pit area trying to figure out our strategy, or someone even more aggressive, we need to be bulletproof,” Brown said. “It’s critically important for us, and we’ve had no issues.”
Both teams look forward to the continuation of a long, successful partnership, with an even greater commitment to their mutual core values.
“Sustainability is very important to us,” Brown said. “Webex is helping us have fewer cars driving to work, and fewer people getting on planes to get to meetings.”
“When you quantify all the things Webex has done to make our racing team faster, build new relationships, make our world sustainable, and give fiscal benefits to our bottom line, the list becomes quite long.”
As excited as Ravichandran is about the latest innovations in Webex, she agrees with Brown on the bigger picture and the chance to contribute to a better future.
“These are great features that we are bringing to the market,” she concluded, “but the bigger goal for us is to power an inclusive future for all.”