Algorithms. Whether you’re a social media manager striving to master Facebook, or an A-Level student struggling to make sense of how grades have been awarded, the word algorithm is filled with mystery and most likely tinged with frustration and anger. In F1 circles, too, algorithms have become associated with scornfulness, or AWS if you like an acronym.
As a partner of F1, Amazon Web Services has aimed to use its services to delve deeper into F1’s data banks to generate insights for fans, or in their own words ‘to bring fans closer to the track than ever before’. At a time when fans are in need of just that with Covid-19 restrictions preventing any physical presence on-site, this sort of activation idea should be well received. Yet, AWS has somehow not quite cracked the code.
Its tyre performance graphics have been much maligned, offering little in the way of an accurate representation of a driver’s rubber management, so when the company, through F1, released this week it’s global ranking of ‘fastest driver’ since 1983, it was bound to cause a stir. Just as we had predicted at the start of the season, it certainly did.
In their effort to ‘provide an objective, data-driven ranking of all drivers from 1983 through present day, by removing the F1 car differential from the equation’, they conjured up a list that seemed more of a lucky dip than a data-driven list. Those poking holes at drivers on social media aside (think again anyone discrediting the superb qualifying efforts of one Jarno Trulli over the years!), the real issue here is the lack of foresight from AWS into what fans actually want. It’s like poking a hornet’s nest to suggest one driver is better than another, and pretty woeful to create a list of “fastest ever” F1 drivers that only covers the period from 1983 onwards. Rather than fuelling constructive conversation and heathy debate, instead it was always likely to – and has – invoked the angry mob. It certainly won’t ‘unlock previously untold stories and insights from behind the pit wall.’
So, what do AWS need to do to reverse the backlash and undo some of the reputational damage? First of all, perhaps acquire an understanding of what fans actually want to see. What insights are lacking, and where can the company add value. Are they trying to engage with the existing, generally knowledgeable F1 audience, or attract new F1 audiences with a thin veneer of credibility, or maybe demonstrate the power of these technologies to business users? But it’s not enough to work some magic based on the mystery of invisible data and algorithms. Perhaps use a touch of common sense too? As we saw in recent Grands Prix, when it comes to driving skill and calls on tyre strategy, a little human intervention can sometimes make a huge difference.
Most importantly, there’s an issue of credibility. There are now huge swathes of the F1 community who simply don’t trust anything that AWS puts out, which means there’s a significant reputational repair job to be done. That needs to start with the accuracy of its content, whether that derives from the data, the algorithm or the conclusions that they jointly produce. Are there humans actually vetting the process, or is it all automated?
The issue of credibility also rubs off on the rightsholder. Regardless of whether Formula 1 is keen to activate as many of its partners rights as possible, there is a need for the organisation to manage its reputation too. It is through Formula 1’s channels and platforms that AWS is reaching millions of F1 fans globally, therefore the motorsport organisation is effectively signing-off and agreeing with the content being produced. Wherever the idea was conceived, as partners, both parties have a responsibility to maintain and enhance the reputation of the other for their joint benefit and outlandish content does not help either cause in this regard.
Don’t get us wrong, we are among the biggest advocates of data to create content and are keen to see tech companies like AWS succeed in their partnership activation goals. There’s obviously something not quite right in the set-up on this one at the moment. Perhaps a click of front wing, a tweak of the diff, or a new engine mapping is needed to get this partnership back on track. Just look at the data…