“Pivotal moments are driven by data”: Christian Horner on Red Bull Racing’s Oracle partnership

Last season’s Formula One title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen not only provided plenty of on-track action, but the perfect platform to showcase a new partnership between Red Bull Racing and computer technology giant Oracle. Now a title sponsorship for 2022, Ariel Kelman, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Oracle, and Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing, discuss the collaboration.

Whether it’s the AT&T network transmitting data from the circuit to the team’s operations centre in Milton Keynes in just 300 milliseconds, or the software solutions from Siemens enhancing the production of composite parts, Red Bull Racing relies on its partnerships to deliver on track.

Ahead of the 2022 Formula One season, US technology giant Oracle made the step up to title sponsor the Red Bull team, having started working with the UK-based outfit in 2021. The five-year deal, understood to be worth US$300 million, sees Oracle’s cloud infrastructure enable Red Bull to significantly reduce the cost of billions of simulations. 18 months ago, all simulations by the team were run on site, whereas now the cloud is utilised in everything it does thanks to the partnership with Oracle.

“We’re looking at a transition now of moving into the Oracle cloud from the more conventional data centre setup that we’ve utilised [previously],” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained to the SportsPro podcast.

The benefits of the cloud are numerous, but it gives Red Bull a lot more flexibility when approaching data analysis, not to mention the substantial cost savings compared to the more traditional method.

“The more computing horsepower you can provide, the more accurate your results are going to be,” adds Ariel Kelman, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Oracle. “This is one of the things with the cloud, where it costs the same amount of money to run 1,000 servers for one hour as it does to run one server for 1,000 hours.

“So, what this means is, for a lot of these engineering challenges, you’re not going to [run] the simulation five per cent, ten per cent better. I’m going to run it 1,000 times [better].”

Red Bull is one of a number of sports sponsorships for Oracle, which also has partnerships with the likes of English soccer’s Premier League and SailGP. According to Kelman, the opportunity to showcase how the company’s technology can benefit Red Bull in a competitive environment was very attractive to Oracle.

“The way we look at these partnerships is to be able to highlight the technology that we’re working on and bring it to life,” he says. “When you show a sports team that’s really using it to improve their business and to improve their results competitively, it really ends up being a great marketing tool.”

Oracle's five-year deal with Red Bull Racing is understood to be worth US$300 million

One of the ways this has been made possible is when Red Bull runs its Monte Carlo simulations. These are carried out predominantly before race weekends to discover the probability of different outcomes during a Grand Prix to inform the race strategy of the team’s drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.

The plan eventually is for Oracle’s technology to make it possible to simulate the races of every single driver on the grid, which would better inform Red Bull’s own race strategy as it searches for any competitive edge it can find.

Kelman explains: “Early on, once we heard about how [Red Bull] wanted to model out the strategy decisions throughout the race, it’s very similar to what a lot of the largest banks in the world do on our cloud platform, running large scale Monte Carlo simulations for trading positions to figure out the risk.

“So we worked with the team on building out Monte Carlo simulations for the key decisions in the race around tyres, around when to make pitstops based on various actions that happen, and to simulate billions of different scenarios.”

Data, especially drawn from processes like the Monte Carlo simulations, is key for Formula One teams, something Horner knows all too well as the longest-serving team principal in the sport.

“We have a lot of very data-hungry engineers, data is our lifeblood, how we manage that data, how we store that data,” Horner explains. “Pivotal moments are driven by data. Utilising the Oracle resource, we’re able to make a much more informed decision, whether it’s the conversion to the soft strategy in France [in 2021] that won Max [Verstappen] the Grand Prix there, or the utilisation of safety cars at the last Grand Prix.”

Race strategy isn’t the only area where Oracle is looking to assist the Milton Keynes-based team. Having had their engines supplied by Honda since 2019, Red Bull were left with a decision to make when the Japanese manufacturer announced before the start of this season that it would be stepping away from Formula One.

While Honda is set to continue to supply engines to Red Bull and offer any assistance required until 2025, the team’s new Powertrains division is set to take on responsibility for the production and manufacture from 2026. Volkswagen-owned Porsche has also been heavily linked with a potential Red Bull engine partnership since Honda’s departure.

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner

Either way, the expertise that Oracle provides today will enable the team to have the best approach to its power unit production before the new engine regulations are introduced in 2026.

“A lot of the most advanced engineering in the world is being done on computers now, as much as it is with people holding tools,” Kelman highlights. “That combination of the two is the critical factor in the best technology that actually comes into physical form.”

Horner adds: “The breadth of technology that Oracle brings and the suite of tools that are available to us is tremendously exciting, particularly as we are on the next stage of our journey towards becoming a power unit manufacturer as well.”

Away from the track, Oracle is also helping Red Bull with its fan engagement approach. Perhaps the most obvious example is the team’s loyalty programme, with each fan receiving a personalised experience depending on what they interact with based on Oracle’s data tracking.

“We’re utilising [Oracle’s] knowledge, their know-how, their tools, to create a whole new fan engagement experience,” Horner comments. “I think we’re now able to service these new fanbases coming into the sport by giving them a fantastic experience and engaging [with them].”

The title partnership also has its advantages for Oracle itself, as the feedback the company receives from Red Bull goes into improving its service to other customers. The relationship might barely be two years old, but both sides already seem satisfied with the returns.

“We look at the types of chips we’re using, the way we package things – there’s a lot of different configurations that work well for one use case and don’t work well for others,” explains Kelman. “There’s new products that we’re going to be rolling out for our customers that are based on the specific uses that the team has been using over the past couple of months.”

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