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DevOpsGroup Blog DevOps Lessons from Formula 1 – Part 1

DevOps Lessons from Formula 1 – Part 1

Written by DevOpsGroup CPO, Steve Thair (@TheOpsMgr).

In our recent event on Building an Awesome Digital Culture my DevOpsGuys co-Founder James Smith (@TheDevMgr) played an awesome video comparing the performance of 1950’s pit crew with a modern Formula 1 crew from 2013.

The difference in performance is stark – 67 seconds versus about 3 seconds for the modern crew.

I found the whole analogy to DevOps fascinating – how having a focused, multi-disciplinary team working in harmony to achieve a common goal could achieve amazing outcomes.

But I wanted to learn more, and luckily enough my friend and Director of Cloud, Life Sciences and Research at UKCloud, Pete Rossi, used to work for McLaren and was able to give me the inside scoop.

My key question was around pit crew roles – were people “specialists” in wheel, fuelling etc or were they cross-skilled in different roles. His answer was fascinating!

So, an F1 team has a limit to the amount of people they can bring in track side, generally because of the cost of getting a pit lane pass and travelling them all around the world. For example, McLaren, in addition to the engineers and mechanics also took truckies/garage builders, an electrician, an IT guy (me) and a cleaner.

For pit stops, everyone apart from the “Engineers” got involved.

You’re there from about 7 days before a race. Each day we would do “pit stop practice”. Everyone has a role, but pretty much everyone had practiced and actually done every role.

For example, each wheel has 3 guys – 1 to gun the wheel off, 1 to pull it off, 1 to put it on and the first guy guns it back on.

There are then 2 guys stood ready with a new front wing if required and 2 guys ready to unbolt it. There are also 2 guys who stand there an aero adjustment tool (a screwdriver) who run in and put that into a tiny 3mm hole in the front wing and turn it left or right by x number of turns based on what they’re yelled at on the radio.

There’s a fireman stood at the back.

There used to be 2 fuelling rigs, each rig would have 2 guys on it, one to guide the hose into the fuelling nozzle, and the other one to carry the weight of the hose.

I use to pull the front right tyre off, I was also the fireman, and I was also the right aero adjustment guy.

Oh, and the 2 worst jobs of all – The front jack man, who stands there with the trolley as the F1 car drives at them at 60mph hoping they’ll stop in time, and the lollipop man (who was our travel manager) who decides when it’s safe to release the car into the pitlane.

Pete Rossi

For me, this was an even better DevOps analogy – a high performance team of specialists in their own areas (Pete was the IT guy who ran the telemetry systems) but who were willing to train together and cross-skill in order to achieve a clear goal – win the race.

This is one of the key tenets of DevOps – breakdown the silos, focus on the “Big Picture” (systems thinking), and help out your team mates in any way you can, even if that means letting someone drive a car at you at 60 MPH…

In F1’s case the goal is win the race (and the season) but for most IT teams it’s to solve business and customer problems by putting great software into the hands of its customers, in Production, and make sure that software product keeps working (the Ops bit!).

This does highlight a common problem we see with customers we work with here at DevOpsGuys – that many people in the IT organisation are so lost in their silos they don’t really know what the goals of their team, department or company actually are any more.

This is why we start our DevOps Transformation workshops with our proprietary “Goals Canvas” session as a way to get the team to brainstorm the goals, the enablers & constraints, key metrics etc as the first step to understanding what success looks like for them.

If you’d like to learn more about our DevOps Transformation workshops just drop us a a line at and we’d love to help you start your transition to being a high-performance IT team.

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