A conversation with Jock Clear

Scuderia Ferrari's Jock Clear took time to join DXC Technology's global lead for the APAC region, Seelan Nayagam, to discuss the role of technology partnerships in motorsport, the endless pursuit of innovation and how the ultimate goal of driving performance is achieved with the help of technology.

Jock is one of the most respected figures across the paddock, joining Scuderia Ferrari in 2015 and bringing over 30 years' and more than 500 Grand Prix races' worth of experience to the team. He has worked with eight World Champion drivers including Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Jacques Villeneuve, among other racing greats, and shares the aspiration of the sport's most successful team to add another name to that list.

See Jock and Seelan’s conversation in the video above, and read more from Jock in the Q&A below.

QCan you tell us about the role technology partners, like DXC and others at Scuderia Ferrari, play in supporting the team’s innovation and technology capabilities?

A: The role of advanced technology in our sport is growing on a seemingly daily basis, like most industries today, and we operate in a competitive environment where every innovation can give the team an edge on and off track. That means it’s vital as a team we stay at the forefront of any technical field that may help us gain an edge now or reach our long-term goals. This is where our partners come in.

If you look back at the historical partnerships in the sport, they were more traditional in the sense that they focused on engine technology, aerodynamics or weight saving, but as the rules of the sport have become stricter, the remit of partnerships has expanded to include the more advanced tech partners that we see today. These technology partnerships have no doubt played a role in accelerating how quickly the sport has moved forward. 

Whilst we remain the experts in racing, we work with partners who are leaders in their respective fields and welcome them to the Ferrari family. We rely on them to stay at the cutting edge of what they do and to share their expertise with us to work on the potential development of specialized technology solutions. Their knowledge sharing and updates ensure Scuderia Ferrari can realize the potential opportunities that technology brings. For DXC that field is digital engineering capabilities in the Human Machine Interface (HMI) space and being a key part of ensuring our essential infrastructure allows us to stay competitive.

Q: Let’s talk about how Ferrari integrates behavioral science into the cockpit design to make the complex intuitive.

A: I have worked with a variety of drivers in my career and the one thing that’s truly consistent is that every driver has their own preferred setup. In a sport where every millisecond counts, the ergonomic setup and speed of communication is essential, even more so than, say, ten years ago. With that in mind, every car I’ve worked on has a unique cockpit including the position or fit of the driver’s seat, the sensitivity of each pedal and the all-important steering wheel.

The steering wheel itself is, unsurprisingly, vital to the car, but it does much more than turn just the car left and right. Each has over 25 buttons and switches alongside the clutch and shift paddles, capable of changing the car strategy, brake balance and differential, amongst many other adjustments. Ultimately, we need the steering wheel to be as ergonomic as possible for the drivers as they navigate the challenges of each F1 circuit whilst implementing the advice of the pit wall.

Speaking of the pit wall, it’s equally vital in managing the in-car experience for the drivers. From arguably the second-best seat on the track, behind the drivers, is the team along the pit wall that is analyzing the constant stream of data coming off the car and advising on the recommended adjustments to either car setup or driver behavior to maximize performance. This information needs to arrive at the right time and in the most seamless way possible for the drivers. The combination of being able to have a physical setup that best fits the driver and the continuous data that allows us to get the most performance from that setup is what unlocks performance, and when we get both right, elevates what drivers can get out of the car.

Q: How does Ferrari utiltize technology innovation to extract performance from the car?

A: Performance is everything, as it is in most worlds, including the business world, but we get uniquely measured every two weeks against the opposition. That means that every innovation journey starts with where we are right now. After each track session, we spend hours analyzing the millions of data points that come off the car to understand exactly what corners we did well in and what corners we didn’t do well in. We figure out how to target specific areas to continue improving overall, specific to the conditions we’re heading into. Due to the tighter restrictions in the sport now, it’s not as simple as changing the aerodynamics or engine mode. We need to think outside the box and be more innovative with how we utilize the data available to us.

If we need something specific to help us solve these challenges quickly, we now go out to specialists and don’t try to recreate the wheel. We find really smart technology innovation and even if it may not be doing exactly what we need, we look for specialists that can help us apply the solutions to what we’re doing. Doing that means we can improve performance much faster, and that’s what has helped Formula 1 evolve so quickly.

Our ability to innovate is directly linked to our technology infrastructure that supports the capability to meaningfully process the ever-increasing volume of data we can capture in the sport. This is where our partners can help, so we have the infrastructure in place to not just capture, house and secure this valuable data, but to process and compute insights that we can then translate into results.

Alongside the infrastructure and computing capability is our team’s own ability to draw insightful conclusions. Every person at Scuderia Ferrari is a master of their craft, and the volume of data available is a way for each person to continue sharpening their expertise from design to race strategy in the pursuit of greater performance.

Q: What do you need from your technology and information infrastructure to help you deliver in such a fast-paced, high-pressure, globally delivered sport?

A: If I knew the exact answer, we would be a couple of years ahead of the game because we’re all working with new technology that makes more and more information available to us. It swamps you, but we need to be as quick off the track as we are on it, if not quicker. And we need to get to the important stuff to identify the critical paths the team should focus on. That means the speed and reliability of our technology and information infrastructure is essential in allowing us to make informed decisions under the high pressure of a race weekend, narrowing it down to the data points that will make a difference.

While we rely on the drivers to push the car to its limits on the track, they are not engineers themselves and the team needs to ensure the conclusions we draw from the data are clear and concise when communicating with the drivers so they can be confident in the race strategy we’re going to take. Each driver is very specific, and we rely on the data that we’re getting from them and from the car to push ourselves beyond simply making more efficient engines and wings. We want to figure out how to apply the latest technology solutions and make sure we have the right infrastructure that will help the team simply identify ways for the driver and car to find a little more performance together.

Central to the job of the engineers at the track and  those back in Maranello is getting through complex data with absolute clarity at speed, especially during the race weekend when conditions are changing quickly, and we may have seconds to make a call that could decide the race. That means that every piece of information we relay to the drivers, going into the race weekend and during the race, gives them the ability to perform. It also means our essential infrastructure is just that — an essential step to being competitive.

Q: How is Scuderia Ferrari making sure the essential infrastructure in place can evolve for the future without risking what you have to deliver today?

A:  When operating in our environment we strive to constantly innovate, so long as it doesn’t come at the detriment of our current capabilities. This, of course, does not mean we are risk-averse, but we compete with nine other teams in this sport and can’t afford to take steps backward at any time.

That means we rely on our partners to develop, test and provide options for how we can pursue new technology solutions in their area of expertise, like figuring out how to build better human-machine interfaces for the drivers as DXC does. Having partners innovate away from track means we can maintain what we do at track until we are comfortable with new technology solutions and the essential infrastructure. They need to operate without fail for a race to be reliably in place.

Q: What technology and technical expertise help you deliver for the season you're in and build for the season that's coming up next?

A: The process of developing next season’s challenger car started as soon as this year’s car took the track in Bahrain for testing. Over the course of the season, we have a huge volume of information that’s gathered from the car to help identify performance gaps to improve for this year and for next year.

Any technology that allows us to collate, process and extrapolate insights is key to building next year’s car. We test our theories through advanced technology, and this is a vital step before anything is physically built, to make sure we invest time and resources only where testing shows the results we are looking for.

Continuing to develop our relationship with technology is an essential part of how we build our cars and upgrade them over the season. Our team of dedicated engineers are experts in many fields, from engineering to software design and hardware design.

Each person on the team is always looking for new ways to explore the capabilities of advanced technology and other data infrastructure tools that allow their craft to be better. Can we find even a little time with a different angle on the car's body? Can we see something from last season’s data that allows us to improve the driver’s experience, like the cockpit setup in the car so they can push more?

Having an open approach with our partners and the wider technology industry is paramount when developing the new car as we look for ways to incorporate cutting-edge technology to help drive performance.

Jock Clear is a Senior Performance Engineer and Driver Coach to Scuderia Ferrari's Charles Leclerc. Before moving to Ferrari, he worked at Mercedes, where he was the race engineer for Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. With over 30 years in F1, 500+ Grand Prix races, and working with 8 world champions, Jock is one of the most respected names on the F1 circuit. In November 2007, Clear was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering by Heriot-Watt University  in recognition of his outstanding success in applying engineering science in the most demanding and competitive environments, and as a role model to young engineers.

Message from DXC

As an official partner of Scuderia Ferrari, we are proud to bring together two teams that are equally dedicated to developing the deep expertise needed to deliver excellence in our respective work. Our shared ambition to continue pushing essential innovation and exploration of technology futures is what drives us to deliver performance-driven technology. From the racetrack to the boardroom, DXC looks to work hand-in-hand with any business to develop the essential evolution needed to stay competitive. Read more about the Scuderia Ferrari partnership and get the latest information.