3 Safety and Compliance Lessons Learned From Formula One

June 21, 2016

For some industries, there is one date that marked a turning point after which things were never the same. Think about the Seveso disaster on July 10, 1976 in Italy and how it led to stricter industrial safety regulations in the European Community (the predecessor of the European Union), or the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico and how it led to a renewed focus on safety at offshore oil rigs.

For Formula One, that date is May 1st, 1994, when Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna tragically lost his life at the track of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. The previous day, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger had also lost his life, thus making that weekend an absolutely terrible one for Formula One. This brought the total number of drivers killed in Formula One since 1950 to over 40. In addition, all this tragedy unfolded live, in front of all the television cameras. In 1994, the Internet and Social Media were not prominent, but major sports events, including Grand Prix races, were broadcast live to millions of viewers around the globe, much more than they were in the 1970s or 1980s.

The disastrous weekend during which Ayrton Senna died could have brought the end of Formula One. But instead, the sport was determined to honor the loss of its racing legend by making sure that lessons were learned and applied.

Let’s fast-forward 22 years. On June 2nd, 2016, we had the privilege of having Mark Gallagher deliver the opening keynote at in front of a crowd of more than 300 EHS, Risk, Sustainability and IT professionals in Paris. Mark is founder and co-owner of Status Grand Prix, which competes in events including the Le Mans 24 Hours. He is best known for his work in Formula One, spending 15 years in senior leadership roles within Jordan Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing, and Cosworth Engineering. After his keynote address, Mark kindly accepted to have a chat with me about Formula One and how it addresses safety and compliance. This post includes a summary of our discussion and the core of Mark’s very interesting keynote speech delivered to the SPF EMEA audience.

Safety is an Industry-Wide Priority for Formula One

Many industry-leading companies use , and specifically to improve safety performance. Naturally I was interested to learn more about how F1 addresses safety and the parallels between the sport and Enablon clients. Mark explained that the history of F1 with regards to safety is in two parts: Pre-1994 and Post-1994. Ayrton Senna’s tragic loss changed everything. Previously, F1 had accepted that there was always a risk of incidents and had made a number of changes to improve safety. Risk was seen as an inherent part of the nature of F1 racing. After the Ayrton Senna accident, however, the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) based in Paris, decided that the risk of incidents of this nature was no longer acceptable. Safety became paramount, and F1 aimed for zero incidents and zero fatalities.

In the immediate aftermath of the Senna incident, the FIA took a holistic approach to improving driver safety, including redesigning the race track, the cars and changing a wide range of processes in order to mitigate risk during F1 events. However, perhaps the most significant change can from instrumenting the vehicles to gather accident data, enabling the sport to forensically examine past incidents in order to improve future risk management.

F1 Quote

Today, F1 uses big data, captured through more than 200 sensors fitted to each car, to improve safety. As an industry, F1 aims to demonstrate world-class risk and safety management, which is why F1 teams, while being fierce competitors on and off the track, work together. Safety data is shared between F1 teams, taking precedence over competition and confidential business information. The FIA’s Safety Working Group makes sure that there is cross-industry collaboration and Mark gave an excellent example that stuck with me. He said: “Whether a car is going at 320 km/h or 300 km/h, it won’t make a difference. The safety risks will still be the same.” To make sure that safety excellence is achieved, the slowest cars from teams with fewer resources need the same safety performance as the fastest cars from those who enjoy greater resources. Mark expressed articulately that, as an industry, F1 can’t afford “islands of excellence in an ocean of mediocrity”.

Compliance is Also an Industry-Wide Effort

Industry-leading firms use , which is another important area covered by our solutions. Therefore, I also discussed about the topic with Mark to explore parallels. When it comes to compliance, F1 is not different from Enablon clients that have to comply with regulations from many countries around the world. The 2016 F1 season features Grand Prix races in 21 different countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. That’s 21 different sets of local regulations that F1 teams have to comply with, which is a daunting task. Therefore, just as for safety, compliance is another area where F1 teams put rivalries aside in favor of industry-wide collaboration.

To facilitate compliance, the nuances and requirements of each market are communicated centrally. When it comes to compliance, there is only one team because all of F1’s performance can be compromised by its weakest member. There is an acknowledgement that in the field of regulatory compliance, F1 as a whole is only as good as its weakest link, hence why teams cooperate. Regarding the topic of compliance, Mark also shared another interesting fact: Governments are F1’s clients since many events are funded through public spending in order to attract economic value, publicity and prestige that a Grand Prix brings to the host country. In working with the host countries and event promoters, the FIA and F1 teams work to ensure full compliance.

It’s All About Agility

I concluded my conversation with Mark by talking about the common thread that runs through safety performance and compliance. Like many Enablon clients that face EHS, Sustainability and Risk challenges, being agile is also important in F1. Mark mentioned that everything has to be agile in F1 because agility is about the ability to innovate. Agility is also about giving people the tools to respond quickly. But agility helps in other areas also, besides safety and compliance. Agility is also about adapting to changing circumstances. Mark gave a great example to illustrate this. In the past, a very big part of F1’s revenues came from tobacco sponsorships. Many F1 fans remember the iconic Marlboro-branded red-and-white McLaren cars driven by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the 1980s and 1990s. But after governments started to ban tobacco advertising, F1 had to quickly adapt and find new sources of revenue. F1 performed a successful transition to maintain the revenue streams of F1 teams and the industry.

Formula One Teaches Us Three Lessons

There are a lot of parallels between companies that attended SPF EMEA 2016 and F1, but more than the parallels, the lessons that F1 teaches us are even more interesting.


First, F1 is very data-driven. Data is not just used during races; it is also used to manage safety, compliance and risk behind the scenes throughout the year. Similarly, companies need to be entirely data-driven in all aspects of safety, compliance and risk. Spreadsheet-based solutions and manual processes do not work.

Collaboration, Not Competition

Second, F1 teams are willing to put competition aside to collaborate on safety and compliance, for the greater good of the industry. They have to be close partners because they know they will thrive only if F1 thrives as an industry. Similarly, best-in-class and forward-looking companies share knowledge and best practices with industry peers to improve safety for all workers in the industry, and facilitate compliance.

Industries Can Recover

Third, F1 successfully turned things around after a tragedy. F1 had already suffered many incidents prior to that fateful day in May 1994. But Senna’s accident was very different because it happened to a beloved and charismatic legend of the sport who was a 3-time champion, and it was witnessed live on television screens around the world. It also led to a 13-year court case in Italy, which had implications for the Directors and Shareholders of the Williams Formula One team for which Senna had driven.
This could have indeed been the end of F1 as we know it. But F1 recovered, made a complete turnaround, and made sure that Ayrton Senna’s legacy was also about improving safety in F1, in addition to his famed exploits on the race track. Similarly, any other industry can successfully turn things around after a tragedy if industry peers work together, and lessons are learned and applied.
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