Part one mused about numbers across a variety of domains while I'm now going to the grand spreadsheet of disappointment for the season. Namely all ten teams passing the FIA financial audit for 2022.
Your Pitpass Wordsmith has a long and joyful friendship with Microsoft Excel, and all the wonders hidden within. I first cut my teeth with VisiCalc, created for the Apple II way back in 1979. There was a brief courtship with Lotus 123, but since then it has been monogamy with Excel for many joyful years. Whisper it... but I run MS Office on my Mac hardware and love it. Pages and numbers are for emergency use only...
Readers of a certain vintage might recall when Microsoft Word was battling Word Perfect, and Excel was battling Lotus 1-2-3. Heady days indeed! The cheeky code-monkeys of the day used to hide "Easter Eggs" within the programs. By entering secret key strokes one could activate animations, the Word Perfect little men on screen would beat up Word, while one could activate a basic flight simulator within Excel. Such classic joys before it all became about world domination and share prices.
Goodness! My thanks for indulging a technology ramble. Back to the FIA Audit disappointment! After last year's excitement of both procedural breaches (Aston and Williams) and an actual minor breach of cash dollars by Red Bull... well this season's result has left me and the Southern Pitpass cats rather dejected. All ten passed with flying colours? No flashing red warning lights and screaming sirens as when Ripley flees the Alien, cat safely in hand? No dawn raids by armed squads in jet black body armour? Not even a "Please explain!" email from the FIA to the team CFO's?
Nope. It would appear that the simply genius Abacus pushers within the teams are that much smarter than the FIA auditors and simply proved that three, seven, zero, and twenty-five beans all make five. It is, as I and the Southern Pitpass cats both feared and predicted. The teams have once more outsmarted the gamekeepers, and are whistling away into the night, pheasants safely concealed within long voluminous coats, glowing with an aura of Nothing to see here.
A nine month wait for ten clean bills of health! Both numbers boring in this context. Measurement impacts behaviour! It is a rallying cry from Quantum Physics. One can know the energy level or the exact position of a subatomic particle, but one cannot know both at the same time. Energy level to 99 decimal places? Good luck finding it. Exact position to half the thickness of an angel's nostril hair? Good luck knowing how bouncing with energy it is. The act of measurement impacts the behaviour.
Scale that up to humans, and an expanded truth is revealed. Anything we care to measure about one another can have the most unexpected impact on behaviours. Certain motorways in Europe used to make travellers take a time stamped entry ticket which had to be presented at a toll booth on exit. A charge per Km was then applied, and the time stamp was checked to ensure you had not covered the distance too quickly. Yet motorbike riders would endlessly fly past at speeds suitable for the take-off run of small jets. How so? One soon learned. Arrive at one's selected exit gate, and just before it one would see many motorbike riders lounging on the grass, sipping water bottles, smoking and chatting, while occasionally glancing at their watches. Then, the necessary time having elapsed, they would jump back on their bikes and glide to the toll booth to pay their exit toll literally not a moment too soon. Measurement impacts behaviour...
I have previously mused in the articles "Numbers in my Magic Square", and "Cash on Delivery". In each I pondered the manner in which the teams might work to comply with the measurement framework the FIA was enforcing for matters financial. I pondered on the "useful leakage" from R&D projects outside the actual team. Well folks. We can report that if the teams are doing this, they have performed it in such a manner that the FIA has not spotted it as "breaking the rules".
How so? I hear you cry. We had a test year. First calibration. We had the first year. Second calibration and some minor breaches. We now have our third year. And All Is Well. Or is it?
The teams have calibrated the FIA audit team far more so than the FIA have calibrated the teams. The FIA audit team was initially massively understaffed and is now only modestly understaffed. Some light amusement can be found here, as the FIA believe the situation is the other way around. Such is the genius within the teams.
Consider professional fouls in football, or if you care to remember it, Maradona's "Hand of God" goal.
Referees make errors. They only see so much. Professional footballers know this and will push their luck, and indeed make "professional fouls" to slow the other side at critical moments, safe in the knowledge that either the referee will not see it, or if they are witnessed that a simple warning, or possible yellow card, will be all that results, and life goes on.
The teams have calibrated the FIA and know the level of "Professional Foul" that they can commit and not get a red card. Your scribe was being a wild optimist to think this would be the UFC of finances this year. No octagon for us dear reader. It is quiet ledgers sweetly humming "Silent Night" as all the excel spreadsheets fall into a contented slumber. They are only numbers, and they need their afternoon nap! They are only numbers dear FIA, and they all add up, trust us...
Christian Horner recently spoke about his journey in F1 resulting in him now being one of the longer-serving Team Principals. He talked of moving from a single building, and a few hundred people, to over 1,800 staff spread across many buildings.
OK... back to the numbers. At a $150m budget cap, with 1,800 staff... that's only $83,333 per staff member per year. Now given F1 average salaries are above that, and one needs all those pesky computers, and all the carbon fibre battle armour for the cars, which the dear drivers turn into black confetti on a regular basis... well... the maths simply does not add up.
We have operational costs, being buildings, heating, electricity, internet, computers, software licenses, professional insurances, security guards, gardeners, coffee machines, fridges and so on. You know all those things that let a business exist. Then you have raw material inventory costs. All the bits you can stub your toe on. Then you have salaries. Then travel. Then marketing. Then consumables. Then let's not forget how much each team spends on CFD and simulators now we are "saving money" by not having test days.
Seriously. The top teams know they can learn as much on their home computers, so they don't really need to fly to the cheaper parts of Europe for test days that take them away from family and their latest baby super computer... No wonder Christian laughed about the new Pirelli tyre deal being about money! We've not even bothered covering R&D, prototyping, sub-system integration costs and engines. Why the list goes on, and on, and, well, on...
Dear reader. When the top teams are announcing sponsorship deals for amounts which exceed the cost cap value, how on earth do the numbers add up!?
Yet, ignoring material costs, Christian is successfully running a 1,800 person business for $150 million a year. If ever there was a moment at which either the Infinite Improbability Drive or Bistro-matics could be proven to exist it is now. How else to explain the numbers simply do not add-up on a Cab-Sav infused napkin, let alone MS Excel on a Mac Book Pro.
The answers dear reader are to be found in measurement impacting behaviour. The subatomic participles otherwise known as F1 team members have adjusted their orbits, habits and location beacons such that the FIA see what they are supposed to see. The Schrodinger cat is alive and well, or as dead as Marley's Ghost, both at the same time during the same lunch hour, in the same Japanese Sushi restaurant.
If ever there were layers of story within story, I'm thinking Inception here, it is the multiple realities hidden within the team's spreadsheets that are tales of wonder. Close your eyes and imagine the FIA auditors on that Parisian street as the buildings fold around them and the way in is the way out is the way in... And all of a sudden all the numbers align, and there simply is no breach of the cost cap.
I would point the FIA auditors at the Book of Revelation, and highlight the terror of the Number of the Beast. But I do not want to scare the dear lambs. For they have already been slaughtered on the altar of MS Excel, yet they do not know it.
So relax FIA lambs, they are only numbers, and you like the story that you believe they tell. Just ask the teams. They will assure you that you can count on it...
Editor's Note: Absolutely nothing should be read into the choice of pictures accompanying this article... honest!
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here