Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director and CTO, Envision Virgin Racing
Being the first to cross the line is the ultimate goal of any motorsport team, but for Sylvain Filippi, General Manager and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the Envision Virgin Racing team, being competitive on the track isn’t than part of a much bigger competition.
“If we were part of a racing team 50 years ago then it would all be race and win – and that would be it. We still have that goal, but it goes way beyond that – we want to win in the right way, ”he says.
Envision Virgin Racing is one of the main teams in Formula E, a single-seater motorsport championship that uses only electric cars. For Filippi, winning the right way is about using data and technology to help prove the benefits of electric vehicles. “I’m basically a big fan and a big promoter of electric car technology,” he says.
“I’m convinced this is the way to go, but I’m not a big fan of forcing people to do it. I want it to be exciting, and Formula E is the place to do it. We get to develop some amazing technology that really shifts the goalposts in terms of what electric cars can do. “
Filippi says that these advancements take place through sport in two key ways. “It’s a lab for electric car technology – and for the geek in me, it’s a lot of fun. Second, it’s a huge marketing platform. How to make electric cars exciting? Well, the race is the obvious starting point. So we can do both in the same sport, which is pretty cool, ”he enthuses.
Combine technology and business
After starting his career at DaimlerChrysler, Filippi spent a few years in consulting where he explored the potential of electric vehicles. He joined Envision Virgin Racing as one of the team’s founders as CTO in January 2014.
“We started the business and then we ran six months later to Beijing,” he says. “Formula E is fantastic and I feel very lucky to be a part of it. It’s not every day that you become part of a whole new sport, especially with such a big goal. “
He added the role of Managing Director to his portfolio in June 2018. Shifting from technology to a senior sales role is a rare move. However, Filippi says the mix of technical knowledge and business know-how works well in motorsport, especially in Formula E.
“In an extremely competitive championship, data helps me understand all aspects of technology as well as running the business. Both sides are just as fun, although the race can be a bit more stressful, but that’s part of it.
Sylvain Filippi, Envision Virgin Racing
“Understanding the technical side of things helps because it helps us make sure we’re always going in the right direction,” he says. “I have an extremely smart and talented group of engineers and I won’t pretend to understand everything they do, but it helps to understand most of what they do.”
Filippi leads a 40-person racing team which he describes as very focused and very efficient. Having a hand in business and tech camps helps him oversee a fast and demanding operation.
“In an extremely competitive championship, data helps me understand all aspects of technology as well as running the business. Both sides are just as fun, although the race can be a bit more stressful, but that’s part of it, ”he says.
Use software to increase performance
Technology is perhaps more crucial to success in motor racing than in any other sport. But when it comes to creating breakthroughs, the role of data is even more critical in Formula E than in other forms of motorsport. It’s a feeling that resonates with Filippi.
“Electric cars are 50% hardware and 50% software, but in racing technology makes a huge difference,” he says. “In my team I have the usual setup of race engineers, performance engineers, systems engineers – the guys who take care of the race car and make it reliable and fast – but I I also have a whole team of software engineers who normally wouldn’t exist in a team our size.
This emphasis on software means that there are big differences between the development of cars in Formula E and other forms of motorsport. The hardware of the team car is pretty much the same at the end of a season as it was at the start – something that would be unthinkable in Formula 1. On the other hand, the car’s software changes drastically at the start. during the same period.
“We will have made about six software updates to the car and at the end of the season it is significantly faster than it was eight months before, even though it is the exact same car. . Because it’s an electric car, there is so much you can do with software, ”he says.
Filippi gives the example of energy profiles, which cover how the car is powered. “It could be in terms of when and how much of the corner energy is used and so on – it’s super sophisticated, and it’s all software and programming. In terms of technology, Formula E is another level because half the performance comes from there. “
Harnessing data science
To give his team every chance of success, Filippi works with the global professional services company Genpact. Envision Virgin Racing uses Genpact’s data science skills to improve collaboration, generate predictive insights, and enable a more adaptive workforce. It is a solid partnership which, according to Filippi, developed out of necessity.
“I have a great team of people, but I don’t have data scientists – motorsport has never worked that way,” he says. “We generate a gigantic amount of data in each session, but we don’t have time to analyze everything, so we need to start thinking about what artificial intelligence and machine learning can do for us in terms of analysis and collection of a gigantic amount of data in a short time.
Filippi says Genpact provides the data science expertise to help Envision Virgin Racing harness this information. The partnership started two years ago and Genpact is now helping the team think about how advanced technology could create a competitive advantage in various fields.
One of them is the performance of the cars, like the energy profiles that Filippi mentioned earlier. Genpact is also helping the team refine their racing strategy. Formula E includes a range of race day elements, such as Attack Mode, which allows teams to temporarily boost the power of a Formula E car. Using that boost at the right time can have serious consequences. implications that change the race.
“We have to be able to do a lot of things at the same time,” he says. “So any help we can get from models or anything that we can automate is helping us make the right decisions. You can make quick decisions, but making the right decision quickly is very difficult. Genpact helps us be more reliable and make fewer mistakes than our competitors.
Stay productive at all times
In a story that will be familiar to other business leaders, Filippi says the past year presented a series of challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. Formula E took a five-month hiatus from March of last year until the season resumes in August. A new season kicked off in January 2021. Despite the unusual sporting schedule, Filippi says the team’s management has been less complicated than expected, thanks to technology.
“We had never worked at home before – we have a factory and we’re pretty old school in that sense. But because we have very good IT equipment and because we are very used to working with remote data, our transition went very smoothly and there was no disruption when we started working from home. », He explains.
This change in work processes remained in effect until 2021. Engineers continue to work on data models, while marketing and sales teams focus on campaigns. What will be important in the longer term, says Filippi, is the legacy that Covid-19 leaves behind in terms of process.
“We have learned to get the best of both worlds. There are many situations where you need to work collaboratively and be together in an office or factory, but there are other circumstances where you can be more productive at home. So finding the balance, depending on the business, will be key, ”he says.
Sylvain Filippi, Envision Virgin Racing
“But there will be a slight change in the way we operate, which I think will be for the better. Our productivity was already quite high, but it could even be a little better in the future because we will be able to use all these tools that we have now. Two years ago, video calls weren’t working half the time. This progress in itself has been huge, so there has been some positive progress. “
Stay in front
Reflecting on his accomplishments at Envision Virgin Racing, Filippi suggests that his team and partners have succeeded in creating one of Formula E’s most successful operations. The goal now is to continue to be successful as it validates the pioneering work of the team.
“Our job is to make electric cars really cool and make people want to drive electric cars. It’s about making sure that we continue to develop super exciting technology and deliver fantastic marketing campaigns that keep people coming back for more. If we do all of this really well, then we can help develop a great feeling for electric cars – and that’s what we need to do, ”he says.
“At the end of the day, it will be very difficult to quantify how many more electric cars we have managed to put on the road by what we do, but nothing we do hurts – it goes in the right direction. direction. That’s what makes me very excited to wake up in the morning – this job is a lot of fun.