How BlackBerry is helping drive Mercedes to F1 success

BlackBerry looks to follow in F1 champions’ slipstream

28 OCT 2014

NEW BLOG: In 2014 the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team finally unleashed the potential it had shown in the past, securing the sport’s constructors’ championship.

Having designed the class of the F1 field with its W05 Hybrid, the team is now focused on giving its drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the best possible tools with which to battle it out for the drivers’ world championship with three races remaining.

Good communications and secure transmission of data between factory and track are critical in helping the team’s efforts to improve car performance and reliability, and has informed the team’s choice of technology.

BlackBerry’s security credentials was one of the factors behind its partnership with Mercedes, which was established in 2010. But BlackBerry, of course, has had its fair share of ups and downs over this period.

Speaking at a media event held at the Mercedes F1 factory in Brackley (UK) last week, BlackBerry’s regional managing director for Europe pointed out that when the company first started its sponsorship commitment with Mercedes the team was yet to achieve the levels of success it has seen in 2014.

And with BlackBerry currently attempting to turn its business around after a difficult few years, Markus Mueller drew a parallel with the team by saying that the Canadian tech vendor is “shooting” for a similar level of success in the future.

Mercedes AMG Petronas 20 BB

Mercedes uses the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10 platform to securely manage mobile devices and data across the organisation. More than 200 BlackBerry devices are in use throughout the team, with BES also being used to manage iOS devices, including iPads.

“Android is inherently not as secure”

Showing the importance of security, the IT department is looking to reduce the use of Android devices, due to the OS being “inherently not as secure” as other mobile operating systems, according to Mercedes’ IT director Matt Harris.

The team’s commercial director Toto Wolff also stressed the importance of security, particularly when most decisions during a race weekend are agreed over the phone and within the confines of the Grand Prix paddock where competitors, suppliers and media are in close proximity.

“I think we’ve got more and more transparent [but] if you don’t build in some barriers, who knows what information about you is out there,” Wolff said.

Mercedes AMG Petronas 15 BB

Transparency is needed between teams following the scandal several years ago in which members of two teams exchanged confidential car design information. Ensuring that only the correct data is accessed by the team is therefore key.

If, for example, a supplier which works with another team sends an email meant for a rival outfit, BES allows Mercedes to delete the email across all devices. The team will then inform the relevant rival that it inadvertently received information intended for them, to avoid any questions of legality.

Other security restrictions enabled by BES is stopping the ability for users to copy and paste data between work and personal profiles on their devices. The only exceptions to this are the team’s social media staff, who often need to move text and images between profiles.

In terms of data, IT director Harris said it can only be stored in two places: at the factory or the “mini back office” set up at track. The company doesn’t store data in the cloud due to the (albeit unlikely) possibility that network issues would prevent it from being accessed, potentially damaging a race weekend.

“We have to make sure the data we have is secure,” Harris explained.

Mercedes AMG Petronas 5 Passport

In a nod to BlackBerry’s initial success as a secure device for the enterprise, Toto Wolff said he regards his BlackBerry as a business tool, which “enables me to have my office with me wherever I am”.

Wolff spends around 1,000 hours travelling each year in order to fulfil his commitments at races and with the team’s sponsors. “What we’re doing is very much linked to travelling. Rarely do I spend more than two days in the same place,” he noted.

His mobile device is therefore an essential tool for keeping informed about developments within the organisation: “What you’ve seen on the racetrack is the tip of the iceberg. What we’re trying to do is to bring the track back to the factory.”

Wolff said the BlackBerry Passport he recently started to use is a good tool for working with spreadsheets and has effectively replaced his MacBook for this kind of work.

He claims the device is also preferable for emails as its keyboard means he is less prone to typos — something that is important when corresponding with the team’s corporate headquarters in Germany and with commercial partners.

Mercedes’ Harris added that the use of BBM chats and groups ensure that team members know when a message has been read, helping to boost productivity by allowing them to move onto the next task quickly, something that is key when changes to car parts need to take place in short spaces of time.

Wolff highlighted the value of this by pointing out that if an individual staff member does their job better than their opposite number at a rival team a crucial advantage can be gained on the track.

Mercedes AMG Petronas 2 Russia

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Tim Ferguson

Tim joined Mobile World Live in August 2011 and works across all channels, with a particular focus on apps. He came to the GSMA with five years of tech journalism experience, having started his career as a reporter... More

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