Soccer team in a huddle

Kicking the Tires at McLaren

October 30, 2014 by Paul Bauer, Nic Jungkind 0

Oliver Bierhoff got a glimpse of how McLaren is using Big Data to stay competitive in Formula 1 racing.

Two World Champions, one on the track and the other on the pitch, recently came together to compare notes on how Big Data can deliver the decisive difference in their respective sports. At the McLaren Technology Center in Woking, England, Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the German National Football Team, learned how the 12-time Formula One champion is pursuing “the perfect lap” by analyzing live racing data from its cars.

But what does Formula One racing have in common with football? Well, both Formula One and football require a team effort to win. “If I compare it a little bit to the national team, which is a much smaller group than the McLaren Group – about 30 people – you can feel that everybody is working for a goal,” said Bierhoff, who is one of SAP’s most visible sports ambassadors.

The teams also share an ‘unfair advantage’: data support from partner SAP, who works with both McLaren and the German national squad to allow each team’s decision-makers to be as well-informed as possible about key aspects of performance and operations.

“Being at McLaren gave a great insight into how this very data-based sports business operates and there’s always a great deal to be learned from other organizations’ working methods,” said Bierhoff. “It is incredible how much data they have to work with.”

Unlike in Formula 1, however, football analysts are unable to use data during ‘game play’ to monitor performance. F1 teams make continual fine adjustments to their race strategies in accordance with live data being received from their cars, but in football, learning from data can only be applied pre- and post-match.

Despite that limitation, data analysis is still an immensely valuable tool in football, reckons Bierhoff: Before the game we use it to give feedback to the players: how they practice, their heart rate, or, for example, how far they’ve run in training. “Then post-match we use data to try to understand why the game went in a certain way. It also helps us in the evaluation of certain players.”

In much the same way, then, that McLaren can use data tools to explore fine facets of driver and car performance, so, too, can the German National Team team dissect individual players. Bierhoff looks forward to a time when Big Data can deliver the criteria for a great defender or a great striker.

“One thing I’ve learned from McLaren,” he adds, “is that milliseconds count. I think in football there is still room to become more obsessed with detail.” As the team to beat in the next World Cup, the German National Team manager said he wants to be the first to be the first to use Big Data in his athletic discipline.

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