Formula 1 chief appalled to find team using Excel to manage 20,000 car parts


There’s a new boss at a storied 47-year-old Formula 1 team, and he’s eager to shake things up. He’s been saying that the team is far behind its competition in technology and coordination. And Excel is a big part of it.

Starting in early 2023, Williams team principal James Vowles and chief technical officer Pat Fry started reworking the F1 team’s systems for designing and building its car. It would be painful, but the pain would keep the team from falling even further behind. As they started figuring out new processes and systems, they encountered what they considered a core issue: Microsoft Excel.

The Williams car build workbook, with roughly 20,000 individual parts, was “a joke,” Vowles recently told The Race. “Impossible to navigate and impossible to update.” This colossal Excel file lacked information on how much each of those parts cost and the time it took to produce them, along with whether the parts were already on order. Prioritizing one car section over another, from manufacture through inspection, was impossible, Vowles suggested.

“When you start tracking now hundreds of thousands of components through your organization moving around, an Excel spreadsheet is useless,” Vowles told The Race. Because of the multiple states each part could be in—ordered, backordered, inspected, returned—humans are often left to work out the details. “And once you start putting that level of complexity in, which is where modern Formula 1 is, the Excel spreadsheet falls over, and humans fall over. And that’s exactly where we are.”

The consequences of this row/column chaos, and the resulting hiccups, were many. Williams missed early pre-season testing in 2019. Workers sometimes had to physically search the team’s factory for parts. The wrong parts got priority, other parts came late, and some piled up. And yet transitioning to a modern tracking system was “viciously expensive,” Fry told The Race, and making up for the painful process required “humans pushing themselves to the absolute limits and breaking.”

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