Racing into a New World of Work

Auto racing can be seen as the perfect metaphor for the world we find ourselves in now. When it comes to work, we’ve had to move at breakneck speed to figure out a whole new way of doing things. In the season 2 premiere of Remote Works, host Melanie Green speaks with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing drivers Max Verstappen and Alex Albon about how the pandemic taught them to adapt and work differently. Christian Horner, Team Principal, shares insight into how he kept his team close when half of them are suddenly forced to work remotely.

PODCAST | 25m
October 21, 2020

Executive summary

  • How people, companies, and entire industries are settling into remote work
  • What teams and individuals really need to succeed in their jobs, from technology to digital wellness
  • Insight on how keep the teams close and collaborating while working remotely

Featured voices

Christian Horner, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team Principal

Max Verstappen, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Driver

Alex Albon, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Driver

Melanie Green (Host):
You want to know what fast is? Listen to this:

SFX - jet airplane taking off

Melanie Green (Host):
Don't you love that adrenalin rush on the runway? You're hitting up to 180 miles per hour when you take off. You want to know what's faster?

SFX - roar of F1 race car passing by

Melanie Green (Host):
That's a Formula 1 race car. They routinely hit 200 miles per hour. Faster than a jet on the runway. That’s fast. You want to know what else was fast? How quickly the world of racing pivoted to remote work when the pandemic hit.

Christian Horner:
It's been a tough year, but you know, our focus has been protecting the team and making sure that we're in the best position when the world got going again. The team's done a phenomenal job and, uh, you know, we've used the technology. We've worked closely with our partners and that's enabled us to, to be effective and efficient and get ourselves into a competitive position.

Melanie Green (Host):
That’s Christian Horner, Team Principal of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. Christian has kept his team on track and up to speed during this pandemic. Later in the episode, he’ll tell us how they were able to adapt, innovate, and stay in front of the pack. I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. This season, we’re looking at how the world of work continues to evolve. Whether it’s technology that enables you or work culture that empowers you, we’re in another kind of race now; the race to understand how to work remotely and how to make it sustainable. The race is exactly where we’re starting.

SFX - race car revving

Melanie Green (Host):
That’s the sound of speed. Formula 1 racing to be exact - one of the most adrenaline-pumping and technically complicated sports out there. It’s an incredibly complex network. Formula 1 teams had to change the way they operate, and fast. Their season got off to a late start in July, four months after it was postponed because of the pandemic. Thanks to technology that allows collaboration between trackside road warriors and engineers at the factory, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing hardly missed a beat.

SFX - interview set-up

Simon Froehlich:
Voice recorder is ready, right?

Tech staff:
Yeah. Well, voice recording is good to go. We're ready when you are.

Melanie Green (Host):
I caught up with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing drivers Max Verstappen and Alex Albon.

Simon Froehlich:
So guys. Yeah, thanks for joining. We have a colleague from Citrix podcast with us. You can call her Mel I think. Exactly. Mel G is dialing in from the U.S. It's quite dark there. You can see it is still early there.

Melanie Green (Host):
They were in Monza, Italy preparing for their upcoming race weekend.

Melanie Green (Host):
Max I'm so curious about simulator racing. How have you been using it this year?

Max Verstappen:
Too much. I did so much in the beginning. Of course, when I got back home after cause uh, that we knew it was going to be canceled in Australia. And then of course a long wait. So yeah, I got really into it. I even like already in the winter, I qualified for an event, like a championship.

Melanie Green (Host):
Okay, so you’re probably wondering ‘what’s a simulator?’ A Formula 1 simulator is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. This equipment that simulates driving in a race is designed to be as close to the real world experience as possible for the driver. I have my own set of tools to help me to work better and stay connected as I record a podcast remotely at home. I moved my studio into my closet for decent sound quality. I got myself a great microphone. The tools Formula One drivers need to recreate their work experience are a little more - specialized. The simulators helped them to compete virtually during the pandemic - to have a little fun and to prepare for when the actual Formula 1 races resumed.

Max Verstappen:
You know, you get to really see how competitive you are against them because before like one race, people would invest 50 hours of practice. 50 hours, which is pretty insane. I probably did like 30 in a week, 30 hours in a week to get ready for that race. And, um, yeah, it's pretty demanding, I have to say. Because at the end of the day, you did 30 hours to maybe gain not even a 10th. It's like hundredths because it's so close where I remember I qualified like P10 or something or P11, but if I would go two hundredths slower, I would be like, P30. So yeah, it was insane how close it was. But it was good because in a way it just kept me on my toes. Of course slowly we were getting back into getting ready. And then, yeah, you can't invest that much time anymore in the simulator. And I was literally waking up and then I would go in the simulator and I would spend like six, seven hours or something on a day sometimes to be competitive because I hate losing.

Melanie Green (Host):
That drive to win is so strong for Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. It’s in every fibre of their being. When they made the move to remote work, they needed to pause and refocus that drive to win. As Alex points out - it wasn’t easy.

Alex Albon:
The only thing I would think about was just having that whole thing come to a slowdown where you're so used to that F1 circus, always on the road, always doing something. And then suddenly you have all this time away. You kind of feel like, yeah, there's a lot to think about. But there wasn't really a different approach to it. It just felt like an extended winter break. And yeah, it was just, the itch was getting more and more, I would say on the road, you would start to drive a little bit faster. It was just kind of a ticking time, really. Where you wake up. Just train, have some lunch, train, go to bed. That was very boring.

Melanie Green (Host):
So what do you do when you’re Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver Alex Albon, missing the fans and the thrill of competition, but you still need to satisfy your drive to win? You use the tools you have to continue competing and get better.

Alex Albon:
I'm doing a bit of Sim as well with Max. We never raced together, but we were doing similar games and yeah, just having some fun. I started to do some live streaming as well, just to see how it went. I definitely wouldn't call myself a virtual gamer but it was fun. Yeah. On Twitch - I must have, by the end of the shutdown, I must have had like, 60,000 followers. So it wasn't, it wasn't like a little bit, but it was fun. It was good.

Melanie Green (Host):
I think Max is right. You're an official streamer.

Alex Albon:
I got verified on the first day, but that's only because there's a few of us, there's a few different drivers doing it together and we would jump on the same race. What was really fun, which I would never have been able to do, was just being involved and partnered with a (inaudible) people. So I got to race with some huge footballers such as Sergio Guerra, and, Steve (inaudible) kind of these big names. I got to through Red Bull have a teammate called Kailani who's like a world champion surf boarder. And even then I was racing against Valentino Rossi who is one of the biggest moto GP stars in the world.

Melanie Green (Host):
So the racing simulators had another unexpected benefit; they brought people together in surprising ways. They connected people from around the world who wouldn’t otherwise have met. This could be seen as a metaphor for remote work. It’s a bridge that connects people.

Melanie Green (Host):
Curious what stands out to you most, when you look back on 2020. The season, I should say, I should be specific. This season.

Max Verstappen:
No fans, to be honest. Yeah. It's very different, the atmosphere around, uh, around the track. Yeah. I mean, some tracks more than others.

Melanie Green (Host):
Alex, do you agree?

Alex Albon:
Yeah, I think it's the same thing because apart from the fans, really speaking, everything feels quite normal. Everything has become normal, but still with the fans, it still feels a bit strange because I think that's really what makes Formula 1 live. That is one of the fastest tracks that we go to, and you just see red, you're driving and it's just a red blur because everyone's wearing a Ferarri top. Whereas now you just see stainless steel seats, which is the yeah, different feeling. Plus, I mean, truthfully, I've got quite used to it. I, I don't mind it. you just have to accept it, isn’t it.

Max Verstappen:
Yeah.

Melanie Green (Host):
The changes have been huge over all aspects of Formula 1 racing, including for people like me, who interview the drivers. It used to be that the media would all crowd into a room and throw out questions. It was chaotic. Now it’s one-on-one.

Alex Albon and Max Verstappen:
Yeah, media is a lot different as well. I'd say with, uh, with zoom or let's say with all these press conferences and things like that. I actually quite like it. I prefer it.

Melanie Green (Host):
Me too, but why?

Alex Albon and Max Verstappen:
It’s just more chill. I mean, you can just, uh, yeah. Yeah. I dunno. It's better to have it as one to one. And they're sitting out in front of you, it's quite stiff with them.

Alex Albon:
And also the way it does it in Formula 1 is - people chuck recorders in front of you and then you have about 20 people asking a question. But they all just want to ask one question and it will always be one of the outrageous questions. Whereas at least with the new era, let's say, it's more personal. You know, you can have a chat, a very genuine chat before you start the interview and the questions.

Melanie Green (Host):
So many people have had to reimagine how they work. Reporters can no longer stand close to a celebrity or star athlete to get a sound byte. It’s more focused. Connected. Genuine. Another way tech can build bridges.

Melanie Green (Host):
You’re listening to Remote Works. To celebrate the launch of season 2, we’re giving you the chance to win some nice racing swag. Tweet this episode and your favorite part before October 28th using the hashtag CitrixRemoteWorks, and you could be the proud owner of some new Aston Martin Red Bull Racing gear. More information at citrix dot com slash blog. Let’s face it. Racing is pretty exciting, so I was thrilled to talk to Christian Horner. He has been the Team Principal of the massive Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team since 2005.

Melanie Green (Host):
Forgive me for being crammed in a closet. It is for audio sound. So it's a little bit of a weird setup.
Christian Horner:
Well I've never done this before.

Melanie Green (Host):
Ah, your first podcast.

Christian Horner:
Well, no, spoken to somebody in the closet.

Melanie Green (Host):
2020 has been pretty wild. And what are your or Aston Martin Red Bull Racing's highlights? And I'm also curious about the most challenging moments of this season.

Christian Horner:
It's obviously been a weird year with the whole COVID situation. I mean, it's been a tough year, but our focus has been protecting the team and making sure that we're in the best position when the world got going again. The team's done a phenomenal job and, uh, you know, we've used the technology. We've worked closely with our partners and that's enabled us to, to be effective and efficient and get ourselves into a competitive position.

Melanie Green (Host):
What did have to change? You mentioned tech. Is there anything else?

Christian Horner:
Yeah, we had to move quickly because it wasn't just about getting racing for this year. And so we're going to a lot of tracks we haven't been to before. And had to put a lot of procedures in place to make sure that the movement of personnel around Europe was safe and that everybody was protected and tested and existing in bubbles and so on. But then of course, we had to look at the future, you know, next year and beyond, so new regulations were delayed until 2022. The cars were effectively frozen from this year into next. So, um, you know, that was all focused on cost and cost reduction and saving. I think the whole Formula 1 community did a great job in coming together and getting that job done.

Melanie Green (Host):
During the pandemic, the number of people who normally travel with the team had to be cut in half, from the usual 120 to only 60.

Christian Horner:
Obviously, we don't have any marketing because we don't have any guests. So that's just the bare minimum of people that's involved to run the car and that's how we've been operating.

Melanie Green (Host):
Just out of curiosity, who, who is involved to run the car?

Christian Horner:
Well, that's the technicians, the engineers, the drivers. It's the crew that are required. And that's where, you know, for example, our operations room back here in the UK, where we, you know, use Citrix software to help process our data works so well for us because we're able to have the rest of the team engaged in the race weekend, albeit remotely and based back here in the factory. They're still part of the debrief. They're still part of looking at the data and translating that data. And so that's where, as I say, our technology partnerships have worked really well for us.

Melanie Green (Host):
It’s worth taking a step back for a moment just to fully understand how complex Formula 1 racing has become. You have a team of literally hundreds working to support the driver and the cars. It’s advanced so far from how it began.

David Tremayne:
Back then it was, it was all very crude because the pits were rudimentary buildings. They weren't particularly elegant. And sometimes, most of the time, the teams would operate with an awning on the side of their truck, out in a field, out the back of the pits if it rained or if it was sunny. You know, the weather could be extreme.

Melanie Green (Host):
That’s journalist and author David Tremayne. He’s been covering Formula One racing for years.

David Tremayne
It's come a hell of a long way in 70 years. The spirit's the same. But everything is done to the nth degree now. You search for advantages in everything, not just the shape of the car, the layout, the aerodynamics of it, but the engine, the gear box, the suspension, the energy recovery systems, everything is refined to the nth degree. And you have people who specialize in those specific areas, working on the car during the weekend. And you have links electronically with the factory where they run simulations, to check out what you learned during practice, to see how you can improve the car overnight. So even though they might have 50 or 60 people on hand at a race, they've got access to another 2, 300 back at the factory, the top teams.

Melanie Green (Host):
So half the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team worked remotely with cutting edge technology. But I wanted to ask Christian Horner what it was like to lead a team that complex, and how you keep them all connected.

Christian Horner:
My role is very much an interactive role and interacting with people and managing people and, and getting the best out of people. Then of course, when you're doing that through an iPad or a laptop, it's slightly different, but we have managed to get most of the workforce back in now and, and spaced out with fortunately, we’ve got a big campus, a big technology campus here in the UK. What's shone through in all of this, this is the desire from the team to be competitive, to keep using the tools and when we were working remotely which we've always limited in the past because of our IP being so protected, um, only six or seven people have had access from, you know, remotely into our servers. And overnight we went to close to 400. But I think just the way the whole team has responded has been fantastic. And of course it has been a bit different. It's been different not being able to interact face to face. But you know, by using the technology I've managed to keep communicating with the team. I managed to do town hall meetings during the shutdown, keeping them informed of the regulation changes, the challenges that we face as a, as a group. And that also has enabled me to still maintain that contact with all areas of the business,

Melanie Green (Host):
All from home, right?

Christian Horner:
Exactly.

Melanie Green (Host):
Do you think there'll be long term effects beyond this season?

Christian Horner:
I think that it's inevitable, it's going to take a while for things to get back to, totally to normal. But we're making use of technology in ways that we hadn't previously. So that's been an exciting discovery through all of this. I mean, look how connected we all are through, you know, different zoom calls and Teams meetings, and the software that allows this to happen. But inevitably it's going to take a while for things to get back to normal. I mean, we're racing without crowds that they will be slowly reintroduced from, you know, the next couple of races.

Melanie Green (Host):
Specific to the drivers, could you describe or almost like take me there to what goes into supporting them in a normal year as opposed to now?

Christian Horner:
Well in a normal year, I mean, obviously they are athletes. They have to be fit. They've got to be athletic. They've gotta be sharp. They have to understand what's going on with the car. They've got to be able to deal with pressure. You know, different characters need different supports. Some need pushing, some need an arm around the shoulder. We do a huge amount of analysis in terms of how the car is performing, but how they're performing as well. We measure all their vital signs in the car, you know, seeing how they're coping with being in that stressful environment and at those big high pressure moments. And of course, we're always trying to learn, not just about the car, but about how can we get more out of the driver? How can we get them - you know they're our biggest variable, everything else on the car we can control. The driver is the one thing that we can't control. But I want to have them in top form, every time they get into the car and provide that environment that repeats those types of performance.

Melanie Green (Host):
Has that been harder since, or the same you’d say?

Christian Horner:
I would say it's almost been easier because there isn't the distraction of. media and sponsors and you know, their focus at the race is just on going racing. They can't get distracted in other stuff. So in certain respects it's been easier, but it's been more intense. And the competition is just as harsh as it always has been.

Melanie Green (Host):
Christian Horner knows that when it comes to staying in the lead -- it’s not necessarily all gas, no brake. As the team principal of the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team, he made sure his team stayed out in front in the new remote work world. A lot of their success is due to their unbeatable tech, but that’s only part of it. Leaders like Christian Horner may push hard but they are also mindful of what everyone on the team needs to thrive and succeed. Racing journalist David Tremayne says that the real winning teams are those who recognize and value their most important asset.

David Tremayne:
So it's about how you manage people, how you empower people and about how you communicate with them. And there has to be a touch of magic in how you do it. Because if it was super easy then all the teams would be doing the same thing, but some of those guys are - they have that magic art of giving people the space to be themselves and to maximize what they're good at without stepping out of line or treading on someone else's toes or wanting to tread on someone else. So another thing is you have to have this open line of communication where you can criticize each other without it getting personal. And you can understand that when someone is criticizing you, it's because I think if we do something differently, we can go quicker. So it's very interesting that you have to have a certain mindset in the first place. And I call that the racer’s instinct. You know, racers can be ruthless people but at the same time, when you've got a team of them and you watch a team of them at work, it's fascinating. When you see a team that really, really works well, when it looks like a team is running like a super well oiled machine, you can bet that in the background there's been an awful lot of hard work to get it to the point where it works so coherently. And that is what every business, if you can aim to achieve that, where your workforce is harmonious and each trying to help the other to do their job better. To be happy, you need those people to feel comfortable and enabled and empowered to do their job.

Melanie Green (Host):
We’ll be back with more stories that put the human side of work front and center. We’ll hear from the experts and learn best practices from innovative companies in this new world of work. Remote Works is an original podcast by Citrix. Subscribe and come back in two weeks. That’s at citrix dot com slash remote works.
 

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