Excel Spreadsheet - A Joke?
Written by Janet Swift   
Monday, 01 April 2024

No this isn't an April Fool's although in places it seems like one. It's a true account of how Williams Racing has suffered through reliance on an overgrown and outdated Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, listing around 20,000 components and parts.

The idea that a simple Excel spreadsheet could be used for tracking inventory in place of a much more complex relational database is one that I've promoted myself over the years - but even I would draw the line at using one to build a Formula One racing car with thousands of discrete parts. Putting one formula into Excel good, putting a Formula One into Excel bad.

This video from The Race (www.the-race.com) tells how for the 2024 season James Vowles, who joined Williams Racing in January 2023 as Team Principal, the head of the entire organization and chief technical officer Pat Fry have tried to get the team to adopt the modern standards required for success on the circuit:

The video explains that, even up to the preparation for the 2024 season, car builds at Williams were handled using Excel, a situation summed up by Vowles with:

"The Excel list was a joke. Impossible to navigate and impossible to update".  

He explains:

"When you start tracking now hundreds of 1000s of components through your organisation moving around, an Excel spreadsheet is useless.

“You need to know where each one of those independent components are, how long it will take before it's complete, how long it will take before it goes to inspection. If there's been any problems with inspections, whether it has to go back again".

“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."

While the video has plenty to appeal to Formula 1 aficionados, its message to any organization that adopted Excel when it burst upon the scene in the late 80s and effectively ousted both SuperCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 within a matter of a few years, is that it may no longer be fit for purpose. 

According to Vowles the inventory spreadsheet used the original version of Excel, "purchased by a P Windsor in 1989" something that Peter Windsor, who worked for Williams Racing between 1985 and 1988 before taking on the role of Team Manager in 1991, confirmed could well be close to the truth. Before anyone points out that the first Windows version of the spreadsheet, Excel 2.0 which was bundled  in Microsoft office, didn't launch until 1990, Williams was using the Mac version which was already available. Like many spreadsheets it is likely to have been updated with each successive version of the software but never properly overhauled to take advantage of their full power. No wonder it was holding Williams Racing back! 

F1 Excel

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Last Updated ( Monday, 01 April 2024 )