How Sanofi boss Paul Howard is inspired by Formula 1


What started out as a chance encounter at Davos a few years back turned out to be the start of a highly profitable venture for Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi.  

The French drugmaker struck a partnership with McLaren Racing in April 2022 with the aim of running Sanofi’s manufacturing lines using the same speed, precision, and efficiency of a Formula 1 team. The British motorsports icon set a new world record last month for the fastest pit stop ever.

Speaking at the Fortune Global Forum in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Hudson said he was “inspired” by its partner’s culture of continuous incremental improvement in the pressure-cooker F1 environment. 

“We took our senior leaders to McLaren to see and listen to how people operate in a time-sensitive environment to make critical decisions dispassionately, and then how they provide each other feedback afterwards,” the Sanofi CEO said. 

“One of the magical things about working with McLaren is how data-driven they are, how they make these critical decisions and how often they make a decision in a split second,” Hudson continued.

McLaren boss Zak Brown said his team uses the collective knowledge scraped from 300 sensors producing 1.5 terabytes of data every racing weekend—the equivalent amount of data to 400 Hollywood films—to inform engineers’ decisions.

These can then run 50 million simulations over that weekend all in an attempt to shave off milliseconds in lap times that can mean the difference between being in the front of the pack or the rear. 

Extreme focus on efficiency

For Sanofi, this mindset has helped boost productivity at 10 of its most important manufacturing sites worldwide by 8%, almost entirely due to McLaren, according to Hudson.

“That is a significant output of medicines leaving our manufacturing lines at the highest possible standards because of the inspired and incredibly impressive work led by McLaren,” he continued. “We have the proof now that it works and it works really well.”

McLaren is the second-oldest active team in Formula 1 racing thanks in part to its extreme focus on efficiency. From design and engineering to testing and racing, each dollar must count when facing off against the works teams from companies like Mercedes and Ferrari.

Now every movement during a race is precisely trained in a high-tech ballet, where pit stop crews need little more than a second to service a vehicle. 

Describing the competitive landscape in Formula 1 racing, McLaren’s Brown said: “If you take the car that won at the first race of the year and didn’t touch it, it would be last by the end of the year.”

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