Adjusting your front wing end plate

August 8, 2020

Adjusting your front wing end plate

I’m a big fan of Formula 1, or F1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with F1, or have only a vague sense that it’s got to do with racing: Formula 1 is the highest class of international single-seater racing.

In more human terms, F1 is a bunch of guys—yes, they’re all guys, for now—racing extremely fast cars around various tracks. And when I say “extremely” fast, I do mean extremely fast: this weekend, Formula 1 is driving on the British Silverstone track, where the cars will routinely surpass 320 km per hour (that’s 200 mph) and subject drivers to g-forces beyond 5 g. You and I would pass out or seriously injure ourselves trying to drive an F1 car.

F1 cars are so fast because they are incredibly, ridiculously optimized. For starters, they have an insane amount of downforce, meaning that the cars push themselves down onto the track. In fact, F1 cars are so “glued” to the track that if the road was shaped like a corkscrew, an F1 car could drive upside down.

Formula 1 cars are meticulously designed to be as fast as possible—and what makes a car fast varies by track. One track might have lots of low-speed turns; another might have many long, straight bits. This variety requires slight changes to the car for each track. Teams employs hundreds of people to work on their cars year-round.

Here’s an example of an F1 car, from my favorite team, Red Bull Racing, with my favorite driver, Max Verstappen:

On the front of the car, you see the front wing. It’s the bit with all the curves. Do you see the “Mobil” logo on the right-hand side of the front wing? (That’s on the left for you and me, looking at the photo.) That bit with “Mobil” on it is called a wing end plate. So this is the front wing end plate. There’s a wing on the back of the car too. See where it says “Esso”? That’s the rear wing end plate.

We are very far away from productivity at this point. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking “this is mildly interesting, but what the heck is Peter on about?”

Formula 1 engineers make tiny, tiny changes to their cars to make them faster. In Formula 1, improving a wing end plate can make your car ever so slightly faster, which might make the difference between your driver winning a race or coming in second.

For perspective, last race, after driving for an hour and 28 minutes, the number 2 driver crossed the finish line only 5 seconds after the number 1 driver. And in the special “qualifying” round, to determine who starts first, yesterday’s fastest driver drove a lap only six hundredths of a second faster than the second-fastest driver. A minor change to a front wing end plate could make such a difference.

So in Formula 1, tiny changes matter. But how does all of this relate to you?

Time after time, I hear from people who are doing the productivity equivalent of optimizing their front wing end plate. They are re-organizing folders in their task manager to nest one way rather than the other. They are trying six different “focus” apps on their phone to see which one can stop them from procrastinating. They try yet another productivity guru’s method for reaching inbox zero.

If your workflow was as optimized as a Formula 1 car, maybe that would make sense. But your workflow almost certainly isn’t that optimized. Far more likely, if you aren’t as productive as you’d like to be, you have a much more fundamental problem:

If you have a fundamental problem like that, don’t adjust your front wing end plate—install a faster engine.

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