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Game-changing data: How mathematics took over sports

Mehul Kapadia, Managing Director of F1 Business, Tata Communications | Sept. 8, 2015
The stakes are high for developers of new technologies which make the process of using data and calculating the necessary sums more sophisticated and efficient.

For all of the above reasons, F1 is the most data-hungry sport in the world and maths influences the outcomes of races and championships more heavily than it does in other sports. Therefore, the stakes are high for the developers of new technologies which make the process of using data and calculating the necessary sums more sophisticated and efficient. In order to help stimulate such innovation, initiatives such as the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize challenge teams of innovators to propose solutions to current technological challenges posed by the sport.

One stat that matters
Ultimately, as with all sports, the myriad of numbers and calculations all feed into a select few benchmarks that define F1 success. Where in the race did you finish? How many championship points did you earn? A common perception from pros and ex-pros who have been there and done that is that the numbers can lie. Who would employ a mathematician over a former championship winning coach?

Statistics are interesting snippets of information that sound great when a commentator rattles them off at a moment's notice but it's people who win at sport — right? Well, more sports are following the example of F1, using sophisticated statistical analysis to complement the visionary ideas and strategies of the experts.

Another example is how scouting databases are helping football clubs overcome the challenge of globalisation. Given the number of children who dream of becoming Premier League footballers, the challenge of singling out the next Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer left purely to traditional scouting methods.

Gone are the days when clubs spent their millions based on the scribbled notes of the flat-capped scout with an eye for potential. The vast majority of Premier League clubs are tapping into scouting databases such as Scout7's. The database boasts 135,000 players worldwide for the perusal of the world's top scouting teams, providing information on players including statistics such as appearances, goals, assists and man of the match performances. By harnessing the power of such software to conduct their initial investigations, clubs can shortlist players based on specific criteria before watching them more closely and making a judgment on their potential transfer value.

Numbers are everywhere in sport and in a way they always have been. The most important piece of information about any sports event is usually a number. Who earned the most points? What was the score? How fast was their time? How many times have they won? Where the gap between mathematics and sports has existed is in the measures sports men, women and teams take in order to change the all-important numbers that define success or failure. But increasingly we are seeing the role of data and analysis being used to improve performance, find winning tactical formulas, gather intelligence about opponents and to find the best-value talent.


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