What watching F1 has taught me about performance

What watching F1 has taught me about performance

  Lighthouse   Technical SEO   Web Development

During Covid, I, like many other Americans, became entranced with Formula One racing after watching Drive to Survive on Netflix. I loved the storylines with the different teams and the driver personalities. But more than that, I loved seeing how races are won by seconds and minor changes to a car's performance could make a big difference in a car's speed and competitiveness. Watching this made me think how similar F1 racing is to website development and some lessons we can learn.

1. No one cares until it goes mainstream

Formula One has been around for decades, but many in the United States weren't aware unless they were hardcore fans and most of those fans were viewed as elitists who preferred European sports to American sports. That was until the Netflix show "Drive to Survive" aired, and now the three American races are some of the most expensive races to attend, with tickets selling within days. This is similar to website performance. I and others have been discussing the importance of having a fast website and how it affects users, but most companies don't care. That was until Google started to use performance measurements and Core Vitals as indicators in how it ranks websites. Now companies are asking what needs to be done to get a high Lighthouse score. The lesson here is that topics that might not seem exciting and important might become the next big thing.

2. Fractions of a second matter

In Formula One, races can be won or lost by seconds. During qualifying, where it is down to the fastest one lap, hundredths of a second can separate the pole sitter from second place. The difference in time can come down to how the tires are performing, track performance, weather, weight, and many other factors. Some of these are outside of the team's control, but the team can modify many areas, even during the race. An example is adjusting the angle of a wing can make the car more aerodynamic and gain hundredths of a second. The same is true with websites. Seconds matter when a user is accessing your site, and many studies have shown how the slower a website performs, the more likely it is to lose traffic and conversions. Saving fractions of a second on a high-bandwidth desktop computer can translate into saving seconds on a low-bandwidth mobile device. Some factors are outside our control, such as network bandwidth, server performance, and 3rd party scripts, but many are within our control and can be tweaked to gain additional performance.

3. When it comes to performance, aesthetics don't matter

I remember hearing how in a race, one of the teams was taking sponsor logos off the car because the paint was adding weight to the vehicle. It would be competitive in this race, and any bit of weight that could be saved would be an advantage. With websites, we have fancy graphics, javascript scripts, and large CSS files to make the website look nicer. Marketing teams are constantly adding 3rd party scripts to add new functionality or get insight from users. Those additions improve the website by adding bloat and additional time to the load time and decreasing performance. Discussions need to be had to determine if those items are truly needed and required for the website to function or if performance improvements can be made by stripping these extra items and reducing weight.

4. It takes money to be first, but there is still much to be had in the middle of the pack

In Formula One, the top teams spend hundreds of millions of dollars to be competitive, while the bottom teams spend a fraction of what the top teams do. This difference is getting smaller due to cost caps, but the top teams still have a competitive advantage due to the amount of money they spend. However, the teams in the middle are still able to make millions of dollars in sponsor money and winnings. This makes the entire field competitive as they try to maximize their winnings against the amount spent. This is an important lesson regarding performance and Google Lighthouse scores. To get a high score many times will take a large amount of money for very little gain. It is important to determine if it is important to be one of these top sites and spend the money to be at the top. Or, can you be in the middle and maximize your performance against the money spent to be competitive with other companies your size?

5. It's never too late to improve

During the year, Formula One teams are constantly working on performance improvements back at the factory and will bring updates to the cars throughout the year to be competitive. Sometimes these changes are major enough that they can radically change the standings and make the difference between being a losing team and a winning team. For websites, it is important to continue to improve and monitor your site. Technology advancements, rewriting old code, and constantly improving the website can improve performance throughout the year. Website performance is not just a one-and-done job; it requires constant monitoring and development to stay competitive.

If you would like to learn more about how your website performance can be improved or would like an analysis of how well your website performs, reach out to us.