Innovation vs Regulation

April 12, 2014

Lotus 49 & Ford Cosworth DFV

Lotus 49 & Ford Cosworth DFV

I just came across an interesting blog piece on the Virgin Disruptors Website regarding innovation vs regulation: http://www.virgin.com/disruptors/regulation-v-innovation-five-key-battlegrounds

It outlines a series of cases where regulation, often stimulated by lobbying from the incumbents, attempts to stifle some of the creativity of innovators. Undoubtedly this is sometimes the case, but a question which has interested me has been whether regulation can also stimulate innovation and create game changing opportunities rather than just protecting the profits of some rather comfortable firms who have grown lazy from success and want to avoid new competitors at all costs.
Last year I put in a research bid for some funding from the Leverhulme Foundation which aims to provide two or three years funding for academics who would like to spend some time on researching something they are really passionate about, but due to admin and teaching responsibilities haven’t had the time to do it. I felt I was a good case (but they obviously didn’t as I didn’t get the grant!) and of course my passion was to look more deeply into the world of Formula 1 and in particular the relationship between innovation and regulation. The situation today is a case-in-point, for 2014 we have totally new propulsion system, with V6 turbo-charged 1.6 litre engines combined with sophisticated energy recovery systems which create a further 160kw from mechanical and heat energy recovery. These systems are innovative, but it’s been quite interesting how some of the well-established teams and movers and shakers are unhappy about the changes and the way it has shifted the balance of competitive performance between the teams.

A major regulation change is of course both a threat and an opportunity. Back in 1966 the FIA decided to change the engine regulations and move from a 1.5 litre engine to a 3.0 litre (interesting that we have now gone in the opposite direction). For the British teams such as Cooper and Lotus this was a major threat as their engine supplier – Coventry Climax decided that they could not afford the costs of designing a new, bigger engine and so it looked like well-funded teams with the engine technology, such as Ferrari, would dominate. Colin Chapman at Lotus had a different plan. He sought to persuade Ford to fund the development of a new 3.0 litre F1 engine which would be a technological revolution. The Ford Cosworth DFV was designed as a stressed component of the car which meant that the engine could be simply bolted onto the rear of the chassis with the rear suspension and gearbox fitted onto the rear of the engine. It was powerful, light and cheap (in 1968 an F1 team could buy the engine for £7500, so Ken Tyrrell told me!), it created the many F1 constructors based in ‘Motorsport Valley’ that still remain today with eight out of the eleven F1 teams all based within a fifty mile radius of Oxford. So occasionally regulation does stimulate innovation, and with some pretty spectacular consequences.

I’ve been interested to see the reaction of Silverstone to the planned Circuit of Wales, regarding whether or not they are receiving ‘illegal’ state aid (see – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-26712038).
I can understand why Silverstone may be concerned with a further circuit cropping up in the UK, their new Wing, which sits in the middle of the circuit is an impressive facility, but one which will require a lot of utilisation in order to keep it viable. In 2007 we already had 19 paved circuits in the UK (see – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Motorsport-Going-Global-Challenges-Industry), many of which are struggling to keep the cash flowing in and are heavily dependent on one or two big races either in cars or bikes, so why do we need another one?

For me the argument is simple. We have a unique capability in the UK to design, manufacturer and develop motorsport products, services and technologies. The UK has the largest concentration of motorsport turnover relative to GDP anywhere in the world and anything that adds to this capability is, in my view, a good thing. I understand that those who are fighting to capture as many big events as possible would see this as a threat, but if we take the perspective from UK plc it is a huge opportunity. But there’s a further point, if we capture the imagination of young people in the area who have never been to a circuit before, we may increase participation and the size of the cake, then we may also get some new Adrian Newey’s, Ross Brawn’s and perhaps even (showing my age) a Tom Pryce.

casspanel

Last night I was on a panel at Cass Business School (ranked #3 in Europe for Finance Research), which was something of a privilege, coming from a rival business school – Cranfield (ranked #1 in UK for Executive Education). I was in very good company with top F1 bloggers Joe Saward and James Allen, former CEO of Mercedes GP, Nick Fry, Leadership expert Dr Amanda Goodall and F1 technical guru Gary Anderson – why on earth have the BBC dropped him from their F1 coverage? Gary’s ‘cut off’ lap time predictions were always the highlight of qualifying as far as I’m concerned.

The panel was expertly chaired by Dr Paolo Aversa from Cass and we had a great time putting the world of F1 to rights, helped along by a great audience with lots of knowledgeable questions. Of course there was much to talk about – the new power units (I guess the term engine will now be consigned to history); what lies in store for Bernie (the view here was never underestimate him, and he will be back fully in charge by the end of the year); what’s going to happen at McLaren regarding the appointment of a new CEO (one or two people were a bit coy about this one, so maybe we’ll have an announcement soon); and will Lotus get the financial backing it needs to stop haemorrhaging great people. All in all there was much to discuss and that’s the great thing about F1: technology, finance, strategy, creative interpretations of regulations and above all people, and as Nick Fry reminded us, at the end of the day, it’s people that make the difference.

On 29 July 2013, the day after the Hungarian Grand Prix, an interesting piece appeared on the Ferrari website entitled ‘A turning point to tackle with a knife between the teeth’. It related the comments of Ferrari President Luca de Montezemolo, who was apparently less than happy about the team’s performance, and also the behaviour of its lead driver, Fernando Alonso. The piece stated baldly that Montezemolo had ‘tweaked his (Alonso’s) ear’ reminding him that “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own. This is the moment to stay calm, avoid polemics and show humility and determination in making one’s own contribution, standing alongside the team and its people both at the track and outside it.” Nobody seems entirely sure why Alonso was on the receiving end of Montezemolo’s ire, but one theory is that it was his reply when asked what he would like for his (forthcoming) birthday, his response was ‘a new car’.

The public castigation of Ferrari’s most expensive employee by the President gave me a real sense of déjà vu. Last night I was re-reading one of Niki Lauda’s memoirs ‘For the Record’ written in the late seventies and focusing on his experiences during the season of 1976 when he almost lost his life and did lose (by a very small margin) the World Championship to James Hunt. I had got to the part where he was being criticised in the media by Enzo Ferrari saying that he made a mistake by coming back too early for the Grand Prix at Monza. Enzo Ferrari was renowned for communicating his pleasure or otherwise with the race team, Gestione Sportiva, via the media and it seems that Ferrari’s current President is following a similar line. However, interestingly, Montezemolo started off by saying that “The Ferrari I saw in yesterday’s race doesn’t sit well with me.” If he is following Enzo’s tradition of criticising his drivers through the media, he is not following his other tradition of never criticising his cars, but then I guess they don’t have his name on them.

Professor Derek Pugh, now Emeritus at the Open University, a member of the team who conducted the ‘Aston Studies’ of the 1960s, once said that every organisation has the strength of its weaknesses and the weakness of its strengths. What (I think) he meant was that strengths can become the source of a downfall, and weaknesses may provide the basis for new opportunities. .

This logic can also be applied to individuals, and in many ways you could portray this as a real sign of greatness: someone who is able to grasp the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength. As a fan of music, and particularly the guitar, I am reminded of Django Reinhardt the great jazz guitarist who was badly injured in a fire at eighteen years old. Reinhardt re-taught himself to play the guitar and developed a unique style, only using his index and middle finger on his left hand when playing solos, as his other fingers had been paralysed as a consequence of the blaze. His distinctive style was sometimes referred to as ‘hot’ jazz, and for many he remains one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

A recent tweet from Richard Williams, concerning Ayrton Senna and his performance at the European Grand Prix at Donington in 1993, got me thinking about this question as it relates to Senna and his legacy. A few years ago I was chatting to someone at Cosworth about this amazing drive, and particularly the first lap when Senna moved from fourth, back to fifth, and then to lead the race by the end of the first lap. It is no secret that, at that time, the Cosworth in Senna’s McLaren was significantly underpowered, particularly when compared to the Renault engine in the Williams’ of Alain Prost and Damon Hill. However my friend regarded this as a potential advantage in the wet conditions, when it would be difficult, if not impossible, to use the power advantage of the Renault due to the low grip on the wet track. But he remarked that the Cosworth also had a smoother, flatter power curve which meant that it was easier to control than the more aggressive power curve of the Renault in low grip conditions, exactly like those at Donington in 1993.

One interpretation of this information is that perhaps Senna’s drive was not that exceptional because he had an engine advantage for the damp conditions that existed at the time. I prefer to look at it another way; he recognised the limitations of the Cosworth power unit during the 1993 season – which was why he moved to the Renault powered Williams for 1994 -  and he therefore made sure that, given the wet track at Donington, he would exploit this opportunity to its very maximum. That day he drove in a way that showed a confidence and commitment that none could match on the first lap. Recognising the opportunity in a weakness is what greatness is all about.

In one of my lectures on strategic change I use a quote from Professor Larry Greiner, formerly of the Harvard Business School, ‘The clues to future success lie in the past’. I use it to explore the notion that every organisation has a unique history and it is only by understanding that history and using it to build future success that organisations can succeed in a way that is impossible for their competitors to copy. Let’s face it, most organisation’s today have very similar strategies, what makes the difference is their ability to deliver the strategy and the uniqueness they bring from their past. When you look at success stories like Apple and Harley Davidson you can see that the key is that they build on their past successes in ways that are relevant to present and future markets.

Never has the principle of remembering your past, but adapting to the future been more readily demonstrated than in Formula 1. Enzo Ferrari was first and foremost a builder of racing cars, he moved into supplying customers with versions of his racing cars to help fund the racing, but he was never a mere automotive manufacturer. Ferrari’s focus on the cars led to suggestions that he disliked drivers becoming too successful and would often manage things to suggest that ultimately it was the car that was the reason for winning, not the driver. A strong focus on the car has permeated many of the F1 teams in the UK, with Lotus, McLaren and Williams all concerned with the racing car as the focus, of course they wanted good drivers, but ultimately it was all about the car. Frank Williams’ famous mantra for anyone wanting him to sign a cheque was always ‘Will it make the car go faster?’.

The story at Red Bull Racing however demonstrates a very different history. Dietrich Mateschitz supported by his driver coach/mentor Dr Helmut Marko was never into cars. His focus has always been unequivocally on the driver. Red Bull entered F1 not as car maker, but as a sponsor with a clear focus on developing driver talent. They bought a stake in the Sauber team in 1995, and in 2001 introduced the Red Bull Junior Team under the guidance of Dr Marko. The purpose of Red Bull Juniors was to develop young talent, and ultimately to move them into F1. This included a young German, Sebastian Vettel, who Red Bull had first supported driving karts in 2000 when he was 12 years old. In 2001 Mateschitz had a disagreement with Peter Sauber; Mateschitz wanted Enrique Bernoldi in the car, whereas Sauber was keen on a young Finn called Kimi Raikkonen. As a consequence Mateschitz withdrew his funding from Sauber and looked to purchase the struggling Arrows team to provide a seat for Bernoldi. This failed to work out, but in 2004 he was looking for a drive for a young Austrian driver, Christian Klein, and in discussions with Jaguar Racing discovered that Ford might be interested in selling the team. He purchased Jaguar Racing with the initial intention of keeping the existing management team, but a disagreement over…wait for it… drivers, meant that they were relieved of their posts and Christian Horner became the new team principal at the start of 2005.

So in the end what we have is a very different history that marks Red Bull Racing ultimately as a team constructed for Red Bull drivers to show their talent, not, like Ferrari, McLaren or Williams for the building of racing cars, and like most aspects of an organisation’s history, it is both a strength and a weakness. So what happened in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix is perhaps less surprising than you may think and maybe what arises from Vettel ignoring team orders is more a question for Christian Horner and, particularly, Adrian Newey as to the kind of organisation they want to work for, and the kind of history they want to leave behind, than it is for anything related to drivers or indeed cars.

One of the fascinations of Formula 1, from a business strategy perspective, is how the same organisation suddenly shifts from being nowhere to a championship contender and equally how a championship contender suddenly ends up nowhere.

The obvious explanation for many is that it is simply all about money, the more money you have the better car you produce and the better driver you recruit so inevitably you will win more races. Not so. If it was all about money why didn’t Toyota’s huge investment in an F1 operation allow them to win a single race, even though today some of the top-teams are still making use of their wind tunnel in Cologne? If it was all about money then Renault would not have won their world championships in 2005 and 2006 and the team that was BAR and then Honda would surely have achieved more success on the track before they became Brawn in 2009?

Of course money is a key part of the equation. I remember former Jaguar Racing boss, Tony Purnell, describing Formula 1 as a ‘celebration of unfairness’, you can see his point, the richest teams have the most resource to get sponsors and performance on the track, and when they do well they get even more revenue from the distributed media royalties via Formula One Management, the more you have the more you can get. But that’s what makes it fascinating when the underdog does pull through. When Williams produced their FW07 car back in 1980 they were running on a shoestring and only could afford one week in the wind tunnel at Imperial College to try out Patrick Head’s ground-effect design, and yet they produced a better car than the all-dominant Lotus and went on to become world champions. When Dietrich Mateschitz bought Jaguar Racing for a ‘nominal sum’ (and all the debts as well – so in reality a bit more than £1) most could not see how he would turnaround a team that had showed potential as Stewart Grand Prix, but had become a corporate political football for various groups of Ford’s management to fight over and ultimately destroy, and yet today we all see them as the obvious favourites for the championship.

Today many argue that the technology is so tightly regulated and the focus so much on continuous improvement, rather than innovation, that we will not see the kind of turnarounds that we have seen in the past. I’m more optimistic, there is a huge wealth of engineering talent in F1 and it is not just about the superstars drawing the seven figure salaries, there’s a lot of creativity out there and maybe this year we could get a few surprises that show that at the end of the day performance in F1 isn’t just about money.

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