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.

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.

The Future of Red Bull Racing

February 17, 2012

Last night, at the Roundhouse in London, Adrian Newey was inducted into the Motorsport hall of fame. Another acknowledgement, along with an OBE in the New Year’s honours list, that Mr Newey is a major force in the evolving technology of motorsport and specifically Formula 1.

I remember once talking to Patrick Head, back in 2000, about the role of Adrian Newey in the development of championship winning cars, Newey was then at McLaren, having left Williams during 1996. Patrick in his usual forthright way didn’t believe that Adrian was the common factor in the success of Williams in the mid-nineties, followed by McLaren in 1998, ‘he’s very  good at moving at the right time’ I remember him commenting, but I suspect asked that question again today  he might have a different view. One of the reasons cited for Adrian’s departure from Williams was that Frank and Patrick were unwilling to give him an equity stake in the company, suggesting that Adrian perhaps had bigger ambitions than just being a technical director.

I reflected on this when hearing of the various rumours that Ferrari were now after Adrian Newey in a bid to restore some technological dominance of the sort they enjoyed from 1999 through to 2004. At the recent launch of the Red Bull RB8 Adrian was asked about this and responded as follows: “I can’t see myself going anywhere else. I’ve been involved in the team from very early on, I feel very centrally involved in it and proud we’ve managed to get from the ashes of Jaguar to where we are today. That in itself brings a huge amount of satisfaction and the slightly paternal feeling of wanting that to carry on. To now leave for another team would kind of feel a little like walking out on your children in a way.”. Of course a few of those with memories back to 2001 remember him ‘leaving’ McLaren to go to Bobby Rahal’s Jaguar Team, but then subsequently changing his mind and staying with McLaren, Rahal then going back to the USA and handing over to another Team Principal in the merry-go-round that was then Jaguar Racing. So perhaps things are different this time? It also made me wonder as to whether he still harboured ambitions to be a bit more than just an employee of an F1 team, and certainly if you were to keep someone as talented as this, this could be one of the options to explore. There will come a time when Dietrich Mateschitz decides that he will do something else with the millions of dollars he makes from energy drinks, or perhaps if they win their third successive championship in 2012, he may decide that he no longer needs to own the team. This could perhaps be an interesting opportunity for Adrian Newey and perhaps Christian Horner to be more than just employees and run their own F1 team. Who knows? Stranger things have happened in the world of Formula 1.

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