Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

I’ve just returned from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Although many of my students think that I’m off to a Grand Prix every other weekend, sadly this isn’t the case. In fact, I only tend to visit a Grand Prix when we’re working on a further edition of our book – Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing. In these situations Mr Ecclestone has kindly supported our endeavours by permitting us access to the F1 Paddock, the essential place to be if you want to meet up with the movers and shakers in the various F1 teams.

The first time was at Imola in 2004 – ten years after that fateful weekend when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives, then we were at Barcelona in 2008 working on the second edition. Now it’s time for the third edition and, as luck would have it, this time it was the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa that fitted into our publishing schedule – it is a circuit I have always wanted to visit, one that oozes from the history of F1, where else would you find a version of the circuit which was modified in 1979 being referred to as the ‘new’ circuit?

It’s always enjoyable to attend a Grand Prix and to breathe in the real atmosphere of F1, but on the other hand this would hopefully be a fairly straightforward visit – interviewing some familiar and some new faces to update the F1 story and how it provides real insights for organisations and their managers to learn from. I’d managed to make contact with a few people prior to Spa to see if it would be OK for us to talk to them. One of these was Manor’s Graeme Lowdon, I’d never met him before, but I’d always thought he seemed to be a straight-forward and approachable kind of individual, and this was borne out when he responded positively to my Email within 50 mins – no passing me on to the media team, or his PA, just ‘yes, come and see me when you get to the race’ they don’t hang around in F1.

This was great news, our book focused on how other businesses and organisations can learn from F1, and as Manor F1 had just effectively risen from the ashes of administration to race again – I felt that there must be some real issues here that would interest a wider readership. So we met with Graeme at the Manor hospitality unit and I started with the question as to how he and the organisation had dealt with the challenges it had been facing over the last twelve months and how it had managed to make it back to the F1 grid in 2015, my thought was that this would get us into a discussion about the problems of going into administration. But Graeme started talking about the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and the dreadful accident that befell Jules Bianchi and the challenge of then going to first Russian Grand Prix at Sochi while Jules was still in a critical condition in hospital. How could I have been so crass? Why did I not anticipate that the biggest challenge the team faced was nothing to do with administration, but with the catastrophic injuries suffered by one of their drivers at the Japanese Grand Prix. Like every F1 fan I had been devastated to hear that Jules had lost his fight for life in July 2015, but somehow I had managed to separate this from the organisation and most importantly the people in that organisation. What was I thinking? Or rather why was I not thinking?

How many of us can envisage a situation where one of our colleagues dies in the course of doing his or her job? Sadly, it does happen – today we woke to the sad news that Justin Wilson had succumbed to his injuries at an Indycar race – how do we then pick ourselves up from that devastation, what can those leading the organisation do to help and support others when they themselves are grieving too? And then if you realised that your business was now in a desperate financial situation that could not be immediately resolved, wouldn’t it be easier to walk away? To decide that this was the time to do something else? Not so Graeme Lowdon and John Booth of Manor F1. They pulled Manor from the ashes or perhaps more accurately from EBay, where much of the teams equipment was due to be sold, and they put themselves back on the grid where, currently they are fighting with McLaren for position, a team with around four times the budget and people that they have.

We had a great time at Spa, many of the teams could not have been more helpful and co-operative – particularly Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Sauber. But my abiding memory will always be Manor F1, what they’ve been through, but also the quiet commitment and resolve they have demonstrated, never giving up, when most of us would have been pleased to be able to do so. One term that is used now and again in F1 is ‘racer’ it means someone who has a passion and a commitment to go racing no matter what, it’s not about the money, it’s not about status or fame, but the joy of racing and the desire to win the next race. Teams like McLaren and Williams epitomise this approach, as do their leadership, and for me so do Manor F1. They have demonstrated a different order of commitment, one which shows who the real racers are.

End of an Era at Maranello

September 14, 2014

The departure of Luca di Montezemolo from the role of chairman of Ferrari is undoubtedly the end of an era. For many this was perhaps necessary to get new thinking into the Scuderia, currently experiencing a period of underperformance similar to that of the early 90s prior to the ‘Schumacher era’. The irony is that the person who was responsible for turning things around back then, protecting Ferrari from Fiat’s corporate culture, and appointing Jean Todt to help build what became the most successful F1 team of all time, was Luca di Montezemolo.

With Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne now taking over as chairman and with the Scuderia being led by the former head of Ferrari’s US road car operation, Marco  Mattiacci, it looks like history may be repeating itself. Back in 1988 when Enzo passed away Fiat’s stake in Ferrari shifted from 40 to 90% and resulted in one of the least successful periods in the proud history of the Scuderia. A long line of Fiat managers were parachuted in with disastrous results. You only have to look at the contrast between Jaguar Racing and Red Bull to see what a dysfunctional effect corporate management can have on entrepreneurial, fast moving F1 teams, you need racers like Christian Horner, not corporate managers to win in F1. Let’s hope Ferrari aren’t going through corporate paralysis once again – it took ten years to recover from the last time. If I was Fernando Alonso, I’d be seriously considering my options.


Interesting comments from Ron Dennis on the F1 drivers’ market

Originally posted on Adam Cooper's F1 Blog:

Ron Dennis says he’s satisfied with the performance of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen in 2014, but confirms that McLaren is keeping its options open on future driver choice as it enters the Honda era.

The names of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all been connected with the team, although in theory none are free until 2016 or even later.

Dennis was reminded that a few weeks ago he said that Jenson had to “try harder,” a remark that created something of a stir at the time.

“Anyone who has actually seen the TV interview in question will know that there was an element of humour in what I said,” he told the official F1 website. “Having said that, did I also intend to give Jenson a bit of a wake-up call? Yes, I did. But I did it softly, not maliciously. Indeed, perhaps the efficacy of…

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New Coke

July 29, 2014


Great piece from @willbuxton

Originally posted on The Buxton Blog:

Team Pack Up c/o James Moy Photography Team Pack Up
c/o James Moy Photography

The arrival of August may mean an enforced break for most of the F1 world, but not it would seem for some of the sport’s key decision makers. It emerged over the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix that Bernie Ecclestone intends to hold a crisis summit over the sport’s popularity. Formula 1 team bosses were made aware of this on Saturday in Budapest, along with the shock news that alongside a hand-picked selection of team chiefs and Ecclestone himself, would be media representatives and disgraced former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore.

Although it has been claimed that the meeting should not be viewed as a negative, to many it can only be deemed thus. Coming at a time when the fans of this sport, along with a growing number of dissenting voices in the paddock, are having their say on double points…

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The nice people at Virgin have published another guest piece from me on the subject of what makes an industry ripe for disruption? You can see it here:

As you will see from the piece I consider that F1 is most certainly ripe for disruption and that Formula E may be the disruptor that changes the rules of the game. However it is also worth making the point that many disruptors do not actually destroy the existing businesses, but create growth through the addition of new customers into the industry. Low cost airlines have not replaced the entire airline business model, but extended the airline business into new markets. You could also see a scenario where Formula E actually attracts a new group of fan into motorsport – someone who is passionate about low carbon technology and who likes the edgy new technology and city racing that Formula E will be showcasing. Who knows we may ultimately see teams like McLaren and Williams entering cars into Formula E when it becomes open to other constructors in 2016. Stranger things have happened in motor racing.

Following on from my last post on the relationship between innovation and regulation the nice people at Virgin asked me to do a guest piece for the Virgin Disruptor’s website, you can see it here:

I used the example of how Colin Chapman created a huge opportunity for Lotus and, as it turned out, the British motorsport industry when he had to adapt to the change in engine regulations back in 1966. My point was that you can see regulatory change as a threat or an opportunity, and it is those that focus on the opportunity who will ultimately succeed. Just look at Mercedes in F1 at present. It would be wrong to think that the reason for Mercedes’ current dominance was that they are just lucky enough to have a good power unit – the decisions that brought about their current success were taken some time ago, choices made to focus on car and power unit for 2014 were taken back in 2012 and are now bringing the success they hoped for. Of course many of these choices were made by Ross Brawn who is not the one enjoying the current accolades, but presumably enjoying a spot of quiet fishing somewhere. I’m sure that this hasn’t gone unnoticed and I’m sure that, should he wish to, there are one or two openings for him to do the same again elsewhere.

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:

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.


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