History explains the present and the future #F1
March 27, 2013
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.