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.

Apparently an exchange of views has occurred between Bernie Ecclestone and Lewis Hamilton regarding the choice of management Lewis made, following his split with his father Anthony, back in 2010. Bernie having the view that it would have made more sense for Lewis to stick with his father, and Lewis declaring himself very happy with his move to Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment.

The subject of driver management in motorsport is an interesting one. There have been various forms of ‘manager’ over the years, the fact that Bernie is commenting on Lewis’s management is germane as he began his involvement in F1 as a driver manager, first advising Stuart Lewis-Evans in the 1950s and then with Jochen Rindt in the 1960s. Here the focus was very much on negotiation and contracts, something that Bernie, as we now know, had a bit of talent for. These tend to be independent managers, focused on motorsport who are directly advising one or several drivers and who certainly tend to be with them at races. They have often moved into management either from being a driver, or more often when they supported the driver at an earlier stage in their career. Examples would be David Robertson who looked after Kimi Raikkonen and Jensen Button, Martin Brundle looking after David Coulthard and Willi Weber with Michael and Ralf Schumacher.

Today it is very much the norm for drivers to have their own managers, effectively managing their financial affairs and negotiating on their behalf, although there are still one or two who like to handle things themselves such as Gerhard Berger and current world champion Sebastian Vettel. At the F1 level there are not often the close family relationships between driver and manager, such as that which existed between Lewis and his father, although Mark Webber took things a stage further and is living with his former manager, Ann Neal, and Jean Todt’s son Nicolas was managing Felipe Massa when Todt was CEO of Ferrari, which must have made negotiations interesting. Flavio Briatore may have had to negotiate with himself when he was Team Principal of Renault and also managing Fernando Alonso. So things have sometimes got a bit complicated.

An alternative approach is followed by those who go down the professional sports management route: using a specialist organisation to provide the support, such as the services provided by CSS Stellar which in addition to a range of sports/entertainment businesses includes individual sportsman/woman management.  This was founded by lawyer Julian Jakobi, formerly Ayrton Senna’s manager. As far as I’m aware the first driver to go down the route of using a professional sports management organisation was Jackie Stewart in 1968. JYS enlisted the help of Mark McCormack’s IMG operation, (he of – ‘What They don’t Teach you at Harvard Business School’ fame), which up to then had focused on professional golf players such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Famously JYS’s first ‘assistant’ ,provided by IMG, was one Martin Sorrell who went on to do rather well for himself eventually becoming chairman of marketing communications conglomerate WPP. Here the benefit of the management company is more geared towards the wider ‘celebrity’ of the driver and makes a lot of sense – as was the case with JYS – if you have an eye on the longer term earning potential of the individual ‘brand’. It is therefore probably too early to say whether or not Lewis has made the right decision in going to XIX Entertainment. However one thing I did find out on a visit to Tennessee was that XIX Entertainment owns Graceland, Elvis’s former residence, I wonder if they’ve now got an eye on a certain property in Stevenage?