Inspired Leaders Network

July 21, 2016

On 5 July 2016 I took part in a panel discussion at an Inspired Leaders Network event held at the London School of Economics. I shared the stage with my co-author on ‘Performance at the Limit’, Ken Pasternak, and Williams F1 Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds. Hosted by the ILN’s own business guru René Carayol, the focus of the discussion was the learnings that organisations and leaders can take from looking at the world of Formula 1. As ever, Pat was succinct and insightful in his comments and Ken and I were able to reprise some of the key messages from the third edition of the book. You can find a review of the event and some video clips here:

The Three Futures of #F1

December 1, 2011

With the 2011 season now at an end the teams are working even harder on their 2012 cars. We are also getting more clarity on driver line-ups, with F1 very much in tune with work practices in general – extending the retirement age with Kimi Raikkonen now returning to F1, this time with Lotus Renault, not sure if he’s having to make bigger pension contributions.

But while much of the media attention focuses on 2012, the movers and shakers: the Team Principals and FOTA, the FIA, Formula One Management and CVC are all focused on 2013. This is when a new Concorde Agreement should come into effect. Recently in the FT, Leisure Industries Correspondent, Roger Blitz aligned the politics of F1 to those of the Eurozone, with an intense battle emerging between the haves (Bernie and CVC) and have-nots (FOTA and FIA) – my definition not Roger’s. The complex web that is the governance of F1 is yet again going to be stretched and rewoven, and currently, no-one is quite sure how this will all end up. Certainly we will see Bernie at his best – he always enjoys a good fight – and will undoubtedly be focusing on divide and rule with the teams, not a new strategy, but always an effective one, but who knows perhaps Martin Whitmarsh and his peers will be able to keep FOTA united and carve out a good result? The key is going to be where the FIA end up. In the past they have traditionally aligned against the teams, but perhaps this time we will see a new permutation? Expect plenty of off-track fireworks during 2012.

However there are those in F1 for whom 2012 and 2013 matters not a jot: for the technical strategists in the teams work is well underway for the 2014 regulations which will require the cars to have 1.6 litre V6 power units and substantial Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) to harvest and reuse the energy to improve performance. The engine manufacturers are well underway with a variety of permutations and concepts and the teams will be keen to see how they can build the optimum package from this new powertrain.

All in all the next few years are going to be a busy time for anyone involved in F1, regardless of whether or not the Eurozone holds together.

Mark Webber: the off-strategy expert with my co-author, Richard West. Photo: Jenkins, Pasternak & West

Mark Webber secured an outstanding victory in Hungary yesterday, partly due to luck, partly due to some outstanding laps on the shorter life ‘option’ tyre, and also because, in his words, he went ‘off strategy’. One of the most important things about a strategic plan is knowing when to abandon it, and that’s exactly what Red Bull did when the Safety Car came out on lap on Lap 14. The accepted wisdom is to make your pitstop as soon as the safety car comes out thereby changing your tyres when the field is going relatively slowly, and so you lose less time. The problem for Red Bull is that this was fine for Vettel, who was leading, but would have meant that Webber would have remained behind Alonso in third place, and they wanted a 1-2. So they kept him out. This meant he was now in front with a clear track and had the task of building up a 20second lead over Alonso to move to second place when he made his pitstop. It worked perfectly, but was also helped (inadvertently I think!) by his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who lost radio contact and became disorientated during the safety car period and allowed Webber to pull out a big gap between him and the rest of the field and so Webber disappeared into the distance when the safety car came in. Unfortunately for Vettel his tardiness in following Webber meant that he had exceeded the 10 car gap (does someone measure this?!) permitted by the regulations and so got a drive through penalty, which demoted him from a pretty certain win to third place. So Webber and Vettel swapped places, and it was nothing (as far as we know) to do with team orders.

The other point of note from the race was just how close F1 is to a major disaster, despite all the work on safety. In the rush to get in and out of the pits when the safety car came in, Rosberg left with a disconnected rear right hand wheel, which promptly flew through the Sauber pit crew bounced some ten metres in the air and came to rest against a Williams mechanic, Nigel Hope, who fortunately was not badly injured. In the confusion that followed Robert Kubica was released from his pit box just as Adrian Sutil was trying to enter his and a collision occurred, mercifully with no injuries, but it could have been so much worse. Finally we had Michael’s ‘tough’ move on Rubens that was within centimetres of disaster, Rubens could have been intimidated and lifted off, but he didn’t and there was great joy in the Williams garage, it was only for a single point, but for Rubens making the move stick on Schumacher was worth a whole lot more.

Is Force India's talent exodus a sign of on-track success or managerial failings?

The news that Force India’s Technical Director – Mark Smith is leaving to go to Lotus, suggests that all is not well at the Silverstone based firm. This comes very quickly after Mark’s predecessor James Key had left to go to Sauber, there are also a number of other Force India staff leaving to join their previous Technical Director – Mike Gascoyne at Lotus. If you add to this the fact that F1’s most experienced Commerical Director, Ian Philips, also left Force India after a rather public disagreement with Vijay Mallay over who talked to the press, it seems like Force India is experiencing a bit of talent exodus.

So why could this be? Well typically in F1 a good time to move is when your team is doing well and you can reap the benefit from being associated with a successful team, although Force India are certainly not a front runner they have, over the last couple of years, produced a few surprises with their car and are currently well ahead of Williams in the midfield battle. However such a mass exodus of technical people is unusual and suggests that all may not be well in the management side of things. Talented technical people are motivated by working with other good technical people and being given the freedom to test out theories and ideas. They also look to work with and be managed by those who have a strong technical reputation and thereby benefit in terms of professional kudos. The benefit to Red Bull in hiring Adrian Newey was not just in getting the skills and capabilities of Newey, but the fact that he was there was a powerful signal that said the team plan to invest in technology, furthermore if you come to Red Bull you will be working with one of the all time greats, suddenly Red Bull Racing’s attractiveness to talented technical people went up exponentially, and we are now seeing the results.

Ron Dennis was a past master of recruiting the top technical brains (e.g. John Barnard, Gordon Murray, Adrian Newey) and often managing to keep hold of them by allowing them to work on other interesting projects such as Murray’s work on the road car – this way the talent is not lost to the competition. One of the great strengths of Flavio Briatore (and as we know there were also weaknesses) was that he let his technical people do their thing. He gave them the space and resources to get on with the job. He allowed Benetton and then Renault to build up its technical capability and also brought through some great talents, Mike Gascoyne and Mark Smith among them. Let’s hope that Force India haven’t lost the plot regarding retaining and developing their technical talent.

WilliamsF1 Flywheel based KERS system may become standard in 2013

WilliamsF1 Flywheel based KERS system may become standard in 2013

At the meeting of the World Motorsport Council on 21 October 2009 the proposals put forward by the Environmentally Sustainable Motor Sport Comission (EMSC) were supported. These proposals were significant in that they made an unequivocal statement that ‘Motor sport must move from a power per unit.. as basis for engine performance regulation , to one of power per unit energy.’ In short this means that rather than defining engines in terms of volume or rpm, they will, in future, be defined in terms of brake horse power (bhp) per litre of fuel. They also state that it will be necessary to limit the amount of fuel/energy consumed: so we may go back to the days in the 1980s and early 1990s when F1 cars had a fuel capacity limited to 195 litres and we had cars running out of fuel on the last lap – some of us remember when victorious Nigel Mansell gave Ayrton Senna a lift on (yes on, rather than in) his Williams back to the pits during his celebration lap after Senna’s car had run out of fuel at the end of the 1991 British Grand Prix.

The other interesting note in the EMSC proposals relates to KERS systems: ‘Energy consumption and CO2 emissions should be regulated on an onboard energy reservoir to wheel basis’. This implies that although KERS will not be used in 2010 it is planned to reintroduce it, potentially on a single spec basis to save cost. Later in the document they make the statement that ‘Technology such as fly wheels reducing dependence on batteries and concentrating on ICE load shift [ICE = Internal Combustion Engine I think!] proves to be the most promising way forward.’ Good news for Williams who have been developing their own flywheel system as a potential spin-off from the F1 operation.

However, there is no mention of when or how any of these proposals will be implemented. Clearly they will be on the table for the next Concorde agreement to run from 2013, it will be interesting to see whether or not they really do come to fruition.

A great deal of copy is being written about the nature of Max Mosley’s tenure as President of the FIA, much of it negative. I have had dealings with Mr Mosley regarding the second edition of our business oriented book on F1 – Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing. He was always very supportive, co-operative and responded to our requests with alacrity – not something I could say of all the F1 people we approached.

He will probably be most positively remembered for the stance he took on safety following on from the tragic weekend at Imola in 1994 when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives. This was followed by the Monaco Grand Prix when German driver Karl Wendlinger suffered a serious head injury during Thursday practice. The following day Mosley announced the formation of an Expert Advisory Group to review all aspects of safety and to have wide ranging powers to make changes as needed. He also announced that the Chair of the Committee would be Professor Sid Watkins, an eminent neurosurgeon who had been the on-track surgeon for F1 since 1978. Watkins himself only found out about his new post after the public announcement on the Friday afternoon, Mosley having decided that he had to act quickly and was confident that Watkins would agree to the role, which he did. This example demonstrates the underlying approach that has been both Mosley’s success and his downfall. He sees the big picture at times when others may not, he also is prepared to act decisively and unilaterally to address the longer term issues.

There has been much talk from the teams that Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) has been a waste of time and (a great deal of) money, which is quite ironic given the focus on the need to cut costs. The blame for its unilateral introduction has been largely laid at Max Mosley’s door. But the concept behind KERS – the idea that F1 teams should be moving beyond the internal combustion engine and looking at ways of storing and transforming waste energy is absolutely right, similarly the notion of cost reduction and greater technical freedom – to let the outstanding engineers do what they do best, do more with less is also absolutely right. These are also not mutually exclusive strategies, F1 has to become more environmentally relevant and must also remove the huge expenditures that deliver nothing in terms of the spectacle and technological spin-offs. Mosley had both recognised these issues and formulated strategies to address them. The problem is that they are exactly that, his strategies with his solutions.  There is no question in my mind that Max Mosley is a great strategic thinker, but like many strategists in many organisations ultimately you have to make sure that those who will actually deliver the strategy buy into it too.