3 Leadership lessons from F1 🏎🏁
Watching Formula 1 has been a great mix of entertainment and education. The interactions between the parties, the constraints involved, and the relentless pressure has helped me to learn to be a better leader.
Know who you're racing
Formula 1 as a league is a platform on which racing teams operate. The rules are public and well understood. Much like an app store, or a social media platform, everyone is broadley playing the same game, but at the same time, not really.
While all of the teams participate in one race, for the last few seasons, there have actually been three or more races happening in parallel. The first race is between Mercedes, Redbull, and depending on the year, Ferrari. Next up, you have the commonly dubbed "best of the rest", where the best a team is counting on is 4th place with McLaren, Aston Martin, Alpine, and Alpha Tauri fighting for championship points. At the back, Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Haas are mostly fighting to not lose more so than to win.
Going back to the app store analogy, even within a given category, there is clear stratification of outcomes. For example, here are the estimated downloads of popular social media apps on iOS for October 2021 from Statista:
When I work to put together our strategy it's important to keep in mind who I am racing. If I want us to compete with our largest competitor, and we're number 5, we need to know that this isn't a well set goal.
Yes, it's possible to do it as Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo showed last year, but in both cases, it happened because the leaders had shot themselves in the foot.
Platforms aren't fair, and they never will be
The 2021 season was particularly tension filled. Especially, with the championship being decided in the second to last lap by a contreversial policy decision. Fans, drivers, and teams have been vocal about the inconsistency of the application of the rules throught the season.
The main takeaway here was that even at the pinnacle of motorsport, with decisions being made by experienced stewards (referees), they're still constantly screwing up. This means that when I get hit over the head by a ridiculous interpretation of the rules in my life, it's to be expected, and in practice, something to plan and hedge for. Another nugget in the same vein is that while in the moment you're aware of how you're being screwed, at other times you benefit from others being screwed over. It's not a one way street, and if you aren't seeing your advantages, that doesn't mean they aren't there.
Focus on your strengths, even the best have weaknesses
While the main action is on the track, I have found watching the team principles (CEO of the team), and other senior members to be a very interesting portion of the show. In recent seasons, fans have gotten short interviews with team principles in the middle of practice, qualifying, and races. We have also gotten to hear some of the conversations between a team's sporting director, and race control.
These interviews and conversations have a lot of small wisdoms in them, but a key takeaway I see is that even at the pinacle of motor racing, the leaders have moments of weakness. Toto Wolff famously hits his table in frustration leading to jokes like this:
Watching highly successful people have these moments of weakness and still be successful gives me hope that for all my faults, if I push my strengths there is still a decent chance of success.
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