The psychology of Formula 1 teams

Mark Webber, Malaysian GP 2002

Mark Webber, Malaysian GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

IN Formula 1 it is easy for people to kick a team when it is down. Often the teams deserved to be kicked because they have the budget necessary to do the job and they do not deliver the results. Small teams which work miracles with small budgets are heaped with praise even if their results are none too impressive. Everyone loves an underdog like Minardi. As Jordan has found out underdogs lose their appeal if they are successful but then do not maintain their success.

But the most criticism is always aimed at teams which should be doing well and are not. They receive much more pressure than those who do not have the means to do the job properly.

The reaction to this pressure is what is important - and this depends on the management of the team. The team members need to be inspired to do better things. In teams where leadership is weak (or distracted) the workers tend to look at the money they are earning as the justification for working. A lot of F1 people cannot cope with this attitude and so they depart to move elsewhere. As a rough guide, teams which are changing personnel are not doing as well as they should be doing (except in the case where big teams have been targeted by poachers).

There are teams around today (and there have been a number in history) which end up being made up of people who do not really have the will to win. They are there to survive. It is comfortable. No-one expects to win and they all just take their money. The only way to turn them around is to bring in a new management and stamp out the attitude.

Most teams, however, want to do as well as they possibly can but poor machinery, poor management or poor financing means that they cannot achieve what they could be achieving. In such cases the technical men are often the ones who become frustrated the quickest and because there is such a demand for good engineers who know how to do well they do not stay long.

Once the correct hardware (windtunnels and so on) is in place and a team is being managed properly there should be no excuses and in such circumstances criticism and even ridicule are quite useful as team members with the right attitude hate to lose and hate to be humiliated. They work harder to get the team out of the mess that it is in.

The key element in all of this is teamwork. If everyone can be convinced to work together for a common goal rather that splitting up and fighting amongst themselves is in the creation of team spirit. If there is a common goal, the morale will come as each step forward is taken.

One might say that management is the key to it all but perhaps a better expression is that inspiration is the key. People around the great drivers work harder for them because they are great drivers. A great driver is always revered by his mechanics.

A lot of the current Formula 1 team bosses are inspirational characters but some are not. They live in a rarified world where they can easily lose track of the men and women in the teams they are leading. Today it is the middle management which is just as important: managing and technical directors are the people who make things tick.

Finding the right people for these job is not as easy task and when no proven talents are available it is often necessary to take a risk and see if new recruits can do the job. Experience or success in other fields or other formulae is not always a good indication that someone will be successful in F1 because Grand Prix racing is the ultimate test in the sport.

Many have come to F1 and have failed. A few have been successful. Some have even been able to sustain that success. One or two have been able to sustain it for years.

And that, in one sentence is why Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and Jean Todt are where they are today.

Everyone else is in a constant state of rebuilding... as we are seeing now in the midfield in F1.

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