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Lessons in strategy from F1

Ferrari Formula One Racing Team
Strategy Consulting, Strategy Reports

Lessons in strategy from F1

Lancastrian, Ross Brawn, is said to be worth in excess of £100 million from his career in Motorsport Management and F1 team ownership. His mantra in life is, “Luck is preparation waiting for an opportunity.” Ross always liked to work for and with those that provided the best opportunities. He maintains that we have to be ready for breaks when they come and working with people that are astute and aware of opportunities, is where breaks are found. The old adage springs to mind, ‘if you want some tea, go where the tea is made.’

Brawn’s book, ‘Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from F1’ suggests that strategy allows the best strategists to have won before they even get onto the field. This is an interesting observation, that involves maximising the competitive position, while minimising costs and risk of direct conflict with competitors.

It seems like Ross is saying, using the example of acquiring a theatre ticket, that you need to get the best seat in the house at the cheapest price, without directly having to fight anyone for it. Stealth is needed from the outset, implying that one needs to know the rules of the game, what could or might happen and one’s own position in relation to these uncertainties, before the game even starts. Since change is relentless, it makes sense then, to review strategic positioning throughout the implementation process.

Brawn believes that if the goal of strategy is to win, then winning should demonstrate technical superiority and economic benefits in the form of profits and influence in future negotiations. For example, Brawn says that “you could put on a new tyre and find half a second just like that. We put ourselves in a position where we were the prime team for Bridgestone. It was very important to welcome Bridgestone and say, ‘You are not a tyre supplier, we’re a team. We’re one. And the tyre is so vital that we are going to put everything we can into this relationship. Share everything you want, every piece of information that is in the company you can have. And we want the same from you.” 

In addition, Brawn was also astute in maintaining competition on the track but also encouraged socialising with competitors off it. Showing them respect while exuding confidence and fearlessness at the same time. By keeping competitors close, it was seemingly easier for him to get a sense of what their priorities and focus were. In theory, if this is done with enough competitors, a helicopter view of the competition in the game emerges, providing valuable strategic insights.

Ferrari Formula One Racing Team

At Ferrari, it was always Ross’s ambition to make sure the relationships worked as this was vital to the success of the project. Brawn always looked strategically at the strengths and weaknesses of everyone else. He believed in gathering intelligence and strengthening the team by poaching staff. He never wanted to miss out on the best engineers. At the same time, he ensured that he worked from a position of economic strength and that his relationships with leaders in the industry was almost statesmanlike.

He believed in regularly identifying where his firm was in relation to his competitors. What were their strengths? What did they focus on? What did they put their resources into, to gain advantage in the project? He shaped his F1 teams, based partly on what he thought his competitors were doing and what his team could do to compete and gain advantage. He regularly reviewed and discussed his strategic position.

Brawn set targets and said that “It’s a difficult process because you say, right, we have to be a second faster, but that is a hollow command unless you support with discussion and debate. We had metrics and my process would be to meet fairly frequently with the people to ask how they were getting on. Because they knew what the process was but they wanted to come to me to tell me that they had made some progress. That is human nature. So just that process of sitting down with everyone on a regular basis helped to drive things along.”

Clearly, Ross promoted the inclusion of all key people. He allowed everyone space to contribute on a regular basis. They had a process, a knowledge management system and a set of metrics around which to work towards continuous improvement. My recent post ‘Is your strategy being implemented successfully?’ highlights that regular collaboration on achieving strategic metrics and outcomes is best done: “With management having greater control, expectation and influence in strategic outcomes, this reduces their stress and increases their happiness.” 

Brawn understood his own strengths and weaknesses from this inclusive process, so was never sensitive to taking advice or hearing ideas from others. This was never an issue whether he managed someone else’s F1 team or owned his own. He was happy to delegate to others and merely guided his team in the direction the strategy required. He said that throughout his career “I have always been able to enjoy good partnerships with people – because I have always been happy to share the success.” This obviously implies sharing as say in the process too.

If you would like to discuss how your management team could ensure that your strategies work through facilitated collaboration, contact laurence@ldstrategy.co.uk – Your comments are welcome below. Please feel free to join the strategy conversation by subscribing or alternatively, follow us on social media.

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