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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Pushing the Performance Limit

Lessons from Formula 1 for every business

As I've gotten older and technology has improved, I find the way I consume entertainment at home has shifted dramatically. With the proliferation of streaming services, I find myself going down an endless array of rabbit holes finding shows to binge that would never have seen the light of day in my house on traditional cable or broadcast television. Like many of you, I was transfixed by the bizarre deliciousness of "Tiger King" from Netflix early in the pandemic. The same can be said of "Fleabag" on Amazon Prime, "The Flight Attendant" on HBO Max, and the sublime "Ted Lasso" on Apple TV+.

However, there's only one series that has completely reshaped my viewing habits and opened me up to a world I barely knew existed – and is now one I can't imagine life without: "Formula 1: Drive to Survive" on Netflix. If you're not familiar with the show, Drive to Survive is a documentary series produced in a collaboration between Netflix and Formula 1 (F1) that offers viewers an intimate look into the notoriously secretive sport. Drive to Survive is more than a simple one-dimensional look at who wins and loses races throughout the season. Instead, the show excels in creating narratives over each 10 episode season, allowing viewers to emotionally invest in favorite drivers, brands, and even team principals. More than anything, however, Drive to Survive has made me and my entire family huge fans of F1 to the point we wouldn't imagine missing a race in a sport that barely crossed our consciousness a year ago.

When I watch the precision, moving parts, and cooperation that is genuinely required for a driver to win a single Grand Prix – let alone a World Championship – I can't help but think how businesses could learn quite a few things from this storied sport.

  1. Customers First – the owners of F1 (Liberty Media) clearly understand this as their entire approach is to engage the audience. During every race, they share real-time data such as pit stop times, heat maps to show which car parts reach the highest temperatures, and changes in track conditions with the broadcasters to pass along to the fans. Additionally, all team communications are open channeled to give viewers insight into teams' strategic choices during each Grand Prix. F1 grasps that it's no longer enough to have a fantastic product at a cost-effective price; it's providing a personal experience that matters most. When brands place customers at the heart and soul of every brand interaction, those customers become fervent fans.

  2. Teamwork – While the driver of each car is the most recognizable member of an F1 team, he is not the most important. Communication between engine manufacturers, the aerodynamics department, and the group that builds the chassis is critical to overall performance. However, the real display of teamwork is nowhere as apparent as the pit stop. Roughly 20 mechanics work in harmony when a car boxes (pits) to change all four tires, clean air ducts, and adjust the front wing's angle – all in about two seconds. Each team member has a specific duty, knows what is expected, and understands their role in the overall race result. In every single aspect of a business, diverse team skills are needed to achieve success. Handing a wheel gun in a pit box is a different skill from the creative expertise needed to design the vehicle, but both are equally important. Having a great driver or leader is only one piece of the overall puzzle – it's having a caring, competent team that will achieve victory.

  3. Change is Constant – As former PPAI President and CEO of Paul Bellantone once eloquently stated, "the pace of change will never be as slow as it is today." F1 is about speed, versatility, and the velocity in which teams adapt to change: rules, regulations, track conditions, and the competition. For example, in the Sochi Grand Prix on September 26, 2021, two drivers were competing for the victory as rain began to fall during the last four laps of the race. While race leader Lando Norris, who drives for McLaren, opted to stay on the track using older tires with no tread, the Mercedes team advised their driver, Lewis Hamilton, to box for intermediate tires to navigate the precipitation. When Hamilton left the pit, he was a full 26 seconds behind Norris, which seemed insurmountable. However, Norris and his slick tires couldn't maneuver on the standing water of the track, which resulted in him spinning off the course and losing the race to Hamilton. Because the Mercedes team adapted to the changing track conditions decisively, they won the race. In today's fast-paced, continually evolving business landscape, it's critical to build a culture of speed that will allow you to pull ahead of the competition that languishes, hoping that change won't happen.

  4. Isolate the Problem – An F1 car has over 30,000 components which mean there is plenty of opportunity for failure. One team has estimated that it changes a part on its vehicle every 18 minutes on average during the season. Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO of 7-time championship Mercedes -AMG Petronas F1 team, has a mantra of "isolate the problem, not the person." When something does go wrong, Wolff and his team focus on pragmatically resolving the problem rather than blaming the person. This approach has created a collaborative environment where issues are settled quickly and efficiently while maintaining a team-first culture. Just like in F1, things go wrong in business: the order doesn't ship on time, the client doesn't like the merchandise, or the logo isn't within agreed-upon brand standards. Instead of pointing fingers and shifting blame, successful organizations focus on fixing the problem for the client - period. Remember, customers rarely care why something went wrong; they want to understand what the solution is.

Formula 1 provides a perfect ecosystem of how critical each component is to the success of each team and the overall growth of the racing brand. Before Liberty Media bought a controlling interest in F1 for $4.4B in late 2016, the sport was notoriously private and elitist. By collaborating with Netflix to show the humanity and drama of the sport, F1 outpaces soccer, UFC, and the NFL as the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world. In the United States alone, race viewership has risen almost 100% to about 945,000 in 2021 from about 540,000 in 2018.

Customers first, showcasing teams over drivers, highlighting the importance of quickly adapting to change, and dsiplaying how critical it is to isolate issues swiftly – these are the same ingredients one must have to run any successful business. By pushing the limits on your organization's performance, you can feel the thrill of a champagne shower at the end of your business race.

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