01/02/2018

Total Competition: Lessons In Strategy From Formula One

Ross Brawn & Adam Parr
2016

All is fair in love, war and Formula One, apparently

I used to love watching and reading about Formula 1, but the interminable politics eventually started to spoil it for me, and the more that came out about the behind-the-scenes jockeying and negotiation finished it off. The ludicrous situation that exists now, in which some teams have an officially sanctioned unfair advantage over others, is just untenable.

Nevertheless this is the third F1-related book I've read in the last month or so, and all were by people from the era in which I did follow it most actively. This isn't exactly a book about Ross Brawn, but then again it isn't really a book about anything else either. If it had a more sensational title it would be something cheesy, like "The Secret Of My Success", since what it purports to reveal, through a somewhat wearing question and answer format, is how Brawn achieved the results he did.

Although he has a technical background (and has in fact designed entire cars himself), what Brawn clearly truly excels at is management and strategy: not just race strategy, but - effectively - championship strategy, the long range planning and execution that is needed to win consistently and regularly. In the book he provides a number of insights into how he did this. There's nothing particularly surprising here from a management point of view, but his views on the specifics of that with respect to the sport are interesting, and possibly none more so for me than when it comes to the politics - that very thing that's turned me off.

Brawn says that the politics is inseparable from the sport, because if you want to win then you need a strategy, and the key part of any strategy is create the environment in which to win. Winning a race is merely the last detail in something that was prepared many months before, and any team that wants to win will use any technique it can. That might be exploiting a loophole in the regulations, or using your influence to shut one down because a competitor is using it. It could be arguing for rules to be tailored to your strengths in the name of safety. In short, it might be a whole bunch of things that aren't racing at all.

Brawn always struck me as an honest, fair, principled man, but I'm starting to wonder a little about this. He obviously does what he does for the love of it rather than the nevertheless very generous pay - much like the drivers themselves, as he observes at one point. But if you're that single-minded about success - and he's clear that you have to be - then you have to be prepared to turn a blind cheek to some of the more unsavoury characters and antics involved. I think he's still doing it, even though he was (at the time of publication) out of F1: for example, Briatore is described as "colourful" (presumably "grade A cunt" was cut by the editors).

The book is interesting, but the format grates after a while and I can't say I came away with an increased respect for Ross Brawn, I'm afraid. Maybe it lets a little too much light into magic, or maybe I'm just jaded.


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