Fast Cars and Lessons

My son reintroduced me to Formula 1 racing recently.

Hook, line, and sinker – I’m about as into it as one could be without tipping over deep into car-nerd territory.

As a man who hasn’t made it a regular practice to engage or indulge in viewing sport since the days of “ABC’s Wide World”, it’s just plain good fun.

Part of this semi-compulsion is an appreciation for wildly cool machines. In this case, hybrid-powered, exotic, aerodynamic sculptures on wheels that, to my eyes, are things of high-speed utilitarian beauty.

Because I drive a Prius, I get to pretend F1 cars are second cousins thrice removed.

And to watch pit-stops in which tires are traded out in under three seconds? Whoa…

As a kid watching the occasional F1 race on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” decades ago, I never gave much thought to the teams behind the cars and drivers. It was just “thrill of victory, agony of defeat” televised distraction on Saturday afternoons.

What I’m discovering, through watching and peppering my son (who’s made it his business to study F1 at a fairly esoteric level) with endless questions about cars, drivers, teams, roles, and so much more, is that there’s a whole lot more to the game just going fast.

Before you call me Captain Obvious, hang in there…

While all the teams are well-oiled machines, the winningest elevate well-oiled-ness to awe-inspiring levels in a whole lot of ways.

At this stage, I’m still making sense of strategy and tactics, so all I can comment on is what I observe – and on some days I’m seeing the Red Bull team do mind-blowingly remarkable things whilst the Mercedes team, who are also amazing, lag ever so slightly behind.

I’m a fan of complexity, so beyond the easily observable action on the track, it’s the Team Principals and folks in the pit area with their noses to computer screens, monitoring myriad systems on each car as well as driver biometrics such as pulse and g-forces that fascinate me.

And because I still know so little about the roles those team members play, I can see there’s a lot to learn about how they work together, how they synthesize information, how they make decisions…

And in a sport in which hundredths and thousandths of a second make big differences, how they collectively recover from errors of every imaginable kind – including trashing a car the day before a race!

While it’s arguable that any team sport is made of similar elements, there’s something about F1, part athletics, part raw speed – part technology that rubs elbows with science fiction – that has me ask what leaders and organizations can learn from it?

What can I, as a coach, curriculum designer, trainer, leader – and partner and parent – learn from watching F1?

It’s hard to say just yet.

What I do know is that, as human beings, the seductive pull of the already known is strong. It’s comfortable and easy to fall into and, while not necessarily “bad”, it’s not always useful.

Reaching for the known also tends to keep us glued in place – when the order of the day requires new thinking, different brands of creativity, or innovation.

As high-minded and significant as all that sounds, the coolest part of the F1 experience might just be having wicked-good fun hanging and geeking-out with my son on weekend mornings.

So even if I learn nothing, it’s going to be time very well-spent!