Friday, December 17, 2021
This week, Red Bull Racing driver, Max Verstappen, won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2021 F1 World Drivers’ Championship … doing so on the race’s last lap and edging out rival, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just over 2 seconds and 8 points respectively.
On lap one of the race, Hamilton used a run-off area to avoid a pass by Verstappen and, being permitted by race stewards to keep his position, kept his lead, then, and for nearly the entire balance of the race, stretching his advantage, at times, to more than 10 seconds over Verstappen.
Article 15.3 e) of the 2021 Formula One Sporting Regulations states that:
15.3 The clerk of the course shall work in permanent consultation with the Race Director. The Race Director shall have overriding authority in the following matters and the clerk of the course may give orders in respect of them only with his express agreement:
e) The use of the safety car.
Remember that. It will become important later.
With six laps remaining, driver Nicholas Latifi crashed in turn 14 causing a yellow flag and bringing out the safety car.
Red Bull immediately brought Verstappen in for new, soft (most aggressive) tires. Hamilton stayed out. Toto Wolff, Mercedes Manager and part-owner of the team, had calculated that the race would either end under caution or that Verstappen would need to contend with the lapped cars between him and Hamilton, making a Red Bull challenge impossible. With just two laps to go, it looked as if Wolff was right and that Hamilton would coast to a win under yellow.
But then, Race Control announced both that, the lapped cars would go through – putting Verstappen directly behind Hamilton – and that the safety car would leave the track, with one lap to go.
Five turns into the final lap, Max Verstappen easily passed now Sir Lewis Hamilton going on to win.
Now, any can debate the merits of Race Director, Michael Masi’s, decision to invoke 15.3e to make changes at the end of the race to ensure competition and that the race would end under green flag racing, just as many might debate the lap one call. There are Race Control decisions from the entire year, Silverstone maybe, that could be second-guessed. But to let one’s entire fate rest in the hands of others and meanwhile coast along while your competition is making moves to cut your throat, that’s a tremendously bad idea.
And that’s the point for the week.
Mercedes didn’t lose because of Michael Masi, no more than Red Bull won because of him. Mercedes lost because Toto Wolff made a decision to continue coasting along, leaving Hamilton out, when he could have brought him in for new, soft tires of his own. Instead, Red Bull, as they had done all day, all season, in fact, was the one to make the decisions and moves to put themselves in the best position to win should the opportunity present itself. And it did.
Those who coast along are headed for a fall. It is never a matter of if, but always a matter of when. The junk pile of history is littered with big, important names – those who believed that they were too big to fail, too mighty to be beaten, too far ahead to ever be caught. But caught they were, like Hamilton, eaten and moved on from.
Are you out there coasting? Just turning laps … Believing you have the best infrastructure? Thinking, maybe wrongly, that you have the best people? Believing that you have built such a lead over your rivals that you can never be caught? Ask Mary Barra of GM how that’s working out for them, or the U.S. tire makers. Those who coast lose. It’s a simple fact.
Conversely, those who best understand their surroundings and who are best prepared to capitalize on more potential outcomes will win more often.
They do so almost entirely because they employ brighter people – because these are the sort of places that bright people want to work and stay at. Places that move quickly, accept mistakes, encourage fun and celebrate victories instead of expecting them.
I say almost, because I believe the biggest difference of all is that people who haven’t learned to coast still remember what losing feels like; and what motivates them is less a desire to never feel that way again themselves but moreover to never see those they care about go through it ever again.
So, the hunger that drives a preparedness to win is more about care than anything else. Doubt it? Just watch a better prepared team and a coaster when they lose; tell me which one hugs and consoles and which one throws their equipment.
It is really, like all else in life, a simple choice. To coast off into oblivion or to care enough to put yourself in a position to pass those who do.
Afterword: After several disputes, appeals and vows to fight the result in court, Mercedes the race team, possibly under pressure from Mercedes AG (who realized, I think, that losing car sales as a result of already largely disliked Toto Wolff’s childish and meritless fit was a bad idea) dropped their case earlier this week and Max Verstappen was formally crowned the F1 WDC in Paris on Thursday.
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