Published on March 14th, 2014 | by Ganna Pogrebna

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Winning Lessons from Formula One

Recently on Feb 5, my co-author Amanda Goodall presented the results of our paper Expert Leaders in Fast-Moving Environment at an event entitled “Competing in Turbulent Environments: Lessons from Formula 1” organised by Cass Business School.

By analysing over 18,000 car entries in Formula 1 competition between 1950 and 2011, we found that Formula 1 (F1) team principals with previous experience in core industry increase the team’s chances of gaining a podium position. Particularly, we looked at four leader types: former engineers (team principals with engineering degrees); former mechanics (team principals who have worked as mechanics for many years but never obtained a degree in engineering); former drivers (team principals who have competed as drivers in various championships) as well as former manager (team principals who have had primarily managerial or entrepreneurial backgrounds before joining F1).

We found that former drivers make the best F1 team principals. Furthermore, the longer their driving experience, the better off their teams are. In fact, the driving experience of the team principal has more impact on F1 team results compared to the experience of F1 drivers currently competing for their teams.

Cass has organised a great event: they managed to gather a fantastic panel which was a mix of academics (Dr Paolo Aversa, Marie Curie Fellow of Strategy of Cass Business School; Mark Jenkins, Professor of Business Strategy of Cranfield School of Management and Dr Amanda Goodall , Senior Lecturer in Management of Cass Business School), practitioners (Nick Fry, former CEO Mercedes Grand Prix and Gary Anderson, former BBC F1 technical analyst) as well as media representatives (James Allen, BBC Radio 5 F1 commentator and Financial Times F1 correspondent and Joe Saward, F1 journalist and blogger). The event was overbooked: the panel discussion was streamed in a different room for those who could not get a place in the main lecture hall. In fact, had the London Underground staff not decided to go on strike on Feb 5, Cass would probably have been stormed by endless crowds of hopeful F1 fans.

The panelists talked about the importance of team work, “good” people and meaningful incentive mechanisms in F1. They also tried to provide the winning recipe for F1 competition (Watch the panel debate here).

For me personally, the Cass event was a great opportunity not only to support my co-author Amanda and meet many interesting people but also to see an old friend Axel Wendorff from McLaren F1 Team, who has inspired a lot of my theoretical and empirical work on F1. In fact, I started to collect F1 data after I met Axel on a plane: he was reading the Autosport magazine and I was trying to read over his shoulder. Who would have thought that only a few years later, my paper would be the centre of a large publicity event in London, participated by some of the most reputable experts on F1? I guess whenever you get interested in something, you never know where your interest may lead you…

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Ganna Pogrebna is an Associate Professor with the Service Systems research group at WMG. Ganna studies how decision-makers reveal their preferences, learn, co-ordinate and make trade-offs in static and dynamic risk and uncertain environments with policy applications to innovation, leadership, finance and healthcare.

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