Spanish GP Part 2

The other curious occurrence in the Spanish GP was Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap which was spoiled by a team fueling error.  Apparently, according to Gary Anderson of the BBC, Lewis was under fueled as a result of a mechanic’s error and the team’s decision to proceed anyway and not provide the few seconds necessary to correct it.  This points to a serious failure of team culture which eventually caused Hamilton’s brilliant pole lap to be completely ruined.

This event highlights the importance of team culture and how it can impact team decision making which can have radical implications on a race weekend.  Two examples come to mind as the most relavant examples of a team culture that dramatically affects the race weekend.  The first is Red Bull’s that was evident in 2011.  The team was not utterly dominant as the point tally would suggest, but Vettel was always able to find the extra tenth or two that he needed.  A tenth or two is not down to the car, it is down to the driver (look at Mark Webber’s efforts in the same car).

Why was this?  The utter dominance of Red Bull stemmed from a confidence that was never broken.  Recall that Red Bull never faced a real challenge until China when they made a strategic error.  Strategy errors are very different from team errors.  Strategy errors derive from a lack of understanding which means that Red Bull was out too long on its tires.  Lesson learned.  Team errors derive from a team culture that may allow errors of judgement to make it to the pit wall.  Take, for example, a Q3 situation where mechanics decide to under fuel the car and hope for the best rather than doing it right and losing a couple of seconds (sound familiar?).

Anyway, back to my point.  Red Bull’s confidence and the ease with which they could set up their car meant that they were never harried or rushed and so never had to make rapid decisions.  Confidence is infectious and comes from both the driver and the team.  The team had confidence in Vettel and visa versa.  The result was that neither team nor driver ever felt under pressure even if they cut some margins pretty tight.

This contrasts greatly with Ferrari who have openly admitted to needing to change their design philosophy.  Bear in mind, this is not a change from conservatism to a more aggressive design, but a change in process that dictates which pieces are pushed further down the pipeline.  While this clearly points to a midlevel management failure, it also points to a team culture that is, at the very least, confused. This confusion leads to inconsistency.  They must be thanking every deity in the book that they have such a fighter and calming influence as Alonso to keep them from all being sacked.

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