History was made over the weekend as the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team clinched its seventh straight Constructors Championship in a racing series considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One.
For those who are not in the know, this team is also known as the Silver Arrows owing to the supposedly bare metal paint scheme of its cars during its formative years. Mercedes-Benz has been one of F1’s iconic manufacturers having raced prominently in three eras – 1934 to 1939, 1954 to 1955, and 2010 up to now. But it is perhaps in this current turbo-hybrid era of F1 that it has cemented itself as one of the true automotive greats, epitomizing excellence in the sport.
Throughout its participation in Grand Prix racing, Mercedes-Benz has amassed a total of seven Constructors titles, eight Drivers championships, 113 race wins and 124 pole positions. Their latest Team Championship makes Mercedes-Benz the first team to win seven straight Constructors championships. The most number of consecutive championships in the sport’s history. And if Lewis Hamilton, the team’s star driver, wraps up the Driver’s Title in the next race in Turkey , it will be the team’s seventh straight double championship year. Truly commendable, given its shaky start in 2010 when the German brand bought out the championship-winning Brawn Formula One outfit.
Establishing a team culture
But the team’s journey to success did not happen overnight. It took the team three years before it sorted out its problems with its cars, set-up a strong administrative and engineering base to run them, and acquired a driver pairing that would push the team forward towards success.
Now, winning in the top echelons of car racing is a mean feat in itself. But doing so consistently, year after year for seven seasons, that is just the stuff of legends. Which warrants the question, what are they doing right to achieve this kind of success? And is this something that can be emulated in other more relevant settings?
Despite the high-profile celebrity status of the sport’s top drivers, Formula One is still a team sport. As with any other team sport, it is the harmony of various components making up the team that will determine how successful it will be.
Lewis Hamilton, and the team’s second driver Valtteri Bottas, are supported by 1,500 engineers, technicians, designers, and team personnel who put in the hours to create and ensure success. Most of the team members, who we do not see during the races, are based in the UK factories at Brackley and Brixworth in the United Kingdom doing their bit to support the campaign.
Naturally, with a large organization, communication is key to realizing efficiency in operation. Toto Wolff, the team principal and CEO of Mercedes-Benz AMG Petronas, knows all too well how important it is to give everyone in the team a voice. In a podcast with retired F1 champion Nico Rosberg, who also happens to be the only other Mercedes-Benz drivers champion in the turbo-hybrid era aside from Hamilton, Wolf explains the culture he has cultivated in the team throughout his seven-year tenure.
“It is a fundamental part of our team’s culture that we are brutally honest with each other. It’s annoying to have criticism and to hear that, and especially more annoying if you know they have a point,” says the Austrian financial investor and former racing driver.
His takeover of the German marque’s F1 operation in the 2014 season has led to its sustained success 7 years on. And through the years, he has instilled a motto that continues to drive the team forward to this day.
“See it, say it, fix it,” says Wolff. “That means that you need to be able to speak up. You need to be able to tell your boss, “You’ve made a mistake.” And only then, if you have a culture of complete transparency and honesty, only then you can improve as a team. He adds, “You are not hiding things anymore, you are not playing conservative in order to not just screw up. I think we need to take risks and we need to incentivize people to take risks and come up with innovation. Scrutinize. Talk about it. Come to a joint decision whether it is good or wrong. Brutal transparency is absolutely crucial in any organization.”
Could it be that this precise mindset is the kind of culture needed by every organization to ensure that it gets the job done? What if we apply it to how the country’s transportation system is run?
Equating how a racing team is run to managing a bloated and jaded bureaucracy might be a stretch, but hear us out. What if the Philippine government were run like the Mercedes-Benz AMG Petronas F1 team and it had star drivers like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways in the limelight?
What if these drivers had teammates who support them like the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board, the Toll Regulatory Board and other transportation agencies, along with the thousands of other hardworking government employees who ensure the operation is run as efficiently as possible?
What if this whole organization had a culture of transparency where everyone can contribute towards making things become better, ensuring quality at every level, and minimizing failure and mistakes?
What if every government employee who sees something wrong, reports it to his superiors? What if every flagged issue is acted on immediately because everyone is on the same page and shares the same passion to win? What if mediocrity is not an option, and only excellence in every effort is the standard to which success is measured? And what if the government defined winning as delivering the best transportation and mobility service the people deserve?
Blaming the problem, not the person
In reality though, it is not only the government that is in this team. We, as citizens of the country, belong to this same big team. Many of us have ideas on how to improve things. Some might work, some might not. But what is important is, as seen in the example of the Mercedes-Benz championship team, the realization that we should align ourselves to one purpose. And that is to win for the people.
Our diversity in opinions and points of view can actually be the key to delivering multi-faceted solutions to our complex problems as a country. The main takeaway from the Mercedes-Benz F1 journey is to listen to each other’s conflicting views. Welcome criticism and encourage them, in fact. Recognize that no one man has a monopoly of right ideas. “Approach a different opinion with curiosity, and not combat,” adds Wolff. That way we can all improve towards achieving the common goal.
“The pain of failure lasts much longer and is more intense than the joy of winning,” says Wolff. If only every political appointee, bureaucrat and government employee thought the same, then perhaps we would be enjoying the fruits of our success more often.
IN PHOTO: Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton (left) poses with Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team as they celebrate after the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track in Imola, Italy, on November 1, 2020. (Photo by Luca Bruno / POOL / AFP)
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.