HR & Management

Formula 1: What businesses can learn from Hamilton/Rosberg clash

3 min read

03 September 2014

This year's ongoing battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for the Formula 1 championship could hold lessons for businesses, new academic research suggests.

The two team-mates have created a real headache for their bosses as the battle has hotted up, leading to a sensational crash at the Belgian Grand Prix recently, costing the team 25 points and Hamilton a chance to close the gap.

The saga highlights a problem for managers when hiring top talent – can having two star performers be bad for business?

Some F1 teams like McLaren and Mercedes pride themselves on letting their drivers genuinely compete with each other, but new research from Cass Business School, part of City University London, examines the impact that two competitive team-mates can have on a team, and highlights the implications of this for businesses.

Researchers examined the performance of F1 drivers over two decades and found that those top performers who were put alongside a team-mate of a similar calibre saw a detrimental effect on their performance.

“This is a phenomenon that affects top managers at public and private organisations, leading scientists in R&D teams and movie stars in Hollywood,” says Dr Paolo Aversa, a strategy lecturer at Cass.

“Organisations that attempt to establish the perfect team by hiring a portfolio of stars risk putting two roosters in the same henhouse, which evidence suggests can erode the individual performance of team members.”

To deal with this, some teams encourage competition between star drivers, in the hope that this will encourage them to push each other into performing harder, hopefully leading to a better overall performance for the team.

Dr Aversa says that this can result in intra-team conflict, which damages collaboration between members of the same team.

It can also lead to inefficient use of resources. By trying to treat the two drivers equally, teams may decide to split resources in a way which doesn’t maximise their chance of winning. Creating internal competition for resources could lead to time being wasted on team members battling to co-opt the best facilities.

“Teams slow down their decision process as they have to carefully weigh the impact of favouring one driver over the other,” says Dr Aversa.

“In hyper-competitive settings like Formula 1, where teams are required to focus their resources and quickly respond to changes in the competitive arena, this behaviour harms both the drivers’ and the team’s performance.”

To combat these problems Aversa suggests clearly defining strategy right from the get-go.

He said: “Therefore, the expectations are well defined for both drivers, and everybody knows the right thing to do in each situation. Otherwise, matters can get confused, creating the type of problems we saw when Hamilton and Rosberg crashed in the Grand Prix at Spa.”

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