by Mark Chillingworth

2010 Formula One season lessons for the CIO

Nov 15, 2010

Last year as Jenson Buttonwon the Formula One World Championships we at CIO assessed his career and year to see what lessons there were for the nation’s IT leaders. One year on and we have another world champion and the opportunity to see what different lessons there are for the CIO. Last year’s Formula One season had a Disney film aspect to it. In January 2009 the Honda team was canned and it looked as if Jenson Button’s career had stalled on the start line. But the talented driver from Frome has demonstrated determination, good people skills, loyalty, grit and of course is pretty handy at the wheel of a car.  Equally his team, then called Brawn, now the Mercedes team, had shown a key skill all CIOs seek – innovation. Despite difficult odds from the Honda withdrawal, they built the best car and won the championships together. This year’s season, won on Sunday by young German Sebastian Vettel, was radically different from 2009. If CIOs can draw one lesson from this year’s season, it’s that a bit of internal competition, despite the friction it can bring, is worth-while. The Red Bull team had the fastest car on the grid and dominated the pole position sweet spot all year. As the season progressed the championship had an unlikely leader, Mark Webber. The Australian has been in the sport for an age and has a reputation for being difficult to overtake and in the midst of many a crash. But to be fair, in the last two years he has been the most improved driver on the grid and when he starts well and gets into the lead can win the race. As the season drew to a close he was leading the championship and even when he lost the championship lead to Ferrari’s tantrum-prone Spaniard Fernando Alonso, he was near enough to still win the golden prize.  However, the Red Bull team stated all year it would not favour one driver over the other. This caused Webber in true Australian style to reveal the size of the chip on his shoulder and whinge about unfairness. But as the season went to the wire at the dull excuse for a motor racing circuit in Abu Dhabi the management decision was to prove the right one. Both drivers had a mathematical chance of winning it and by competing against each other and rivals Alonso, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, the chance of winning outright was stronger. Many CIOs tell us that they like to have a degree of competition in their strategic set up. Some like to pitch vendors head-to-head to get the best price and the most innovation from their suppliers. One CIO even puts his team in direct competition with potential offshore providers. Those that operate this way believe and can demonstrate that they are getting the best results for their organisation, which is what they are contracted to do. The Red Bull team demonstrated on Sunday in Abu Dhabi that putting all your eggs in one basket is a game that delivers no results, while a bit of risky competition can pay off. If the Red Bull team had thrown its weight behind Mark Webber in the last two races we would today have a World Champion called Fernando. As it is, of the four possible champions that went to the Middle East, one of the least likely of the four did a better job on the day and brought home the prize. Mistakes by Mark Webber on when to pit, which were then copied by the Ferrari team, enabled Vettel to make the most of his pole position and win the race and thus the world championships. If Red Bull had backed Webber solely, they would be a disappointed team today.