by Mark Chillingworth

Fisichella saves Ferrari from poor people management grid

Sep 08, 2009

This weekend Giancarlo Fisichella lines up on the starting grid (we expect him to qualify) in a Ferrari. The Italian’s journey to one of the most coveted seats in Formula One is an example of management that lacked forward planning when looking at its staff. With regular driver Felipe Massa sidelined for the rest of the year by the rear spring of a Brawn F1 car, Ferrari suddenly had to look at its staff of drivers and plan for the remaining races. What it saw was two drivers who haven’t raced competitively since 1999 and 2004 respectively (Luca Badoer and Marc Gene). We then went through the farcical show of Ferrari turning to its greatest driver in recent history, Michael Schumacher, and begging the legendary German to resurrect his driving career, only for neck problems from a motor cycle accident to scupper the move. With hindsight, you can’t help wondering how a team that very nearly beat Lewis Hamilton to the F1 crown last year didn’t have the foresight to have a young driver groomed and ready in the wings  (as Williams did with David Coulthard), or at very least a driver from last season prepared to step into the breach. F1 is well known for suddenly loosing drivers. Thankfully Massa is still with us, but even those who don’t follow the sport too closely, will remember that terrible weekend in 1994 when F1 lost its greatest ever driver (in my opinion), Ayrton Senna. F1 team managers are businessmen and having had the luxury of being a journalist that interviews CIOs and  has interviewed some F1 managers and drivers, I can tell you a CIO and a F1 team manager share a lot in common. Frank Williams had Coulthard waiting in the wings in 1994 when Senna crashed at Imola, who went on to become a regular race winner fro the team. Ferrari seems to have failed to realise the fragile nature of their sport and people-management. No doubt the team has been focussing too much on getting hot property Fernando Alonso into their red cars to plan for an eventuality highly likely in a sport as dangerous as F1. CIOs and business leaders need to look at their teams, as a F1 team manager does, on the basis of, how would we cope if person X was suddenly out of action. In the current economic environment all organisations are working with very lean levels of staffing and a significant loss could severely hamper the business, as the poor results by Luca Badoer demonstrated. Although your team don’t sail around Monza at 200mph, there are real threats in today’s world, whether it’s Swine Flu or just the old fashioned falling in front of a bus. Ask yourself: is my organisation totally reliant on one team member? If I were Apple, I’d be thinking I was too much like Ferrari; Steve Jobs is to Apple what Schumacher is to the prancing horse. A balanced team with potential successors will ensure the organisation will always be able to soldier on towards the front of the grid, not languish in last place, no matter what happens.