It is hardly surprising that Mercedes’ record-breaking seventh consecutive Constructors’ Title was accompanied by an ongoing curiosity of what makes the Brackley squad unbeaten in Formula One’s new V6 hybrid era.
Historically, there has been a tendency to link any sports team’s performance to an individual or a group of individuals in the management.
Ferrari’s glory days are often equated with the Brawn-Todt partnership. McLaren’s dominance of the 80s and late 90s brings to mind Ron Dennis’ demanding leadership style and the engineering genius of John Barnard or Adrian Newey. The Benetton and Renault success stories – a decade apart – are linked by Flavio Briatore’s name evoking in itself a dichotomy of success and controversy.
So, has the recipe for success altered throughout the past four decades? I think the answer is indeed complex in its simplicity.
On the one hand, it has always come down to three essentials: efficiency, focus and consistency. On the other hand, the optimal way of nurturing these has changed drastically, along with the business world at large.
As Ron Dennis recalls, back in the 1960s, a team could function with a staff of about seven. By comparison, according to Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff, the team is today reliant upon two thousand people.
Within such a large-scale establishment, the human component is arguably as crucial as ever. Upon joining the silver arrows at the end of 2012, a formerly prodigious investor and manager, Wolff recognized this. He placed people at the epicenters of the team’s philosophy. Over time, he repeatedly reaffirmed his belief in ‘a no-blame culture’, of ‘empowerment’ and clear communication to cultivate a constructive sense of responsibility and ultimately preempt dependability on any specific individuals.
For all the twists and turns of the past forty years, one aspect is clear: communication with internal and external actors alike is fundamental. There needs to be a synchroneity in vision and purpose between chassis, engine and sponsorship.
In their prime, the likes of Dennis, Todt and Briatore have prevailed in bringing about this synchroneity, albeit with vastly different management styles.
The fact that they have done so without Wolff’s trademark sense of humor may be indicative of the key shifts in twenty-first century business culture. Happiness is efficiency; so, unsurprisingly, Wolff sticks to commencing crucial meetings with a self-ironic remark. The results are well-documented.