Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Castor and Pollux or a load of... rubbish? // Mercedes' management style continues to raise questions

Published by Alex Andronov

Wolff, Lauda and Brawn celebrate
Credit: Daimler AG

Ross Brawn has been shoved out of Mercedes. This has been coming for a while as Mercedes seems to have tragically misunderstood the adage "too many cooks" and has at least five people in charge over there.

When Ross's departure was mooted it seemed obvious to everyone that the issue was around Ross's not wanting to share control. Fair enough, he ran the team singlehanded for a while and didn't do too badly, now he was being asked to give up control and he didn't want to.

Nikki Lauda said that it was the team management's opinion that having a single team principal was old fashioned. At first I interpreted this as either classic Lauda gobbledygook or a sign that Mercedes were falling into the trap of treating its F1 division like any other subsidiary, aka the Toyota trap.

Gemini

But since then something has occurred to me: while multinationals haven’t ever done well, Formula 1 has a pretty good history when you have a pair of bosses. At one point in Formula 1 you had Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and Flavio Briatore who were doing ok, but at Ferrari you had Jean Todt and Ross. Flav did badly except when it was Flav and Ross or Flav and Pat Symonds.

Ferrari and McLaren are in tough times at the moment Stefano Domenicali and Martin Whitmarsh seem to be at the helm alone, but over at Red Bull we have another double act - Christian Horner and Adrian Newey. All anecdotal I'm sure. At this point in other people's version of this article there would probably be a table of points scored by teams under the different management styles but that isn't reasonable. In fact in most of these teams there are people with exactly the same title, Ferrari have Pat Fry mirroring Newey while Dennis and Luca di Montezemolo are still around lurking in the shadows.

If you asked a casual observer of the sport who was in charge of the Red Bull team they would probably mention Newey before they mentioned Horner. I think the same was true in the Todt / Brawn era at Ferrari.

Ross Brawn and Nico Rosberg
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

So what could possibly be good about having two bosses? In the classic tale of Castor and Pollux (you may know them as Gemini) Castor is mortal and Pollux immortal, when Castor is fatally wounded Pollux is given the chance to share his immortality with Castor to save him, but at the cost of making them both mortal. Now this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but I do think that when we think of these successful partnerships we are almost always looking at situations where the person who is the top dog shares some of their kudos with the other person. It was obvious when Todt deferred to Ross, and when Horner defers to Newey. But I don’t see that with Ferrari or McLaren now.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a phrase meaning “therefore because of it”. Essentially what if everything is backwards with this analysis. What if we, and the public, know more about the people at the top of the teams when they are doing well?

Maybe a single team principal is an out-dated model

When a team is doing well does the media focus more on the top brass and therefore we find out more about them? That may be a factor, but I don’t think it’s just that, I think the sharing of the credit is the key difference. When the top person openly and regularly shares credit with another key person that seems to be when you see a team working really well. Maybe Lauda is right? Maybe a single team principal is an out-dated model.

But what about Brawn GP? Ross was the sole boss at Brawn and that seemed to go pretty well, so maybe this theory doesn’t hold water at all? But Brawn GP can be used to prove almost any statistic, it’s a unique case* and it doesn’t really fit with the general running of the sport. I don’t think it would be a good idea to base your business strategy on what was in many ways a fluke. It wasn’t solely a fluke, they took the fluke they were handed and successfully executed on it, that took skill and determination and guts. But it was unusual.

Over to you

So could this dual boss theory of Formula 1 management be right? Are teams with two bosses more successful? Or am I randomly picking and choosing examples with no real basis in fact? I’m not sure, and that’s what the comments are for. What do you think?

* It’s not an exception that proves the rule. Exceptions that prove the rule are something else entirely. Imagine somebody said all current liveries in Formula 1 are ok, we will not allow new liveries in pink. If you decided to bring a new livery in orange that would be ok because the “exception proves the rule”. By excluding pink explicitly they would be implicitly be accepting all other new colours. It’s the exception of pink that proves that other colours are ok.