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Post-F1 Paths - The boss // From driving the car to leading the charge

Published by Christine

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Hello and welcome to episode four of Post-F1 Paths, the latest mini series from Sidepodcast that investigates what options are available to F1 drivers once they have decided to step out of the car. So far we’ve covered a few options for those wanting a clean break from F1 but now it’s time to go back to the paddock with a new challenge – being the boss.

We haven’t seen it so much recently, but one of the options awaiting a driver when they decide it’s time to hang up those racing gloves is to become the boss. A wealth of experience of driving, managing race weekends, understanding what it takes to win and living the crazy jet set lifestyle that comes with Formula One is a good grounding for taking over a team. Or is it?

There are plenty of examples of drivers making the step up to team owner, F1 history is littered with them. Some, such as John Surtees, opt to own the team and continue to drive at the same time, which must make post-race debriefing sessions odd – the boss telling himself off. Others, such as Alain Prost, wait until after they’ve retired to grab the reigns.

Prost bought the ex-Ligier team in 1997 and remodelled it as Prost Grand Prix. They had a handful of podiums in the early days but things went downhill after that and the team went bankrupt in 2002. Super Aguri was a team managed by Aguri Suzuki, and they become quite famous for being a backmarker squad, eventually running out of money part way through a season.

It’s not always bad news though. Jack Brabham had considerable success with his Brabham outfit, they scored both constructor and driver titles before the team was eventually sold to Bernie Ecclestone, you might have heard of him. And the most famous and long-lasting of all, of course, is the team founded by one Bruce McLaren. Still running to this day with lots of great results behind them, a huge heritage and plenty of respect throughout the paddock – even if the current McLaren era isn’t exactly going to plan.

As I mentioned at the start, the driver-turned-owner dynamic isn’t something we’ve seen more recently, perhaps because the costs of getting into F1 and the barriers to entry are so high. What we do see more of these days is the driver turned ambassador – someone willing to associate their name with a brand, lend their expertise to a team that needs it, basically give them some gravitas in the paddock.

The most obvious example of this at the moment is Niki Lauda, who has become a stalwart of the Mercedes garages, stalking through the paddock ready to give his opinion at the mere hint of a microphone. There’s a vast amount of talent and experience within that team already, but having someone with Lauda’s CV on board should be a help when things get tricky.

One of the things I assumed having an F1 driver as part of the executive team would help with would be driver management. Someone like Niki Lauda knows what it is to disagree with your teammate, to be caught up in the heat of the battle, to want to win at all costs, regardless of what it does to relationships… and yet still have to make those relationships work. That’s why the fight between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was even more fascinating over the past few seasons – they must have had plenty of advice from all angles to help them through but still the atmosphere just got worse and worse.

It can’t be easy being on the sidelines once an F1 star has decided to give up the day job, and I imagine you have to have a certain attitude to be able to watch the action in the garages or from the pit wall without wanting to elbow people out the way and jump in the car yourself. But for those that can make it work, it must also be a very rewarding experience – using everything you’ve learned in your driving career to turn around and make a new set of drivers, and perhaps even your own team, ultimately have their own success.

That’s all for this episode of Post-F1 Paths, thank you for joining me along our path this series. I’d love to hear what you think about the success or failure of drivers that have turned team boss, manager or ambassador – is it a good idea or are they better suited behind the helmet? Let me know sidepodcast.com/contact. I will be back tomorrow with another episode, please join me then.

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