Former drivers help F1 teams get podium positions

Formula One teams are more likely to cross the finish line first if their boss is a former F1 driver, according to new research conducted by the University of Sheffield and the Cass Business School.

The pioneering study shows putting money on teams like Red Bull and Sauber, which are headed by experts not general managers, is a wise move as former drivers and mechanics win twice as often as other types of F1 leaders.

Report authors, Ganna Pogrebna from the Department of Economics at the University of Sheffield and Amanda Goodhall from Cass Business School, crunched the vital statistics on 750 races which took place over 60 years. They collected data on every Grand Prix in the history of Formula One - an industry today worth $4 billion a year - and calculated the probability of winning and of getting a position on the podium.

The research supports broader emerging ideas on expert leaders and the findings are consistent with patterns found recently in many other inquires, including into other sports and in other settings such as finding hospitals perform best when headed by doctors.

Ganna Pogrebna argues that drivers and mechanics do better as F1 leaders because they have hands-on experience, intuition and understanding of the competitive side of the sport.

She said: "We found that F1 teams produce consistently more podium positions and wins when they are led by former drivers and mechanics.

"We believe that former drivers and mechanics gain a comparative advantage over F1 leaders with other backgrounds because they become engaged in competitive decision making from a young age.

"They understand both the strategic and the technical part of the F1 competition and, most importantly, they can efficiently communicate goals and objectives to their teams."

Fellow author, Amanda Goodall, said: "As in other areas of life, F1 leaders’ backgrounds
are a good predictor. The most successful team leaders were drivers or mechanics in their youth. Former brilliant drivers like Jean Todt consistently turn into particularly successful Formula One bosses - even when we factor out things like the resources available to each team.

"We can see why comparative newcomers like Red Bull, led by former driver Christian Horner and Sauber, led by former mechanic Peter Sauber, are doing so well in Formula One. Watch out for them. These teams may not have a 50-year history like Ferrari but they are led by hands-on experts with deep intuition."