Secrets behind the success of Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 team

Formula 1 has been the pinnacle of motorsport for more than half a century, and very few teams can claim the same success and accolades that Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 team has enjoyed in

Formula 1 has been the pinnacle of motorsport for more than half a century, and very few teams can claim the same success and accolades that Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 team has enjoyed in the last 5 years. Probably the only other notable streaks of success in the past 2 decades were Red Bull from 2010-2013 (4 consecutive World Drivers Championships (WDC) and World Constructors Championships (WCC)) and, Ferrari from 2000-2004 (5 WDC and WCC). It is clear then that, such sustained levels of success are not common, and are extremely tough to achieve in the competitive and ever-changing world of Formula 1.

Every now and then, sports throw up stories which are so inspiring and so magnificent, that they have the capacity to teach us, lessons seldom learned at management institutes. They are the live examples of how success can be achieved by following simple philosophies; which are so often missed by organizations around the world. Thus, it is intriguing to understand, what it takes to achieve sustained excellence year after year in the highly competitive world of Formula 1 and what can be learned from the success of Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 team.

This article precisely aims to deep dive into these aspects, and tries to decipher the advantages and key takeaways; that can help individuals or organizations take that next step towards excellence.

The CORE:

Although we are seeing a dominant team’s tremendous achievements for the last 5 seasons, the foundations were laid almost a decade ago. Brawn GP, which won the title in 2009 and bought by Mercedes in 2010, became the bedrock on which the seeds of the current team’s success were sown.

The core team from Brawn GP which included senior technical personnel, strategy folks, engineers, etc. were retained to ensure that the equilibrium and in-team harmony was not affected by the acquisition. The management structure of the team however, changed slightly wherein the new head of motorsport at Mercedes was appointed as the F1 team principal and previous management at Brawn GP worked closely with him. This is bound to happen in any business, where it is imperative to ensure that, the new alliance is being driven by the new vision and targets.

  • Advantages: Ensuring continuity at management level and avoiding major upheavals helped to maintain the momentum towards achieving progress and performance gains, without affecting day to day activities of critical business areas.
  • Takeaways: No matter how big the acquisition or change, it is critical to ensure that, your best people are retained and channeled together to achieve the new targets and goals. No matter if it takes a few years, but success is bound to follow with this approach.

The INVESTMENT:

Brawn GP which was a new avatar of Honda F1 (who quit at end of 2008 season), was a relatively small team in comparison to giants like Ferrari and McLaren. After the acquisition by Mercedes, there was tremendous excitement in the F1 paddock about the possibilities and shape this team could take in the future. With the might of Mercedes Benz to leverage, tremendous investments both capital and personnel was initiated to ensure they could compete with those superpowers of F1. Of course, the team understood that success was not guaranteed just by doing this and that it would take patience, hard work & commitment from personnel at all levels, to take the long path towards glory and eventually achieve success. Over the next 7-8 years, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team went on to become one of the biggest team in F1 (resources and capital-wise) along with Ferrari, McLaren & Red Bull.

  • Advantages: Backing of a global giant helped to eliminate business uncertainties and infuse much-needed capital to propel the company to the next level.
  • Takeaways: For any business hoping to see success and profitability from acquired businesses, infusing capital both human and monetary is key, if great results are to be expected in the future. The journey towards success will be long and full of disappointments, but patience, confidence, and desire to see your businesses succeed is required at top management level. It’s the Vision that matters.

The CULTURE:

Engineering is a tricky business and even small ideas; innovations or suggestions can turn an average car into a title challenger. To make things even more complex, the ever-changing technical regulations in F1 (like banning of aerodynamic aids such as double diffusers or the introduction of hybrid powertrains) introduces newer challenges which require technical acumen of the highest order. Brilliant minds working round the clock immersed in one and only one thought of improving the performance of the car by navigating the regulations, and eking out the last bit of performance from every part of the car is what defines a successful team. However, during this journey, some ideas click while others fail miserably. To navigate this crucial phase, a culture of…

  1. Freedom: Where people explore the limits of engineering to extract every ounce of performance.
  2. Ownership: Where people stand up & own the mistakes made and strive to improve.
  3. Eliminating fear: Where, strong leadership that looks at weaknesses and mistakes as an opportunity to improve without wielding the axe.

…is what has made Mercedes F1 team the dominant force it is today. These unglamorous aspects of management are what is required to achieve excellence and sustained success and are driven by the culture that is top-down and inclusive. I like to call it the “21st-century style of management” where you give your best people all the tools & freedom they need to take risks, without having to fear the consequences. There is a huge difference in being strong and being autocratic, and although this new-age management calls for strong leadership; it also calls for compassion towards your own; which ensures the team is focused and aligned to a single goal of accomplishing excellence. And Mercedes F1 seems to have found this formula right from the beginning. 

  • Advantages: Giving creative and intelligent minds the freedom to explore the limits; opens avenues rarely explored, and this is possible only with a new age culture.
  • Takeaways: No matter how small or big, and how simple or complex business you are in, ensure that the right culture is set from the onset which brings the best out of people, and helps them explore their own limits. If every individual is in some way affected by this positive atmosphere, then the dream of achieving the impossible no longer remains a dream.

The TEAM:

Led by a brilliant & dynamic leader, plus the availability of substantial capital and personnel all driven towards one common goal of winning the championships, the arduous task of improving the performance of the car was undertaken. As is the case with any business, it was important to ensure all departments in the car development were driven and led by the correct people with the right expertise. Be it performance engineering, aerodynamics or race engineering, various departments saw an influx of passionate, driven and quality workforce.

And to top it off, the small matter of getting the best and right driver pairing for the car was identified. On one hand, you had the 7-time F1 world champion making his comeback, while on the other, you had a brilliant yet unfulfilled talent who was itching to get his hands on a competitive machine. This combination of youth and experience; was critical for a team which needed valuable inputs from a championship-winning driver coupled with raw speed and new insights from a young talent to develop a competitive car. During the second phase of the team’s evolution, when the experience was replaced by arguably, one of the greatest drivers in F1 history, the team went to another level of dominance rarely seen in Formula 1.

  • Advantages: Availability of quality workforce all driven by the same desire, helps to ensure that efforts put in are channelized and consumed in the right manner and within given space. Also, the mantle of team leadership was passed on from a 7-time champion to a current superstar who was the future of the team and F1. Tough decisions were needed & were made to take the next step towards success.
  • Takeaways: Finding the right people and communicating your strategy, vision and clearly defining your goals early helps to steer the ship in the right direction from day one. Coupled with experience and talent, the road to glory is enjoyable with endless possibilities. This approach even has the potential to bring out the hidden talents of people and make them achieve the impossible.

The CONNECT:

In today’s digital and social media world, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team have become the leaders in providing high-quality insights to the fans around the globe never available at a public forum. It seems that they have quickly realized the power of media and marketing; to align with the needs and wishes of the current tech-savvy world. Be it behind the scenes action taking place during a race weekend; the glitz and glamour of the F1 world; or the technology that goes behind making the best cars in the world, Mercedes has given its fans tremendous access to their world rarely seen before in Formula 1. At the same time, having a strong marketing base helped to attract like-minded sponsors who share the same vision and passion ensuring a strong and stable financial future for the team.

  • Advantages: Formula 1 is a sport and you are only as strong as your fan base. Being inclusive rather than exclusive has helped Mercedes garner tremendous support around the world which is crucial for the brand’s success.
  • Takeaways: Building a strong marketing base is key to ensuring your products and vision resonate with the consumers (in this case: fans), going the extra mile in connecting with them through powerful social media platforms only helps in building a truly global brand; which can remain relevant even during the ever-changing times.

The RESULTS:

The astonishing results of all the aspects highlighted above are 5 consecutive World Drivers and Constructors Championships. The sheer brilliance and domination with which they have been achieved are truly remarkable in an era of tremendous talent across the grid, technological powerhouses as your worthy opponents and dealing with extreme levels of expectations from the millions of followers around the world. This has been possible simply because of total commitment, desire to excel and be the best at what you do, shrewd and astute leadership both on and off the track and most importantly, because of the total confidence and belief bestowed on every individual across the organization who are all driven by one common goal: Winning.

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