How 2500 year old philosophy helped Red Bull win in 2010

Sun Tzu - the Godfather of strategic thinking

You can tell its winter and not a lot is happening when I start writing stuff like this. But here we go…

In recent weeks a lot has been made of the final race of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship and in the tactical errors made by Ferrari which ultimately saw Fernando Alonso miss out on a third title. There’s been talk that heads will roll at Maranello for the blunder in Abu Dhabi, an over reaction of epic proportions if ever I heard one. Formula 1 may be big business, but it is still ultimately a sport and as a sport there is no such thing as a certainty. It is a big, glamorous game and as with every game if one is to succeed one must take risks, make snap decisions and ride out the consequences. Ferrari gambled, and it didn’t pay off. That’s life.

All of this talk about strategy and tactics however got me thinking back to my years at University studying political science, and in particular to two pretty hectic modules I took entitled Strategic Studies. Now some of the teachings were pretty mind numbing, but there were a few which have stuck with me not only because they made sense and intrigued me, but because they have direct relevance to not only the world in which I find myself employed, but the world in which we live our everyday lives.

In his work “On War” the man often credited as the father of modern strategic thinking and my usual starting point for strategic thinking, General Carl Von Clausewitz, describes strategy as being a phenomenon based primarily in art… a concept which, as my rusty cogs turned over the past week, led me directly to the man widely held as the godfather of strategic thinking, Sun Tzu, a 5th Century BC philosopher and military general who wrote the bible of strategy – “The Art of War.”

So, you ask, what in the hell has some ancient Chinese bloke got to do with Formula 1 and Red Bull’s championship challenge in 2010? Interestingly, quite a bit, as Red Bull’s strategy this season, under the leadership of Christian Horner almost perfectly reflects the teachings of the godfather of military thinking…

Fernando Alonso - Abu Dhabi 2010. http://www.sutton-images.com

With Ferrari showing its hand early on that it was putting all of its weight behind Alonso, Red Bull and Christian Horner had a choice to make, and it falls into one of Sun Tzu’s most basic lessons – namely that victory is more likely to be assured the more numerous one’s army.

“It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can (only) offer battle.”

Thus by realising that by supporting both drivers he had two points of attack and twice as numerous an attacking force, Horner retook the strategic advantage from Ferrari.

“Victory lies in the knowledge of five points

1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

It is in this section of “The Art of War,” that I believe Horner and Red Bull got things really right. The team, throughout the season, seemed the best prepared and in every race seemed to know when to hold position and when to push. There was never really a case of them pushing beyond their limitations. Sure Vettel got a bit wild at points, but the team’s strategy itself was calm. The fifth point is also one of which we must make reference. For while Luca di Montezemolo is an enormous figure in the Ferrari team and whose scorn nobody wishes to bring down upon them, so conversely at Red Bull do we have Dietrich Mateschitz who just sort of let Christian Horner run things however he wanted to, and said to the very last race that they would do things right and allow the drivers to race, even if it meant losing out on the drivers’ championship.

“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to the battle, will arrive exhausted.”

Of course, much of Red Bull’s advantage came from having the fastest car from the very first race of the season. Being first to the fight meant everyone was trying to catch them, and any upgrades they made would only extend that trend. t is what led to so much discord and discontent within the season as everyone believed the team was cheating. The team, of course, only saw this as a backhanded compliment that their car was so good that it had got everyone else running scared.

Christian Horner - http://www.sutton-images.com

“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

This phrase could have been written about Christian Horner. Level headed, calm, almost shy at times, he proved himself in 2010 to be the perfect General. And just as the Sovereign left his General to direct his armies in the manner he saw fit, so was he able to do so due to the skills of the General in question.

Next up, though, is one of Sun Tzu’s most interesting philosophies and one which, when we think about it, might well have been employed by Red Bull in 2010…

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are away; when far away we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. Pretend to grow weak, that he may grow arrogant.”

Vettel versus Webber was the story of 2010… but could this have been a tactic to create an unfounded level of confidence in their rivals? Webber was the driver that the team seemed to be putting down at Silverstone, and yet he sailed to victory. In Brazil the team seemed divided and at one of its weakest points. The drivers finished 1-2 in the race. By dividing his drivers Horner had already increased the team’s odds of success in the drivers’ championship over those of Ferrari because they had two drivers able to take the crown. By creating a supposed tension between the drivers, had he also created a diversion for Ferrari? Had Red Bull created the impression of discord to, as Sun Tzu suggests, hold out bait to the enemy that he might grow arrogant?

Frankly I doubt it as the animosity between Webber and Vettel really did seem very real at points in 2010. But it is an interesting thought when you compare it to the harmony between the two McLaren drivers.

Vettel Vs Webber... discontent or clever strategy?

And thus it all came down to Abu Dhabi and that final race. In keeping two lines of attack, Horner and Red Bull were in the perfect position because Ferrari had to choose which driver to cover – Vettel or Webber…

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

And so it was that by Ferrari limiting itself to one line of attack, it had to fight a war on two fronts in the final race. As Sun Tzu wrote, the opportunity of defeating the enemy had been provided by the enemy itself. In keeping two drivers in the hunt, Horner and red Bull had fulfilled another of Sun Tzu’s philosphies…

“The general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.”

And so it was that Ferrari covered Webber, Alonso lost the crown, and Red Bull pulled off the perfect season with both championships and Sebastian Vettel became the youngest F1 world champion in history.

Now I’m not claiming that any of Sun Tzu’s teachings actually played on Christian Horner’s mind in 2010… it’s just me being a little bit geeky I guess. “The Art of War” remains an incredible piece of work and something well worth a read.

No doubt if Christian Horner has read it, though, he’ll be aiming to go one better in 2011 and fulfil Sun Tzu’s most basic principle…

“Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.”

Lotus, Lotus, the Beatles and a solution!

I had a lovely relaxing weekend not really thinking much about Formula 1, but instead weeping over the crucifixion of many classic Beatles songs on X Factor on Saturday night. The greatest, most influential band on earth were paid a “tribute” by the supposed up and coming musical talent of the UK which seemed, to me, more like a slap in the face to the genius of Lennon and McCartney.

Of course, the very fact we had a “Beatles week” on X Factor at all was thanks to a marketing campaign around the news that after decades of arguments, it would appear that Apple (the makers of computers, phones and mp3 players) and Apple (a record company established by The Beatles in the 1960s) have finally buried the hatchet as for the first time in history one can now download Beatles songs from itunes. Hoorah!

And it got me thinking, and thus I tweeted: If Apple and Apple have kissed and made up, there’s hope yet for Lotus and Lotus. All you need is love!

And so my mind flipped back to Formula 1… and Lotus.

Autosport.com yesterday carried a fantastic interview with Mike Gascoyne, in which he described himself to be “perplexed” by the entire Team Lotus Vs Group Lotus mess. I, for one, couldn’t agree more.

Gascoyne makes many salient points in the interview, which I heavily suggest you read, but perhaps the one with which I agree the most is the following: “They seem to have announced that they’re going to join every racing series around the world, and the only question is who’s going to pay for it?”

“Because they seem to want to do every racing series that there is, and for a loss-making car company, that seems to be slightly perplexing. But if that’s what they want to do, good luck to them.”

Now I’m not overly fussed over who is going to pay for Group Lotus’ foray into motorsport, but I agree with Gazza in that Group Lotus’ motorsport strategy seems to lack any semblance of structure or sense.

It is as if they’ve just looked at global motorsport and said, “Ooh that looks fun let’s do that. And that looks good too. And that. Yeah, and that too.”

A Lotus? No, that'll be an ART...

And so it is that we now have a bonkers situation in which Group Lotus is due to sponsor Renault in Formula 1 next season, ART in GP2 and GP3 and KV Racing in Indycar. But why? I mean seriously, think about it… what’s the point in all this?

Did anybody give Lotus any credit this year when Takuma Sato ran their colours in Indycar? Did the results show Takuma Sato in a Lotus? No, they showed Sato in a KV Racing car. Next season, when I commentate on GP2 and GP3 will I call the ART team Lotus? No I bloody won’t. Because I don’t call Addax, Barwa. I never called Racing Engineering Fat Burner. So why should I rename ART, with six glorious years of GP2 history and a double championship in GP3 anything other than ART? Why should I suddenly start naming them by their sponsor?

And in Formula 1… when have you ever heard McLaren referred to as Vodafone? Ferrari as Marlboro? Williams as AT&T? So why will anybody call Renault Lotus next year? Simple answer is, they won’t. Quite apart from the fact that the public good will in the paddock surrounding Lotus rests very firmly with Tony Fernandes, I have never known anybody name a team by their sponsor rather than the team name.

I first got an inkling that the Group Lotus strategy was messed up when they announced they’d be sponsoring ART in GP2 and then all the Renault F1 chat began. Because, if Dany Bahar had thought about it, if they went in and invested in Renault F1, they’d get the exposure of a GP2 team for peanuts because DAMS carries the Renault livery in GP2. So they’ve gone and wasted all that investment in ART when they could have had it for a fraction in DAMS. I mean, it is a small thing, but it just shows there’s been very little forethought in what Group Lotus is doing.

Group Lotus has been riding off the back of Team Lotus ever since the Malaysian’s and Proton bought the company and suddenly realised it didn’t include the motor racing arm of the Lotus brand. There’s an excellent website on the history of the subject here.

What I do not understand is why Group Lotus has come in all guns blazing, when it could quite simply and for a fraction of the cost and the hassle, formed an official alliance with Tony Fernandes, Mike Gascoyne and Team Lotus whereby the car building arm of Lotus could have benefitted from what the racing team was doing. What we have right now suits neither.

So are the Malaysians trying to force Fernandes into buying Proton and Group Lotus? Frankly Fernandes isn’t that stupid. He won’t get forced into something he doesn’t want to do. And if that is what they’re trying to do then I can just see Fernandes digging in his heels even harder. He’s a very clever man and a very passionate man, and I think he is going to fight this thing until the bitter end. And I hope he does. Because he’s got huge support. Factor in also that Fernandes has paid an as yet undisclosed sum to David Hunt for the right to use the Team Lotus name next season… money which could have been spent on R&D… money which for a small team is critical.

The history of Team Lotus is the story of innovation and excellence. It is a story of mavericks, of legends and heroes. It is not the story of short cuts or ponying off other people’s work. Simply calling a team Lotus does not make it so.

Lotus Racing showed in 2010 that it was serious about Formula 1, serious about motorsport and serious about the heritage and history of the name that it was proud to carry. It wanted to be appraised on its own merits and make its own way.

That it now stands to lose its name because of some stupid marketing ploy which doesn’t make any sense in the wider world and just makes Group Lotus look petty and bitter, is a huge shame. There are a lot of people in this sport who are more than a little disgusted with the manner in which Group Lotus has approached this entire subject.

But if Bahar and Group Lotus want to go down this path, I have an idea… all Fernandes and his team need to do is to bring in a title sponsor which has a name that is, by some huge coincidence, the same as the name they look set to lose.

Lotus Bakeries in the UK and Lotus sanitary products come instantly to mind. Both logos would look great in gold against a black background as per the JPS stylings the team has said they’ll be forced to adopt next year with Group taking the green and yellow to Enstone. Group Lotus could not claim a naming conflict as neither company is motorsport affiliated. The companies wouldn’t even have to bring any money – simply supply the team with biscuits for their coffees or toilet paper for their motorhome. Lotus gets to call itself Lotus and there’s nothing Group Lotus can do about it.

A silly idea? No more silly and petty than what Group Lotus is doing, and I know which outfit would get the most support for its actions.

Whatever happens next year, I know which team I’ll be calling Lotus.

Young Driver Test Analysis

Daniel Ricciardo impressed for RBR

Testing is always a tricky science. It is very difficult to ever read much into times as you’re never 100% aware of who is running what on their cars, what type of programme a certain driver is running to, and what the exact purpose of each run is supposed to be.

So, with that in mind, here’s what will probably be an absolutely useless look at the young driver test days. Hoorah!

All in all it was a very interesting two days of running in Abu Dhabi, which saw no fewer than 21 different F1 hopefuls setting times. Top of the list on both days was Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Riccciardo. No shock there – the kid’s fast and the RB6 even faster.

Many people have commented on how impressive the testing times were. Afterall, Ricciardo’s Day 2 pace setting lap of 1:38.102 was 1.2 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel’s pole lap set just three days earlier. But it is important to remember how the Yas Marina circuit tends to continually evolve over a race weekend as more and more rubber is laid down on track. This continues throughout the race, meaning that when testing began on Tuesday, the circuit would have already been in a better condition than it was for qualifying. Come yesterday afternoon, with two more days of testing rubber laid down on the racing line, the increased grip levels would have made the track a completely different animal to that on which the 2010 F1 season finale was played out upon.

What I’m going to look at, though, is the difference between the two days of testing times in the Young Driver test.

Between Day 1 and Day 2 we could expect a natural drop in times of between 1 and 1.5 seconds due to an improvement in track conditions (ie rubber laid down) combined with a driver’s comfort and experience in the car.

Of those who spent two days testing with the same team, Ricciardo hit the mark almost perfectly with a 1.514 improvement from Day 1 to Day 2. Over at Toro Rosso, Jean Eric Vergne had an almost identical improvement of 1.515, which is possibly even more impressive when one realises that he missed out on the final few hours of testing on Day 2 as he had to fly to Macau for the F3 Grand Prix this weekend. At Force India, Paul di Resta improved by 1.835 despite only running for the first 90 minutes on both days.

The most impressive improvements however came from 2010 GP2 ART team-mates Sam Bird and Jules Bianchi. Bird, at Mercedes, improved by 3.765 and Bianchi at Ferrari improved by 3.978. The least impressive improvement went to their fellow GP2 racer Rodolfo Gonzales who upped his pace by just 0.612, although he did only spend the first half of the final day at the wheel of the Lotus before handing it over to Vlado Arabadziev.

McLaren, Sauber, Williams, Renault, Virgin and HRT all changed drivers for the second day so a direct comparison isn’t easy. But, if we take the 1.5 second mark to be an acceptable delta, then we’d be looking at the following Day 2 times for each team.

McLaren 1:39.2
Sauber 1:39.9
Williams 1:40.0
Renault 1:40.5
Virgin 1:42.0
HRT 1:42.2

From each of these teams, only at one did we see the delta of expectation exceeded. Jerome d’Ambrosio beat the 1:40.5 by 1.7 seconds to set a lap of 1:38.802. Now this could mean one of three things. Firstly that Aleshin wasn’t too hot on Day 1. Second, that d’Ambrosio was brilliant on Day 2. Or third, that none of this means anything BECAUSE ITS TESTING!

Sergio Perez was 0.6 off the expected delta time set by Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber with a 1:40.543, but it was the first day in an F1 car for Perez, while Gutierrez has already tested F1 machinery in the past and Perez will have been using the day predominantly to settle into the team for whom he will race next season. There’s no reason to finish your first day at your new employer in the wall.

Most interestingly is that Pastor Maldonado, who ran so well with HRT on Day 1, was about 0.9 seconds off where one might have imagined Dean Stoneman to have finished, had Stoneman taken the 1.5 second performance increase which many of the other two day drivers managed. Maldonado’s 1:40.944 was only 0.6 faster than Stoneman managed on Day 1, although the Venezuelan was not able to get a run at the end of the day on soft rubber. Plus, as we all know, Maldonado is looking to sign a deal with Williams. I can foresee him holding back a touch and that the team will have had him on the type of programme that would have stretched his limits and shown them how he handles pressure and what kind of feedback they could expect from him.

Davide Valsecchi in the HRT wound up 0.8 off the improvement one might have expected from Maldonado, but for a first time in an F1 car his performance was not half bad. Neither one of them will have felt too far away from home, as the HRT isn’t that much more advanced than the Dallara GP2 car they’ve been driving all year.

At the end of the day, though, nobody know who was running to what programme. I can’t tell you at what time of day, on which tyres, on what fuel loads and with which wing settings the times were set. Which makes it all a bit pointless.

And this, my friends, is what you must endure for the next three months. We will all pour over the data, discuss at length the tactics and the testing programmes and reach conclusions which, when we arrive at the first race, will prove to have been completely off the mark and thus meaningless.

But that’s the joy of winter testing. Isn’t it?

The Lotus situation in a nutshell

The latest word in Brazil is as follows.

Lotus ran this year as Lotus under a license from Lotus, but in Singapore Lotus announced that next year it would be changing its name from Lotus to Lotus. This news was immediately met with a statement from Lotus which said that it had the rights to use the Lotus name and that Lotus did not, so Lotus could not change its name from Lotus to Lotus.

Next season Lotus will not allow Lotus to call itself Lotus because Lotus wants to do a deal to take over Renault and call it Lotus so Lotus will have to call itself something else other than Lotus.

Lotus will also take a stake at ART in GP2 to create ART Lotus so the team set up by the guys running Lotus who won’t be able to call their teams Lotus next year will have to call their GP2 team Air Asia.

Takuma Sato ran a Lotus in Indycar this year which was actually a Honda powered Dallara but that was under a license from Lotus and had nothing to do with Lotus.

And that’s before we even get into the fact that Lotus has just signed to use Renault engines next season so if Renault is called Lotus but Lotus can’t be called Lotus but will be using Renault engines and Renault will be called Lotus and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

Basically.

Austin F1 site receives unanimous approval.

The site of the Austin F1 track c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Some great news from Austin, Texas, just arrived in my inbox. The press release is pretty self explanatory, so I’ll let it speak for itself!

Austin Environmental Board Unanimously Approves The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix™ Site

Austin, TX – November 5, 2010 — Developers for the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix™ today announced that the Austin Environmental Board unanimously approved the site plans for the future Formula 1 United States Grand Prix venue, in a 6-0 vote, that is scheduled to host its first event in 2012. This week’s City Hall vote with the Austin Environmental Board (considered the most difficult of the permits) is one of the last few hearings the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix developers will need from city/county boards and commissions to begin construction of the world-class facility.

“This project is on track,” said Richard Suttle, an attorney for the F1 promoters. “In fact, the development plan is right on schedule. And, with the help from the city and county, we’ve been able to not only stay on track, but may even be ahead of schedule,” he continued.

“Meeting with city officials to ensure the future facility meets all environmental and zoning requirements is not only standard procedure to move this project forward, but also an opportunity for us to show that we are committed to partnering with city officials in the construction of this international venue,” said Suttle.

“We are pleased with the unanimous approval from the Austin Environmental Board and know that the site will continue to remain on schedule for the 2012 opening,” Formula 1 United States Grand Prix Chairman Tavo Hellmund said.