THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN ‘TEAM’ (NOR IN ‘SCHUMACHER’)
When Carlos Sainz made the switch from Toro Rosso to Renault ahead of last year’s US Grand Prix, he found himself suddenly surrounded by a new set of mechanics, engineers, media staff – a whole new race crew – almost overnight. So to get on side with his new colleagues, he set about putting in extra hours of homework.
“The mechanics are the real heroes of F1 because of the amount of work they do for little reward,” he explains. “They travel in economy to Australia, get to the track at 8am every morning and so on. So I deliberately made an effort to remember their names – and I felt they appreciated it. You need to think about every little detail you can to help the team help you – I know it’s what Michael Schumacher used to do.”
According to those who worked with Schumacher, he didn’t just know his mechanics’ names. He would also memorise the names of their wives and children. “I don’t know if he used to rush back to the motorhome and make notes, but he could walk into the garage and ask his number-three mechanic how his son was getting on at his new school,” Pat Symonds recalls. “That was staggering, but it was also genuine – everyone loved him for it.”
There are recent examples of drivers motivating teams, as they realise a token of appreciation can have a significant effect in such a demanding work environment. On the Saturday night of last year’s Japanese GP, Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes team out ten-pin bowling, while Vettel regularly hands out impromptu gifts (such as signed replica models and helmets) to members of his team. His determination to learn Italian – regularly heard on the cool-down lap after another Scuderia victory – is another example of going the extra mile to win the affection of his team. Drivers who show the right attitude, passion, trust, appreciation and can also deliver on track will attract the best mechanics, and engineers will want to keep working with them even when they swap teams. When Schumacher left Benetton for Ferrari in 1996, such was his influence that both technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne joined him there within 12 months.
Following Michael’s example, similar moves happen all over the sport today. As recently as July, Andrea Stella was promoted to performance director at Mclaren, while Gil de Ferran was announced as the team’s new sporting director. Stella was formerly Fernando Alonso’s engineer
at Ferrari, while de Ferran was his driver coach at the Indy 500 last year. Those who most want to win will always surround themselves with the right people – and that modus operandi was pioneered by Schumacher at Benetton and Ferrari.
Michael built a team around him, understanding that success does not come from one person alone. By making each person feel valued and important, he got the whole team to pull in the same direction – and the result was invincibility