If I asked what adjective you would most associate with Bernie Ecclestone, I suspect that ‘compassionate’ would not be the first that springs to mind. And yet this is the word used to describe Mr E in a piece by renowned F1 journalist Mike Doodson. It is featured in the Grand Prix Plus Review of 2016*.
Doodson was contrasting the response of Mercedes boss Niki Lauda to driver Nico Rosberg’s announcement of his retirement (which was one of anger) to that of Bernie Ecclestone, when he was told by his driver at the time… Niki Lauda, that he wanted to retire back in 1979. Lauda had just signed a lucrative two year contract with Mr E’s team – Brabham, and was also half way through qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, so you could argue that Ecclestone had far more reason to outraged than Lauda was with Rosberg in 2016. And yet, as Doodson reflected, Ecclestone simply asked if Lauda was going to another team, the answer was no, and so Mr E agreed that they should terminate the contract. As many in F1 will attest Bernie Ecclestone is not one to give up on a contract lightly, but, according to Lauda’s autobiography his response was ‘it’s a big decision, but a good one.’ (Lauda, 1987: 67). The contract was torn-up and Lauda retired (but was later to return to F1 with McLaren in 1982).
So was this Mr E having a moment of compassion? Perhaps, but as Doodson also observed: “But Bernie seems to have been alert to the possibility of losing a driver unexpectedly in a way that Niki himself was not after the race in Abu Dhabi.” I found this comment particularly insightful. As Doodson commented, it could have been a sign of the times, back in the seventies F1 was far less safe than it is today, and so teams could lose drivers to serious injury or even death during the season. But it also reflected a lesson that many of the proponents of scenario planning** advocate as a reason for using this technique. The power of scenarios – considering unlikely and unexpected futures – is not that they ‘predict’, but that they ‘prepare’. Managers who have spent time considering how they may respond to more extreme or unlikely scenarios are able to react more quickly and more effectively to sudden unexpected events because they have mentally worked through the situation. For someone who has never considered such an eventually – as was the case with Lauda and the Rosberg retirement – the reaction is shock followed by other emotions such as anger. Mercedes have been meticulous in their assault on F1, but it seems that scenario planning may be a technique worth considering for the future. Whatever future that may be.
*see http://www.grandprixplus.com/ for more details.
**For example: van der Heijden, K. (1996). Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation. Wiley, Chichester. UK.
Lauda, N. (1987) To Hell and Back. Corgi Books, London.