The Spa GP: a masterclass in teamwork, and the importance of psychological safety

Formula 1 is back, and so am I! After a much-needed break from everything related to social media, I’m excited to share my thoughts again during the second half of the #F1 season. In writing this time, to provide a bit of variety to my posts.

The #SpaGP was a lot more interesting to watch than last year’s race, to say the least. For those who don’t remember, last year’s race lasted exactly two laps behind the safety car. I won’t reopen old wounds, but it left a lot of F1 fans utterly disappointed. This year’s race, however, promised to be a lot more spectacular. With Max Verstappen and Charles LeClerc both starting towards the back of the grid, we were anticipating a lot of overtakes.

Max put on an absolute masterclass. He drove flawlessly in an equally flawless car, and went from P14 to P1 in only twelve laps. Not much else to say there, really. He’s now 93 points clear of Sergio Perez, and 98 points ahead of Charles LeClerc. In his current form and with his current car, Max is absolutely unbeatable.

The same cannot be said for Charles LeClerc and Scuderia Ferrari. Charles’ bad luck this season is taking on comical proportions. A tear off in his brakes forced him to pit early, and that same tear off burned one of the sensors on his car, leading him to speed in the pit lane, resulting in a five-second penalty. The irony of it being Max’s tear off isn’t lost on me. But in addition to his bad luck, Ferrari seem to be choking on the pressure of having to deliver him race wins.

I haven’t addressed culture in a while, but from everything we’re seeing and reading about Ferrari at the moment, it seems that there is a lot to be gained there, in terms of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. The amazing professor Amy Edmondson is the one who created this definition (do check out her Ted Talk if you haven’t already, it’s great!). One of the core elements of psychological safety is attitude towards risk and failure. The live questionnaire Charles’ race engineer conducted with him about tyre choices and pit strategy while he was trying to stay in the race drew a few laughs (because it seemed like such a strange conversation to have), but it was also a bit sad.

Sad because, apparently, the team are at this point so scared of making the wrong decision, that nobody actually wants to be the one to pull the trigger. There is, of course, something to be said for involving your driver in the decision making process around strategy. They’re the ones in the car, and data will only tell you so much. But in the end it is the team’s responsibility to figure out the best strategy. They have made some questionable calls earlier in the season, and seem to want to make up for that mistake by giving Charles 15 different tyre and pit stop options to choose from while he’s flying through Eau Rouge. To me, it seemed like they are now acting from a place of apprehension and fear, instead of a place of trust and confidence.

Whatever the reason for their current form, we can only hope that Ferrari get their act together for next season. We all know Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team will do everything they can to be top dog again in 2023, so Ferrari have their work cut out for them.

Let’s see how they perform in Zandvoort next weekend, where I will be in the grandstand cheering everyone on!