The Man Behind Red Bull Racing's Success! | E186 | Transcription
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It's a mental game and when you see your counterpart smashing up headphones and landing at cameras, you know that you've got to. Christian Horner, the team boss of the World Championship winning team, Red Bull Racing. Red Bull's fantastic team! You came into Red Bull when it wasn't doing great. When I came into the sport, I was the youngest team principal in Formula One. I'd still am to this day, ironically, and I don't have any formal qualifications by a couple of A-levels. I wanted to make sure that we were the team on the upward graft and think, okay, how can we turn shit into fertilizer? You can lose championships as we've seen in seconds. It felt like it was slipping away and then suddenly it was insane. If somebody came up with a script or said, "That's the way the season's going to pan out," nobody would have believed it. All that press scrutiny. Formula One is a very glamorous world from the outside looking in. It can be a lonely place at times. Have you ever had moments of anxiety? It sort of crept up on me without, you know, recognising it. Same. And it's just your body telling you that, you know, there's a lot going on here. And for me, I've had enough. When you look at your competition, which has been Mercedes, why do you think your team will win? I think that... Before this episode begins, I just want to say a huge thank you to all of our new subscribers. 74% of you that watched this channel didn't subscribe before. And we're now down to about 71%. So that helps us in a number of ways that are quite hard to explain. But simply, the bigger the channel gets, the bigger the guests get. So if you haven't yet subscribed to The Dirova CEO, if I could have any favours from you, if you've ever watched this show and enjoyed it, it's just to please hit the subscribe button. Without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett and this is The Dirova CEO. I hope nobody's listening. But if you are, then please keep this yourself. Christian, there's a slight pan, I guess, to this opening question.
Motivation And Leadership Insights
What drives you? (02:06)
But as I look back into your early years and as you look back in hindsight and sort of self-assess, what drives you? What drives me up? I'm naturally a competitive person and I've always enjoyed competition. I've always enjoyed working within a team of people and winning. There's just no feeling like it. Whether it's achieving a check of flag first or sealing a deal to get on a car, that's always what's driven me. It's always been about the competition. In our earlier years, I think the psychology shows that we're formed most definitively by the things that happen, the context we're growing up in, older brothers, the parenting. When you look back and connect those dots, is there anything else there that is important context to who you are today? Well, I'm the middle child of three. So my older brother was the sensible one of the three boys. And then my younger brother was more outrageous, I would say. And the middle child is always that slightly awkward one, particularly within three. I didn't excel at school. I wasn't that interested in school. School for me was almost like a social thing, but I enjoyed sport and I enjoyed team sport at school. So where my older brother was quite academic, he was crap at sport. Whereas I played in the football team or the cricket team or whatever was going. I just enjoyed that. And I think that being a middle child, you're always slightly different. The younger ones always ends up being the sport one, the older ones, the sensible one, and the middle one tends to be in his own lane for certainly from the middle children I've met. What did you think you were going to be when you grew up? I wanted to be evil, can evil. Well, I wanted to be a stuntman. And then there was a program, The Full Guy with Lee Majors in it who drove around in a big truck and so on. And I thought it was a stuntman. And I thought that was super cool. So I was always fascinated by cars and speed and so on. So that attracted me to just the world of engines and from a very early age, from about 12, I was pestering and pestering my mum because I knew my father wouldn't buy me one to buy a motorized go-kart. And I saved up what I had. And for my 12th birthday, we found this thing in the back of a newspaper, the second hand, 20-year-old go-kart. And it was too low to drive around a farmer on the grass. So we found a track and suddenly I discovered this, you could race these things. And suddenly that weted my appetite at a very young age. And Nigel Mansill at the time was a complete hero of mine. I was starting to get into Formula One. So from a very early age, I became almost obsessive about wanting to be a racing driver to the point that I didn't want to grow any taller. I got to five foot seven and thought, "Yeah, I don't want to grow any taller." I was willing myself to be short. Because all the drivers tended to be sort of pint-sized during that time. So for me, that was my dream. I could just visualise myself being a racing driver. And everything else became secondary at that point. What influenced your mother and father have separately on you? They had a huge influence on me, both in different ways. My father worked in the automotive industry. So he shared a passion for cars and engines and motor racing. He'd done some marshalling in his youth and always like being around cars. He always had nice cars and working in that industry. He was hugely knowledgeable. My mother would always encourage us to follow our dreams. And she'd always push us as children, never to accept just being run of the mill, always push yourself, always extend yourself. And so she had an awful lot of drive in her. And so it was a combination of the two. So once I discovered this world of motor racing, it was around the age of 12, my father and I were able to then, we spent quite a lot of time together, travelling in the country and then racing internationally and then into car racing and so on. And it was a great thing to be able to share with him. And he made a lot of sacrifices to help me and my career. My brothers both had the chance to have a go at racing neither of them were, were interested. And so we spent a lot of time going up and down the country, the different car races. My mum would pack all the sandwiches up and it became a family thing, going to these different racing events. I'm really intrigued by that winning streak in people and that competitiveness. Because not everybody, and you would have seen this in the drivers and the people you've worked with. But everybody has that. They don't have that competitive tenacity where they just have to win. Where does that come from? And have you figured that out? Is it something which has built over time? Was there always a bit of a glimmer of that winning at all costs or? I think it's something that's in your DNA. And look, I've got one of three boys in our family. And I'm very different to my brothers. And I've got the same parents. But we're all very different. And I think you either have it or you don't. And I always had this in a drive and desire. There was purely focused around motor racing. I didn't envisage myself being a tennis player or anything else. I just wanted to race. I just wanted to compete. And I would watch hours and hours of video footage on VHS tapes of old races and Grand Prixs. And study the minutest of details of what racing boots Nigel Mansell was wearing. Or you totally engross yourself in all aspects of it. And I think visualization is a big thing as well. So I think if you visualize something and you really want it. I've found in certainly my life that that's absolutely achievable. Because you're setting yourself a target. You're setting yourself a goal. And that's what you've got to shoot for. There's a lot of talk around visualization.
I think there was a book that came up called The Secret, which somewhat painted visualization as a supernatural force in the world. That kind of conspires to give you what you want. When you talk about visualization, do you see it as a supernatural force or do you see it as much more of a practical satellite navigation of? I think you could see it as both in many respects. You know, I'm probably more practical in my thinking. So I'm not engaged for the supernatural. But I'm a great believer that if you visualize something, if you see yourself being on that podium and you believe in it and you want it. And you really strive for it. You can achieve it. And I didn't achieve it as a driver, but I went on to achieve it as a team principal. Whether that's winning a Grand Prix or winning a world championship, winning a constructors world championship, it's having that belief. And never losing sight of that goal. Because that's what takes you through the tough days, the difficult days. When everything seems to be conspiring against you, that you've got to keep believing in that target and visualizing that target. And I would say by and large, during my career, that's come true. You talked about your obsessive focus on the details, even looking at a very young age, looking at these cassettes and seeing what boots they were wearing.
Why its important to focus on the details (11:00)
That obsession as well, that obsession on the smallest of details, how has that played a role in everything that happened throughout the next couple of decades of your life? I think it's just a question of living no stone unturned, just always pursuing all the incremental areas, because they all had up. And it's all about attention to details. And sometimes it's the smallest things that can make the largest of difference. And you collectively add all of those elements together. And they add up at the end of the day. So particularly in the business that I'm operating in Formula One, it is all about the detail. It is all about leaving no stone unturned, about pushing the boundaries, about extracting every ounce of performance out of these amazing machines, which ultimately, it's the people that drive that. And so it's so for creating a culture that empowers that essence of it never being enough, always striving to achieve more. And then it's almost the fear of failure that drives you on, because once you've sampled and you've tasted success, it becomes addictive like a drug. And you just want to experience it again and have that winning feeling. It's interesting. So let's start with the culture piece then with the team. So you said it's about creating that culture, a culture where every detail matters. In a practical way, there'll be loads of people listening to this podcast now that are building projects or businesses or they might have a dance class, whatever they're doing. How do they practically make those around them really appreciate the small stuff? Well, I think you have to lead by example. And I think that it's all about just continually looking to improve, to be better. So for example, the races that we win, you can always learn. It's never, ever enough. The last race we won in Monza, could we have done a better job on the strategy? Could we have been quicker in the pit stop? Could we have had a better start? Was our preparation the lead up to the race? Good enough. Did we focus enough attention in the practice sessions on the things that turned out to be important in the Grand Prix? So being self-analytical is a key aspect of driving performance and never being satisfied saying, "Yeah, no, that was good enough," because it never is. There's always something that you can learn, that you can improve, and that you can build on, as you're building this database of continual knowledge. Does that change how you choose people to join the team? Are you looking for people that have a predisposition to care about the small stuff, or that have our detail orientated? Well, I think you need, within a team, you need different strengths for different roles. And so, within Formula One, you've got obviously the design side of the business, the creative side of the business. You've got the operational side where you've got to manufacture these incredible cars, and then operate them cost-effectively at 22 Grand Prix around the globe. And so, you need different people for different roles, but it's all having that commonality, which is the car, which is these two amazing machines that we have to turn out at these 22 races a year, and to operate at their optimum. And that is the focal point that everybody's vested interest is involved in. So, you've got to have a collective mix of people that create a team, but so long as the goal that everybody is reaching for and striving for is the same, you're going to have a myriad of different personalities. And we're a circus of 700-800 people in our team, plus then, on top of that, we've got an engine group that we're building as well. So, over 1,000 people on one campus in Milden-Kines. And of course, you're going to get a vast range of personalities and characters, but the one thing is common is it's all about the car. It's all about forming on the track. How does one keep... Is that 22 different departments as well? Yeah, so it's 22 different departments across the business. And for me, it's about getting the right people in the right roles and empowering them to do their job. So, that they've got clear objectives, clear targets that they're shooting for, and then backing them. So, I see a lot of my role is to ensure that they've got the support around them, they've got the tools around them, that they're defended when they need defending, and that they're guided when they need guidance. And I think that there's no point... I'm not a narrow dynamicist or an engine engineer, or I don't have any formal qualifications, but I have a couple of A-levels. So, I'm not a specialist in any one area. So, my role is to ensure that I'm putting the right people in the right roles and getting them collectively to work together. I feel like that is the ultimate goal of business. It's funny because as entrepreneurs sometimes, we think that we should be good at everything, or that we should know how to do every job better than the person within that team. But what you said there, I think, is very, very true in the sense of it's finding the right people and binding them with a culture that gets the best out of them, which is not an easy thing to do. It's not because there's a lot of pride that people have egos as well, but I think it's accepting where your strengths and where your weaknesses are. And I think that not everybody can be a phenomenal aerodynamicist or an engine engineer or a chassis designer or a number one mechanic. And it's a matter of identifying the right people for the right roles and empowering them to get on their job. There's no point me employing Adrian Newey as probably the best aerodynamicist in the history of the sport and then telling him how to do his job or telling Max Verstappen how to drive a car. You can point out things that you're seeing and you can offer some guidance. In terms of it's down to them in their specialist areas to operate and you try and give them the right tools and the right environment that enables them to flourish and succeed. Have you had instances in your career where you've hired a very talented asshole?
And what I mean by that is someone who's so good at their job, but ego personality, something has just... Well, Formula One attracts them and the egos and assholes are not too far apart sometimes. But there's no iron team and I think that you quickly... You see if you have a talented individual that isn't working in a team environment, they quickly become isolated and they either change their way and embrace the team or they end up falling by the wayside and not achieving their potential because it's too big a sport to be an individualist in it. You need to rely and trust in the other people around you and the other departments around you to be able to fulfill your part. Much of management I think starts with knowing how to manage yourself because if you don't manage yourself successfully then you can be a pretty awful manager.
Do you self analysis? (19:04)
How you talked about the self-analyzing the team after races, but do you self-analyze yourself? Yeah, of course. I mean, you're always thinking, "What can I do better? How could I perform better as a CEO or as a team principal? Did I handle that situation correctly? Is there another way that we could have addressed that?" And I think that what I've learned over time is that I used to, when I first came into the sport, I'd worry about almost everything and I quickly came to the conclusion, "Well, is that point in worrying about everything? Worry about the things you can control, the things that you can't control. Don't let them take your energy. Don't let them take your focus or distract you. Focus on the things that you're empowered to make a difference in." And then I was able to become more disciplined with my time and implying my time more effectively than being spread too thin. Emotional control. In sports, it's very passionate. There's a fine line, isn't there, from what I've observed with some of the great managers in the world, like Sir Alex Ferguson and football stars and between the passion and letting the passion get out of hand? Yeah, absolutely. Anger. How do you balance that? And is it a balancing act? Well, I think the Brits are quite good at that, keeping a stiff upper lip and head down and get on with it. And for me, last year's World Championship was very much about that. And you could see, I mean, it was a Titanic battle, not just between the two drivers on track, but the two teams off track and the person you're gauging yourself and your pitched against as a team principle is your opposite number. And it's a mental game as much as a physical activity as well. And of course, it was the first time that that team in the seven, eight-year period had come under under any form of pressure. And I think you see people's true personalities and what they've really got when they're under pressure. So of course, when you see your counterpart smashing up headphones and pointing and ranting at cameras, you know that you've got to them because then you know that if they're venting in such a way and they're feeling that pressure, that the people beneath them are going to be offloaded onto as well, that they're going to be on the receiving end of that. And that in my opinion, or in my experience, it caused people to tighten up. And I remember before the race in Abu Dhabi getting all the guys together and said, look, whatever happens today is going to happen, you know, all we can do is do the best that we can do today. And the most important thing is, you know, be proud of what you've achieved to get us to this position that we're fighting for this world championship, you know, that we've taken it all the way down to the wire. I most of all enjoy it, you know, enjoy this experience, whatever the outcome's going to be. We don't know, but just let's go in there with an approach of give it everything and enjoy it and embrace it. And in the end, you know, it paid off. I think that as a leader, how you conduct yourself permeates throughout a business. So if you're feeling the tension and you're passing that on, then for me, that's not a healthy way to lead a team by fear. You want it to be inclusive, you want it to be open, you want people to be able to feel that they can, that they've got a voice. And that voice will be, you know, will be heard rather than being afraid to speak up for fear of getting that, you know, the head taken off. You came into Red Bull when it wasn't doing great as a team.
The journey of turning red-bull around (23:18)
And over the next five, six, six years, you really turned that ship around. From the outside, I mean, people might see that as quite a simple thing, but I was reading about how you, you'd come to work on your first day of work, the consultants had flown over and fired the previous management team, which has always caused us a little bit of unease, shall I say. And then they fly out and leave you there. And then from there, you've got 450 people in this team. That's kind of dysfunctional. It's not reaching its potential. Tell me, because there's a lot of, I always think about going into companies where there's an existing culture and how you unpick it and turn it around. Tell me how you did that at Red Bull. Well, first day I arrived, I remember, arriving in the office with a secretary that was in tears, because her previous boss had been just fired. There was an open Christmas cards on the day, so half a cup of coffee. And a fairly disgruntled workforce that had been through a revolving door of management changes whilst the team had been owned by Jaguar. So it's like, okay, how what's my game plan here? And my plan was engaged with the people, understand what are the issues. Listen, spend the next few months just listening and form your own picture. So that's what I did. Over the first couple of months, I spent time walking around the factory engaging with people, listening. And then the picture started to come clear that there were pockets within the team that there was real capability and talent, but it was just clear that they weren't working collectively. There was this blame culture within the business where the drawing office blamed Aero, Aero blamed the wind tunnel, R&D blamed production, the race team were blamed everybody. And there was just this blame culture that there was no accountability or collective responsibility. So it was then a question of, okay, how do we unpick that and how do we create the glue to bring this together? And for me, what was really needed was technical direction. And I thought, well, I'm going to go after the best in the business. And that was Adrian Nui. Adrian had had an incredible career at Williams and McLaren. And there had been a couple of years where McLaren hadn't been delivering at its potential. And you can see that business was changing. And it just felt like there was a window of opportunity. So I made sure I got to meet Adrian and I built up a relationship with him and his then wife and then managed to convince him to come and join the team. And that was a litmus moment because then suddenly people woke up and said, wow, Adrian, you was prepared to come here. He must see something that he believes in. And we set off from there. And that then galvanized the technical grid because Adrian is the most single minded engineer I've ever come across. And that galvanized the team because it was, well, if Adrian says that's the direction we're going, technically, that's the way we're going. And it then put a sense of purpose into the design office. And that enabled me to attract more talent to supplement what was there to weed out the few bits that needed tidying up. But the core basis of the team hadn't really changed from what had been underachieving at Jaguar. We'd just put in clear leadership into a structure and started to an instill a culture of it's not just about having the seventh biggest budget, which means you're going to finish seventh. There's a question of, okay, what can we do? How can we push the boundaries? How can we be more innovative? How can we take the fight to the guys at the front? Because we're not prepared to settle being seventh. We want to win. What is the fastest route to getting into a winning position? Okay. So I've got three questions there that came to mind. The first one was about single-mindedness. In business and in leadership, sometimes single-mindedness is seen as being undemocratic. I think there's sometimes people think that organizations are supposed to be like democratic where everyone gets a vote and then we decide which direction we're going in based on the vote. But you've highlighted single-mindedness in that instance as being a real unifier and a real motivator. Absolutely. Obviously, you want to listen and you want to gauge. But at the end of the day, somebody's going to make a decision. Sometimes that might not be the most popular of decisions, but the most important thing is to make a decision to say, "This is the direction that we're going in." And the most important thing with that, once you've committed to a decision, to make sure that you give it your best shot, but if it's not working, to recognize that it's not working, you're not be afraid to change, to stick your hands up. "Okay, we got it wrong. Let's go another route." Because the worst thing is just repeating the same mistake after mistake after mistake. And I think good leadership is strong leadership where people want to know what is the direction, what is the objective, why are we doing this, what are we pushing for, what are we striving for? And it's about taking people on that journey, but about having very clear goals and objectives. Taking them on the journey with you, I guess that's a job of inspiration and communication.
communication within a company (29:28)
How important is that when you're trying to get 450 people to come along with you, really making sure you've nailed down communication and, I guess, inspiring communication? And how has Red Bull done that? I think Red Bull, as a business, a phenomenal business that of some Maverick brand, it's pushed the boundaries and everything that it does. It's a lifestyle brand. It's always been edgy with the extreme sports that they've been involved in. And so, a bit of a very much a Maverick. And I think taking that DNA and implementing it within a Formula One team has been incredibly effective. And what's enabled us to be dynamic is that we've had the full support of the Chairman of Dietrich Mattershitz, who has been passionate about this activity. And he's unwaveringly backed us. And there were difficult days where things came under scrutiny. But he gave the time and the stability within and allowed the stability within the business for us to really cultivate a winning machine with the key people in the right positions. And he's been phenomenal in the support that he's shown us and the freedom that he's enabled us to have to operate effectively, efficiently, quickly and sharply, without being bogged down by the process of a corporate entity. So we've kept that agility. And even though the company has grown to three times the size that when Rebel came into the sport, it's maintained that racing spirit, that ability to make quick decisions, whether it's on a driver or sponsor or a member of staff or whatever it may be, we've had that dynamic ability to move and adapt quickly. It's so important. I spent 10 years working with CEOs and founders on their marketing. And what I'd see time and time again, how really the cost wasn't being wrong. It was being slow. So it was taking nine months to find out you were wrong versus the team over here that would spend. So if we were pitching an idea, we'd pitch it to two companies at the same time, say, one of them would take nine months to find out that the idea was bad. The other one would take one week to find out it was bad and they'd be on to the next one. And people don't think of the design of the very top of the organization. The relationship the CEO has with the chairman and no stifling board in the way is such a huge competitive advantage over time. Absolutely. And I think recently, we've had exactly that dilemma where we had the opportunity to work with an OEM, taking a significant shareholding in the team. But I think it was recognized that, hang on that, that DNA will be affected. If we cannot continue to operate exactly in the manner that's made us successful with that ability to make quick fire decisions without having to go through layers and layers of process and bureaucracy. 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How did red-bull innovate? (34:55)
How did the Red Bull team innovate versus other incumbents? I think we grabbed the regulation. So initially it was about building and making sure that we got the right tools. So from 2005, and Red Bull came into the sport for the first four years, it was about recruiting Adrian, getting some other key people around him, making sure that we got the right simulation tools and our wind tunnel was delivering reliable results. And then a big regulation change came for the 2009 season, which felt like a clean sheet of paper for this group to really grab hold of. And it was a big regulation change at the time. And we got it right or mainly right, because there was contention with the governing body about something called a double diffuser, which certain teams had and others didn't, but it got caught up in the politics between the governing body and the commercial rights holder and the teams who were all arguing for a bigger share. And we sort of got caught in the crossfire of that when it was really about Ferrari and the FIA and had nothing to do with Red Bull, but we come up with a competitive car. And then suddenly, we were able to start competing and start winning. And we were making mistakes, but we were fast, we were challenging, we were winning races. And we lost out on that championship at the end of the year to Jensen Button and Ross Braun, because we'd had a weak start due to this regulation discrepancy. But then from 2010, we took that momentum into that year. And we were still a little rough around the edges, but we managed to basically polish ourselves enough that we came out with both championships at the end of 2010. 11, then we went on and was a totally dominant year. And then a big regulation came for 12. We had to adopt to that and wanted it at the final race in Brazil against Fernando Alonso and then stability into 2013, saw another dominant year for the team. And then obviously, then it was a complete reset, because when 2014 came along, all of the engine regulations changed to this V6 hybrid. And we were completely out of bed. The engine that we had was nowhere near the competitiveness of certainly the Mercedes had come up with. And suddenly, you go from being serial winners to turning up at a race and not having a chance of success. And that was tough to keep the hearts and minds of the people having been used to winning, to suddenly turning up. And if we're lucky, we won three races that year that were all opportunistic. But in terms of competing for a championship, no chance. How did you do that? How did you keep the hearts and minds motivated, focused?
Keeping teams focused (38:02)
I think you identify again, the area that's causing the weakness and look to address it and focus on the bits that you can control. So the engine we couldn't control, that was from a third party supplier. We could put pressure on them. We could try and assist them with tools that we had. But all we could do was ensure that we made the best chassis that we could possibly make, that we got the best drivers and we got the best out of them. And so, races that weren't sensitive to power, we could challenge and win those. Whether it was a Monaco or it was a Budapest type circuit. And then look to address the weakness. And it took us until 2019. And again, a big change from one engine supplier to another manufacturer to a Honda, to suddenly have that ability to start challenging for victories and start to build a championship challenge. I didn't realise that in Formula One, there were so many changes with engines and regulations so often. Changing all the time, sometimes even in the year, changes are introduced. And we've seen that this year. And it's not uncommon for clarifications or technical directives, sometimes hidden behind the grounds of safety to be introduced. And it's about how you adapt to those changes. And that's a question of culture, right? It is. You can push against it. But at certain point, you've got to accept it and get on with it and think, "Okay, how can we turn shit into fertilizer at the end of the day?" And you've got to embrace the change and you've got to go with it.
Why do you think your team will win? (40:05)
When I look at my competition in all the industries that I'm competing in professionally, I could tell you the answer to the question, "Why I will win?" Like, I have my thesis as to why me and my team will beat them. Based on it might be culture, it might be philosophy, it might be, we can worry about this thing and over the long term, that's going to pay off. When you look at your competition, which has been Mercedes, in all the press and on the race track over the last couple of years, why do you think your team will win? I think that there's several factors. I think that, you know, some things, performance is always cyclical. And Mercedes went through an incredible winning spree longer than we certainly did. And at some point, that was always going to come to an end, whether it's through complacency or whatever causes that. And I wanted to make sure that we were the team on the upward graph to capitalize on any sign of weakness. And I think, you know, there were several components. One, of course, is the driver. The driver played a key role, you know, in that in the Max Verstappen, you know, emerging as this exciting, determined character. And you will not meet a more determined personality or driver with more commitment and passion than the Max. And the team just having this in a belief and again, pushing all of the boundaries, operating at a level that was taking ourselves out of our comfort zone, whether that be, well, record breaking pit stops, aggressive strategies, attacking strategies, taking calculated risks, to, you know, with high risk, high reward. And with very much an attitude, we've got nothing to lose. You know, we've got, we've got to throw everything at this. And I think it just in the end came down to desire, that there was more desire. And the way that we applied ourselves as a team, under massive pressure, we dealt with that pressure, you know, in a very together manner. How hard do you push people? I know you said you let them get on with their job and that they know better than you do at what they're there to do.
How hard should we push people? (42:17)
But in terms of those one-on-one conversations you're having with those people, to get them to break those records in the pit stop or to get them to really embody the culture of Red Bull and want to win, regardless of whether they won last year, regardless of what's been written about in the press. What are those conversations and how hard do you have to push? I think you've always got to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone. Because if you're in a comfort zone, you're cruising. You've got to push yourself. Now, I'm not a table banger or a, you know, a hairdryer like an Alex Ferguson, but it's about getting people to go that extra, go that extra step to take themselves out of their comfort zone. Easiest thing in the world is not to have any change, but you've got to continually evolve. And so whilst we've had tremendous stability, the way that the organization has evolved is even in the last two years is enormous as we've embraced new challenges of taking on being an engine manufacturer, which is something completely nuts. Why would an energy drinks subsidiary take on Mercedes Benz and Ferrari and Renault and Honda as a being an engine manufacturer? But it takes our own destiny into our own control and brings everything under one roof and becomes completely integrated. So in many respects, it's totally logical. But starting from scratch, it's just about attracting, again, all the same basics that served us well on the chassis of getting the right people, the right tools, the right structure and having a can do attitude of, yeah, we're going to shoot for the stars and maybe we're going to land on the moon. But, you know, we're not afraid of taking on a challenge. Have you got a complacency detector built into your mind? Can you sense when you feel like people in teams are becoming complacent? You can sense it. You can feel it. You know, if I have, you know, there's almost a guilt factor that you feel that, well, I don't feel like I'm busy enough, I need to be busier. And so you push yourself and I think in turn, you end up, you know, pushing other areas of the business. And I think COVID was a phenomenal challenge. You know, talk everybody by surprise again. He's like, how do you take on that challenge? And, you know, we had went from a culture of having probably about five people that had the ability to work remotely because we're paranoid about IP and information going out of the business. Overnight, we went to 400. We didn't even know whether our IT systems would be able to cope with it and then had to maintain that culture during this totally alien process of being locked in your home. But everything happening on Zoom calls and video conferencing and having to design a car remotely. But by keeping that essence of team and communicating and talking, we managed to keep that and body that sense of team. And I think that was a big factor in why we came up with such competitive car in 2022 or for the 2021 season because what we've done through COVID and keeping that essence of team together just gave us a better product for 2021. You must really obsess about the small stuff because, you know, all these different departments, all these teams, all it takes is a small pocket of complacency for the standards to drop a couple of percent in the car. If one team doesn't communicate properly or if they just don't, you know, really push themselves to find a marginal gain, that can cause like a couple of percent drop in the performance of the car. That can lose you a championship. You can lose championships as we've seen in seconds. After years of work, just a few seconds. But I think what we've managed to develop within the business now is this, again, culture of not wanting to let the side down, not wanting to be the link in the chain that breaks. And, you know, whether that's from van drivers hitting deliveries to suppliers, to machinists or designers or technicians at the circuit or mechanics or engineers, that runs the whole way through the business that nobody wants to let the side down. And I think that everybody's got that vested interest in seeing those cars, you know, succeed. And when they do the sense of pride and fulfillment, and of course, you have to celebrate success. You have to enjoy success because it's not going to happen every single day. You're going to lose a lot more races than you're going to win. So when you win, embrace it, enjoy it, celebrate that moment, which is what we do as a team after every single race. If we win a race, we get everybody together with a champagne after the race in the race base on a Monday, you know, afternoon to celebrate that success. And if we haven't won, you know, we'll talk about, okay, why didn't we win? What do we need to do better? Even when we won and we've celebrated, we're saying, okay, how can we still be better? How can we improve, you know, on this? And getting everybody to share that moment, to share in that success is something that's so, so important. Because then everybody collectively feels it. After you won the title in 2021, how did it feel? 2021 for me personally was a hugely challenging year because there was the pressure of everything going on track. There was an awful lot going on, on, off track as well as we were building this engine business. And so you're recruiting from, you know, rival teams. And because Mercedes being UK based, there was a lot of people coming out of Mercedes that heightened the pressure. There was then a big PR battle as well. So you're in front of the cameras every week, you're having to defend your position or defend your driver. And it was very concerted in, in all directions. You could feel the pressure and building and building. It was like a heavyweight bout from round one in Bahrain through 22 rounds to when we got to Abu Dhabi. And we went into Abu Dhabi equal on points with Max being a head virtual of race victories. Mercedes had gone there with the barristers because they were convinced that Max was just going to drive into Lewis, I think, on the first lap. And they'd be arguing it out in the stewards. But we qualified on pole. And then for the majority of that race, we felt that decisions went against us at the beginning of the race because Max had made a pass and Lewis had cut the chicane, but he wasn't told to give the position back. And everything we tried in that race, it felt like it was slipping away. And so what was going through my mind was like, how am I going to pick the guys up? What am I going to say to Max after such an intense season like this? What am I going to say to them? And then suddenly, it just shows that anything can happen in life. And suddenly, a window of opportunity presented itself with one of the back markers crashing. And we had to be on our feet. We took the risk, we made the pit stop, we bolted on the new set of tires and Mercedes went defensive and conservative. And that gave us a window of opportunity to challenge for one racing lap. And with a fresh set of tires and Max was tapping in your car, he was going to go for it. And so when he pulled the move off at a corner that we completely unexpected, I think Lewis totally unexpected it because he left the door open there trying to get a good exit onto the straight. It was like, oh my God. And then going down the straight, they're side by side. And you know, they get to the chicane and it's, he went in a little bit deep and you know the strength and Mercedes engine on the straight line, you got to get the exit onto the next straight. And then they're side by side. And then he managed to keep and protect the the inside line into the next left hand. And you know, at that point, it's done bar, you know, something breaking on the car. And then the feeling of just everything being lifted. And to see him after seven long years of we've been nowhere, we hadn't even been able to challenge them. And then suddenly to see everything culminate in seeing your driver and car and team cross the check of that flag to become the world champion. That was, that was just, it was very emotional. And you just felt all this pressure suddenly lift from you. Was that the greatest professional moment of your crib today? Undoubtedly. I mean, the first time I wanted, you know, I was 35 or something like that. And that was the last race in Abu Dhabi against the odds with Sebastian Vettel. So that was a unique feeling. And it was one of the rare races that Dietrich Maddaschitz would actually came to. So for him to be there was very special. And that, you know, that was a massive moment for the whole, for the whole company, for the whole business. But I think having been through the tough times during that period of not just domination, annihilation by one of your opponents. To never lose sight of what the end goal was and to fulfill that and to win it on the last lap. I mean, you, you couldn't have written it. Nobody would have believed it. If somebody came up with the script and said, that's the way the season's going to pan out. Nobody would have, you know, believed it. So for sure it was, you know, probably the biggest moment of my career so far. And the whole world was watching. I think if people went into the F1, someone sent them a text and told them to turn the TV on at that point. I remember that certainly will happen with me. I remember getting many messages and in some of our sports chats and WhatsApp going, Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh, so you turn on the TV and you're watching this last lap. And it's just the most crazy. It was insane. And of course, like, you know, it was one of the most, I think it was the most singly viewed piece of sport. Certainly last year, if not in the last five years. And there probably would never be a Formula One championship like it in the next 20 years. It was so epic. And of course, sport is polarizing. So, you know, on the one hand, you've got, you know, the Verstappen fans going bananas thinking it was retribution for what had happened earlier in the year. You've got the Hamilton fans thinking that, you know, the race had been interfered with and it was unfair. And then you've got the neutrals that just witnessed the most phenomenal race between two magnificent drivers and teams operating at the top of their game. And so, for the sport, you know, it was fantastic because suddenly again, we're just engaging with a whole new audience. And wherever we go in the world now, Formula One is having its moment in the spotlight. It is, you know, it is sold out. And the demand for Formula One is just huge wherever we go. Find a button on the desk now. And the button was a, a razor button. And it would erase Mercedes as a team, which is to raise the whole team. Would you press it? No, because it's enjoyable, you know, racing against a team of their quality. Because, I mean, they raise the stakes and they raise the bar. And then we had to raise it higher to beat them. And so, the satisfaction that that gives you is immense. And I think what, you know, what we're really proud of this year is that we put everything into last year, even at the expense of this year, because again, another massive regulation change coming into this year, the biggest in the last 40 years. We thought, oh, console ourselves to say, look, we'll put more time into 2021. And if that costs us a slower start to 22, we'll take that if we can come away with a trophy. We managed to come away with the trophy, but we also managed to start the season with a competitive car compared to all of the other teams that are, you know, we were sure the last team swap over onto the 22 car. But such was the determination and the motivation within the within the business and the talent, the car that's been delivered for the drivers this year has been again phenomenal. Where does your motivation come from? You've won, you've won, you've won, you've gone through a period of, you know, a battle with Mercedes, you've won again.
Where does your motivation come from (55:36)
What is driving you now? For me, you know, there's no better feeling than winning. And when you've won, you want to win it again. And you want to win it again. But for me, the next challenge as well is really the next chapter for the company where not only as a chassis manufacturer, but as an engine manufacturer, taking a business from scratch, build a factory in 55 weeks, we design and fired up an engine within 12 months. These are ridiculous timescales that we're operating to. But again, it just typifies the the the can do culture that, you know, that there is within the business. And so for sure, the next challenge for us is as a as an engine and power unit manufacturer to take on some of these iconic brands. You know, come 2026 when a rebel car pulls out of the garage with a rebel engine powering it going up against the Ferraris and Mercedes and Aldes at the time. And and so it's going to be phenomenal. Naivety, you became a principal at a very young age.
Personal Journey And Emotional Well-Being
How important is naivety (56:49)
Yeah. A lot of incumbents were double your age. A lot of, you know, the, it was quite an older business with legacy systems and ways of doing things. People often view naivety and youth as a disadvantage. How was it? How was your naivety and advantage to you in hindsight? I turned it to an advantage because I think people underestimate youth. And for me, age was never a barrier. It was it was just a number and it's how you apply yourself. So when I came into the sport, I was the youngest team principal in Formula One. I still am to this day, ironically. Really? Yeah. After 18 years. Wow. But you know, there were guys that have been in sport icons of the sport, you know, whether it was a Bernie Eccleston's or Ron Dennis or Flavio Brittores or Jean Todd running Ferrari and even Eddie Jordan was still around with Jordan, Grand Prix at the time. And all, you know, very entrepreneurial people, but all very different, but very single-minded. And again, it's how you you conduct yourself. And I didn't go into into that forum, banging tables or anything like that. I looked, I listened and I would say something when I felt I had something to say. And you learn as well, you know, you learn from a way that, you know, Ron Dennis conducts himself versus a Flavio Brittore versus a Frank Williams or, you know, Bernie Eccleston, again, as a complete ringmaster, how he operated the business was, you know, was a phenomenal education, you know, for me. And what you saw in each one of those people, it just presented itself in a very different way. It was this ruthless competitiveness. When you have a ruthless competitiveness, you're obsessed, you want to win. You're traveling six months a year to compete and to win.
Being a husband and father during all of this (58:45)
You're consumed in these external battles with the media and on the track and off the track and with this team and Mercedes and whatever else. How would you then be a husband and a father? You know, that is the one thing that keeps you grounded. And, you know, I'm very fortunate. I got a really supportive wife who's obviously experienced high pressure situations herself of having to deliver and knowing what the scrutiny of. Jerry Howdy, well, you know, a media operated world is like. So, so she, you know, she's been tremendously, you know, supportive. And, you know, I have three children and they're what keep you grounded. You know, they don't care what you do as a job at the end of the day. You know, my eight-year-old daughter is obsessed with horses at the moment. My five-year-old boy is just wanting to you know, make Lego and F-16 fighter planes. And, you know, my 16-year-old daughter suddenly, she now understands what I do. And I've actually in her eyes almost become cool. So, but, you know, family is what keeps you grounded and it keeps you formal. A one is a very glamorous world from the outside looking in. It can be a lonely place at times. But at the end of the day, we're not saving lives. You know, it's an entertainment, it's a sport. And what really matters, you know, is family at the end of the day. And, and that I think makes it more precious in that you don't take it for granted. So, the time that I do get with a family, I think it's very important to be present and, and, you know, not to take it for advantage. So, you know, I'll make sure that, that I take, you know, the little one to, to school or pick my daughter up from school on a, on a Friday, because I want, I want to be there. I don't want to be an absent father because I'll never get that time, time back. So, and that then is being disciplined with the management of your own time. Because otherwise, you know, your phones, you know, always next to you, it can take, you know, a formal one can take over your life if you're not disciplined in, in, in your own approach. Are you content? Am I content? I'm very content in so many ways, but I'm still extremely hungry. And, you know, when is enough enough? It doesn't feel like it's enough at the moment. And, and I think that drives, you know, some people are happy to cruise others want to keep, want to keep pushing and, and, you know, I'm, I feel like I've only just got going. Do you ever think you will? It will ever be enough? Ah, you know, the problem, you know, that you, that certainly happens in, in, in this industry. And I guess it's the same in, in others is that time moves so quickly, you never get five minutes to reflect and look back. You're always looking forward, you know, this championship, the chapter will close, we'll enjoy it for, you know, a couple of evenings. And then it's all about the next one. And so you never get time to reflect. So actually sitting here talking about some of the stuff within the past, actually, you start to think, to think back. And I think it's, it's only when you get to the end of the journey that then, you know, then you get times reflected. I think when I get to the end of my journey, I'll go away and do something completely different. I'll be a sheep farmer or something like that. But, yeah, I think, but I don't see that in, in sight at the moment. Could you ever imagine there being an end to your journey? Is that something you can foresee now? Could you imagine getting to the day where you think, you know, what Pina Colard is for me? Do you know, I, I go to work. And every day, I enjoy what I do. I'm grateful that I'm paid to do a job that actually I do it for free because, you know, you enjoy it, you love it. I enjoy working with the people, I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the competition. I'd probably be completely unimprollable in another form of life. And I think if you've got a passion for something that you do, you do it that much better. And, you know, money at the end of the day is, is just a valuation of success. It shouldn't be the reason that you go to work. And for me, you know, while I have that drive, while I have that enjoyment on the bad days, as well as the, as well as the good days, that's what, you know, motivates me. And I think maybe they'll become a day one day that, you know, I've had enough, but I can't see or envisage that. Have you ever been anxious? All that press scrutiny. All the pressure you described. Have you ever had moments of anxiety?
About 10 years ago, when we were in the height of a championship battle back in 2012, I can remember feeling that, you know, my breathing, you know, I became self-conscious of my own breathing. And then when you start thinking about breathing, you know, you start overthinking things. And for me, as an artist, I think what is going, you know, have I had too much coffee? Do I have a rebel or too many rebels? You know, this morning, and I couldn't identify, you know, what it was. And it was only, you know, when I spoke to the team physio, I said, "I'm just conscious of my breathing, and it's made me feel a bit dizzy, and I think I've had too much coffee in this, that, and the other." And he said, "Well, he's probably a bit of anxiety, you know, and so I never thought that that was a form of weakness. And then I read about it, and I spoke to a couple of people about it. And, you know, you then learn to control your, you know, your breathing and so on. And I could then recognise if I felt during that period this feeling start to come on, you know, just to, to, you know, to breathe normally, to not take short breaths, but it was going to be taking, you know, deep breaths and so on. And it sort of crept up on me without, you know, recognising it. And, you know, it's not, it's not a weakness, it's just your body telling you that, you know, there's a lot going on here. And it's, it's, it's way of protesting. And that's what, what was happening to me at, at that time, and I recognised it and managed to, you know, to address it. And there's so many ways, whether it's meditation or just exercise or, or as I say, breathing that, and, and, and yeah, I was able to then, if ever, I got those symptoms, I was able to, to recognise it and say, okay, hello, I know who you are, you know, I can deal with you. Did you ever see caught therapy? Did you ever go get a therapist? It's a bit like, I didn't. I mean, my wife is pretty together with all these things. And she, she'd experienced the same thing, whether it was before a show or, or, you know, some of the stuff they did was insane. Crazy. And, and so, you know, she, she helped me, you know, with it. And, you know, to, you know, to embrace it, to recognise it, to sort out your breathing, I tried meditating, I absolutely got, I couldn't even, you know, and I admire her. She has a discipline to do that every, you know, every day. I just haven't got my mind. It's too, is too active. But, you know, just definitely learning to, to deal with it. And, and it passed, you know, it passed. It was, it was within for a couple of months. And, and it passed. And I think it was just my body saying, okay, stress overload here. Yeah. Give me a break. It's what everyone's body seems to do. Gary Neville said to me when he was sat here that he'd been going at such a pace for so long that one day after reporting on, I think it was the Arsenal game. He's in the commentary box and he just collapses. Yeah. He goes to the doctors, the doctors says, listen, Gary, you're going too fast. Yeah. Been doing it for too long. You need to slow down. Yeah. He hasn't. Yeah. But it's funny how the body will tell you before you admit it to yourself. 100%. 100%. My last question to you before I just ask you this one in the book is on a personal level, what are you working on?
What are you working on personally? (01:08:19)
I understand your professional ambitions. It's very clear. But on a personal level, when you think about what you want to improve about yourself with your, in your personal situation, what is, what is that? I think it's just trying to be, you know, the best father that you can be, the best husband that you can be. I think that we're all aware of our own mortality, particularly with events like, who thought the Queen was going to die with that. And again, and that just brings it all home to you that we're on this planet for such a short period of time to do as much as you can with the time that we have here and to ensure that you make time. Because we're all, you know, it's particularly informal on your chasing time all the time. Life is dictated by the by the stopwatch. But it's important to make time to be able to have, you know, that that incredibly important family time. And yeah, just to be able to chill out, which sometimes is difficult to be able to relax is sometimes a tough thing to do, especially if you're working at a you know, on a high tempo. But, you know, as in work, you can always, you can always be better. You can always do better. Eddie had said that to me. Obviously his book is, I know you've spoken to him, but his book is called relentless. So he is someone that I don't think is willing to relax at any cost. And I hear that quite often. We have a tradition here where the last guest asks a question for the next guest.
Wrap-Up And Parting Thoughts
The lasts guest question (01:09:59)
They don't know who they're writing it for. Right. And the question that's been written for you is quite an interesting one. I didn't get to see it until I opened this book. But the question that's been written for you is, it's going to be taken in many ways. Okay. How will you control your own greed? How I control my own greed. I think greed is greed and jealousy are two very destructive components. And I think I've never been a greedy person, but I think you're greedy for titles, greedy for titles in that respect. But I think you need to be magnanimous as well. And I think that if you're fortunate enough to achieve success, the most gratifying thing to be able to do is to do something good with it, to empower something, whether it be through charity work or just making a difference, making a difference for good, because it's not just about the trophies and the plaudits. It's sometimes about doing something good as well. Do you spend enough time thinking about that? I don't. I'm going to admit I don't. I don't. You can always do more. And when you do something good and that can be more rewarding than winning a race, then the feeling that gives you, I actually do more. There's almost a bit of a bias with the mind when you feel like you're constantly running to keep things moving and throwing cold in the engine that you think, I'll do that thing when. I'll be the philanthropist when. And I remember one day sitting here with someone who said the correct approach, Steve, is to make sure you don't cut down the forest and then donate to the bees. You're learning to do both at the same time effectively. Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time. Incredibly inspiring individual that's reached the very peak of their powers. And there's very few people I can speak to in this country and in the world that have managed to stay at the top of their game, championship after championship, whether they win or whether they don't win. And that reinvention and what sits behind that in terms of team and culture and philosophy and optimism and attitude is so fascinating to me because winning is one thing, but continuing to win with new people as the world is changing, as regulations are changing around you, is a completely different task, especially in such a technical industry like yours, where there's so many components that you have to leave to trust. So it's so inspiring to read your story. And it's so wonderful to see everyone becoming more and more popular in culture because there's so much about it that I think teaches us lessons about life and teamwork and all of these really important fundamentals. And yeah, it's an honor to meet you as well because from an entrepreneurial business standpoint, you're an inspiration to me for so many reasons. So thank you for the conversation today. Thank you for being so honest and open and I appreciate your time. No, thank you very much. I've enjoyed it. Quick one, as you might know, crafted one of the sponsors of this podcast and they make really meaningful pieces of jewelry, this lion piece they've made, I wear all the time, along with the little timepiece, the sand timer that I wear often. And the lion piece, you might have seen Conor McGregor has a similar piece which was custom made for him. For me, it represents courage. And if you walk through my house, the house that I'm in right now, if you walk six feet in that direction, you'll see a huge lion portrait. If you go upstairs, you'll see a lion portrait. If you look behind me on the shelf near the top there, you'll see a lion as well. The reason my house and my life is surrounded by lions is because they represent courage, calmness, and that tenacity that I've applied to my business success, to my professional life, and to everything in between. For me, the lion has always been an animal that can be almost a bit of a contradiction. They are so loving and so caring of their own and can be powerful and courageous when necessary in order to achieve what they want to achieve. So if you like me are a big fan of courage, bravery, ambition, while also being calm and composed, check out this lion piece and let me know if you get it.