What a season finale the Formula One had on offer yesterday. With a record four drivers still in the draw for the World Champion title and a race that lived up to the expectations, it was clearly one of most interesting last races of the season in recent years.
Towards the end of the race, it all boiled down to a duel of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and young gun Sebastian Vettel. In case of a Vettel win (what he actually managed to achieve), Alonso would have needed to finish at least in fourth place to capture the title again. He came in seventh.
A great disappointment for one of the best drivers in the field in the team with the highest team budget (Alonso’s Ferrari team spent around 240 million Euros (330 million US$) this season, while Vettel’s Red Bull team was at 150 million Euros (205 million US$).
And while the Red Bull team was celebrating, on Ferrari side the assignment of blame began: Just after reaching the finish line, Alonso was waving his fist at Vitaly Petrov, claiming that Petrov was protecting his position too aggressively in the race (Alonso was stuck behind Petrov for over 40 of the 55 laps). Meanwhile, Ferrari fans were blaming the team for a bad pit stop strategy: Italian right-wing minister Roberto Calderoli called the strategy “moronic” and asked Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo to step down (actually bringing Alonso in for a pit stop relatively early led to him falling behind the likes of Petrov, Kubica and Rosberg). Others blamed the mechanics department of the team instead of the strategists, claiming that despite the high budget, Ferrari never managed to catch up with the obviously faster car that Red Bull built throughout the whole season.
It’s a typical pattern that can also be seen in companies that are not active in motor sports: When things go wrong, a scapegoat must be identified.
And then the fight begins. Everybody needs someone to blame but does not want to be the one blamed. People start being aggressive with each other. Some are imputed even though they may not have been guilty of the failure at all, and so on…
All this leads to even more frustration of everybody involved, it costs an awful lot of energy and occupies significant amounts of resources.
The search for a scapegoat is as unproductive as anything. And people know it. If you tell anyone in your organization that you think it wouldn’t be very helpful to find someone to blame but that we should move on, try to learn from the failure and try to improve from there – nobody will disagree. Yet, the search for someone “guilty” will continue (maybe in a more quiet/ less visible way, though).
Changing it is extremely tough. On the one hand, it costs a lot of energy to ask people over and over again to move on. On the other, this trying to move on from the search for someone responsible for the failure can sometimes be understood as trying to shift the focus away from your own share of guilt.
That vicious circle is hard to break. To do it, one the one hand you need stamina. If you come back with the request to focus on improvement, not on finding someone to blame every time, people will finally start to believe that you really mean it and not just want to hide your own mistakes. On the other hand, developing a team to a state where everybody gives his best will prevent from the search for a responsible for failure – and that’s not just because there are less cases of failure if everybody delivers great work. The point is that if everybody does his best, how can there be a scapegoat?
After cooling down for a couple of minutes, Fernando Alonso showed how to do it. In a post-race interview he congratulated Vettel and Red Bull, stated that Petrov did nothing wrong and “drove well”, protected those that took the strategic decision of bringing him in to the pit lane early (“After the race it is always very easy to see the best strategy”), made sure that he believes that everybody in the team did what he could to win and started to look forward to the next season (“ I’m sure that with this team it is very possible to fight for championships in the future”).
That’s greatness after a huge loss and a lot to be learned from Alonso. He may not be the Champion, but he behaved like one by not looking back, trying to blame others, but looking forward instead with the goal to improve the performance next time.