Tuesday, October 23, 2007


It can't be said often enough how important psychology is in sport (but there are plenty of commentators and amateur psychologists who are doing their level best). The blame game for Lewis Hamilton's failure to finish the job in his last two races is raging everywhere: blame Ferrari, Max Mosley, Ron Dennis, Lewis, his dad, the paparazzi whatever. What seems to have been missed is that Ferrari played a blinder off the track to put all the pressure on McLaren and they never even stretched the rules (well not obviously).

You could put it all in terms of a corporate mission statement:

Aim: To win both driver & constructor championships (at all costs)

Objectives: 1 Identify weaknesses of our main competitors and exploit them. Note: think outside the box, not just the car, but the drivers, the team set up, reputation, other personnel etc.


1. Undermine credibility: this has the double advantage that it puts them on the defensive and any success they have can be disputed. The methods will present themselves based on circumstances but as a starting point it is vital to aim at the keystone of their reputation: Ron Dennis. Identify his weaknesses and use them to bring down the team.

The methods which presented themselves were ideal: a disgruntled employee, sketchy evidence of industrial espionage - nothing special in any normal season, but exploited to the full by 'sexing up' and turning them into a test case of the authority of the FIA and personally of Max Mosley. Wind them up and watch them go.

It has been said that Muhammed Ali won the fight before he stepped in the ring by undermining the confidence of his oponent using his charisma. In the same way Ferrari had won the championship before the engines started for the last two races. McLaren were all over the place, half of them fighting the other half over Alonso vs Hamilton and the management trying desperately to be seen to be fair to both sides; they had had one championship stolen from them already and they lost sight of where they were going to get the other one. At the back of their minds amidst all the jitters and recriminations was the fact that their credibility was in tatters and if they won they were more likely to be further sanctioned. Ron Dennis was in the impossible position of having to avoid acting in the best interests of the team (which is to support the driver leading the championship) lest he be tried and found guilty of bias.

While the McLaren team could hardly think for stress and conflicting pressures, the confidence of the Ferrari team must have been going through the roof. Step up Kimi Raikonen and, in an act of brilliance (overlooked by almost everybody) he, not only got ahead of Hamilton into the first corner at Brazil, but managed to brake, forcing him back into his team-mate. It was brilliant in its reading of the psychology of the situation, not the execution. Under normal circumstances you would expect Lewis to be charging for the first corner and he would simply have twitched past the Ferrari on instinct. But, Kimi assumed, rightly, that Lewis would be under strict instructions not to race against the Ferraris and concentrate on getting through cleanly even if it meant giving way. So it was that Hamilton lost all his timing into the first S bend and went from 2nd to 8th. That was down to the difference in the confidence of the Ferrari driver who was going all out for the win and the McLaren driver trying to avoid doing anything which could end his race or get him penalised.

The worrying thing now is that McLaren may implode. They have been, not only beaten, but also made to look stupid. There is a real danger that Alonso will leave taking a chunk out of the heart of the team and that Ron Dennis' authority is so badly undermined that there will start to be power games played out within the team. They badly need to decide what their aim is: is it to be seen to be a fair player or is it to win, because, in the end, the two may not be compatible.


Post a Comment

<< Home