F1 is a masterclass in knowing yourself, celebrating incremental progress, and keeping perspective.
The way the thousands of people who work in F1 keep perspective about their progress is remarkable. There’s a palpable appreciation for small victories. When you watch a race and listen to the drivers over the radio on the cooldown lap, nearly everyone is happy. Up and down the grid, most of the communication is congratulatory, gracious, and grateful. Even the bitter disappointments contain such a sense of we'll-get-em-next-time spirit, I can almost feel the empathetic pats on the back in the voices of the race engineers. Only with proper perspective is this possible.
One of the things I first noticed about F1 was the exclusivity of the points scoring. When I first became a fan, out of the twenty drivers competing, only six got points. I couldn’t believe it. "That can't be right..." They've since increased the amount twice, to eight drivers in 2003, and again in 2010 to the current number of ten drivers. Even so, half the grid is still resigned to the fact that they'll make no progress at all in the championship. However, I believe this limitation is one of the foundations upon which drivers and teams think and talk about their performance.
When points are this rare, achieving any points-paying position is an accomplishment, and the attitude toward those achievements reflects that. Compare this to other race series where points are awarded all the way down to last place, and the focus shifts to only celebrating the winner. This is the critical difference between F1 and others, and it’s one of the things that most attracts me to its culture.
The podium ceremony celebrates not one winner, but four special individuals: the winning driver, a representative from the winning team, and the second & third-place finishers. All four are presented with trophies, and the winning team and driver get the additional honor of standing tall for their national anthems.
Obviously, the objective for every driver is to win the race. But despite the elite skills of the drivers, mechanics, strategists, and everyone else in the paddock and at the factory, there's an immense aura of humility and pragmatism on display after all the cars take the chequered flag. When asked to assess their performance, members of the teams base their answers on the delta between their results and their realistic pre-race expectations. Midfield teams with smaller budgets and fewer people know they're midfield teams and are unapologetic about their excitement over scoring even one championship point. That excitement is real. It illustrates the best way to not only survive but to thrive despite the brutal mental toll this sport can take: by constantly calibrating your perspective.
So why do teams continue to race even when they know they can't win? Simple. Because most people will not win. Most things follow a Pareto distribution, where a large portion of success (80%) is held by a small fraction of the population (20%). So when faced with this, the way to derive meaning from anything we do is to try our absolute hardest and see what happens. And the point of any game we play in our lives is not necessarily to win every time. The way you make the game meaningful is to assemble whatever conditions you need to continue playing. This will make it so there's always something worth reaching for just beyond the edges of your fingertips.
The point of racing is to compete. Winning is only a potential byproduct of that competition. Once all the cars cross the line, reality steps out of the shadows and every member of every team must recognize who they really are and adjust their expectations and objectives accordingly.
So despite being an incredibly glamorous and romantic sport, one of the things I love most about F1 is how unromantic everyone remains about their progress. They celebrate the incremental progress, knowing the best way to make huge gains is to start by making small ones. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time:
I'd say it was a pretty good day today, we finished in front of the team we're chasing in the championship, so even though we weren't in the points, we met our target...
It feels fantastic to get some points today, especially in front of my home crowd. Hopefully we can keep this up in the next race...
We were happy with 5th - I think that's the best we could get out of the car, so we maximized our potential today...
It's incredible to be up here on the podium, I'm so happy for the team and everyone back at the factory, they've been working so hard...
This win has been a long time coming...thanks to all the fans and everyone out there supporting us, and all the hard work from the team. They deserve it.
This isn't to say that the sport lacks disappointment. It is a competition, so naturally, the climb of some teams is at the direct expense of their rivals. But with every new Grand Prix, the optimism and hope returns, and the opportunity to get just a little better presents itself. They know where they stand. They understand the big picture and what's at stake. All that's left to do is go out there and try to get it.
I’ll see you all next week. Thanks for reading.