On Sunday, I sat glued to the edge of my seat as I watched Lewis Hamilton win his 5th Formula 1 World Championship. It wasn’t pretty. It was a hard fought victory seeing the world champ finish fourth. Two places behind his biggest rival, Vettel. It’s ok. Hamilton was well within the margin of what was needed to secure his world class status. In the aftermath, victory was clearly bittersweet. The champion had not finished with his best-ever performance – it was no slam dunk. But I’m certain in the annuls of time, that will be forgotten. What will be remembered is the Mercedes team’s resilience and their comeback from a few tactical mistakes in the early stages of this season.
So, what made that all important difference between Ferrari and Mercedes overall? Well, for me at least, it was two things. Two key differentiators stood between winning and losing – this season and over the course of F1 throughout history.
Firstly, and most importantly, Lewis has a ‘growth mindset’. This champion, this highest of the high performers in his field works first and foremost from a position of being able to grow. To learn. To correct mistakes and get better. To develop. Put it in whichever way you want; Lewis does not believe that he is the finished article. He has a strong sense of his talent – for sure – but much more crucial than this is his tenacity and his willingness to admit the blockers that stop him from getting to where he wants to be. And to do something about it.
The interview he gave at the end of the race was very telling in this regard. Lewis commented that he has been working really hard over the course of the last year on being better across the board. He has been working on being a better friend, a better son, a better person. This he said in the same breath as trying to explain what it was that made him the world’s number one F1 driver. For him the same principles apply – keep working at getting better – always accept there is more to do and further to go. I’m certain that we will see this same drive to learn from mistakes used to produce better performances in the final races of the season.
This principle is at the heart of Carol Dweck’s bestselling book ‘Mindset’. And she cites numerable well-known sportsmen and women as having a similar mindset which underpins their manifold achievements.
The second component to Hamilton’s success was to my mind, team work. In many ways, the ability to work in a productive, effective team springs from a place of growth mindset. It is almost impossible for those of the ‘fixed mindset’ position, (I am somebody, I am the finished article, I cannot be made better by collaboration with others, all talent is innate), to be part of a healthy, functioning team. Ego gets in the way. A team that cannot be vulnerable enough to admit personal and shared mistakes cannot engage in healthy and rigorous debate. Without this foundation, it is impossible to learn from one another and to hold each other – and ourselves – accountable for team goals. Indeed, it becomes impossible to understand what shared results look like in the first place.
Mercedes appear to have got this right. Toto Wolff (Mercedes Team Principal) and James Allison (Technical Director) both referred to the work of other parts of their team when accounting for success. This was a shared effort. Lewis might be front and centre, but it was clear in his heartfelt thanks to his team that this was a win for all.