When both the Haas Formula One cars retired from last week’s Australian Grand Prix, team driver Romain Grosjean demonstrated why it is that great leadership is most often demonstrated during the toughest of times, and how high performing teams are most often forged through adversity rather than in triumph.
Having qualified on the 3rd row of the grid behind the sport’s dominant teams, Ferrari and Mercedes, the Haas crew watched as their drivers Kevin Magnussen and Grosjean moved into fourth and fifth places before two catastrophic pit stops caused the retirements of both cars from the race. The cause? Loose wheels; the result of wheel nuts being cross-threaded during those high-pressure, two-point-something second pit stops.
It is impossible to articulate the uphill task facing a privately owned team like Haas, one which employs less than a quarter of the number of staff enjoyed by the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing, and operates on roughly a third of the budget. With only two year’s experience in the sport, and utilising a business model which relies on outsourcing a significant proportion of its technical operations, Haas has impressed before, but never with both cars right at the sharp end. This truly was a giant killing act.
The catastrophic pit stops, available for the world to see, dashed their hopes in the most agonising way imaginable. Millions of dollars of technology brought to an embarrassing halt because, at least to observers, someone didn’t manage to put a wheel nut on properly. On both cars, on successive stops.
Recrimination could so easily have been the result. Dreams smashed, emotions running high. The prospect of an ‘overpaid Formula One driver’ throwing his helmet in the garage might have seemed inevitable. And yet what did we see?
Lead driver Grosjean strode back to the paddock from his stricken car, and immediately consoled one of the distraught mechanics. We did not need to hear the words, the body language from both men told the story; the emotion from the mechanic, a dedicated member of the team totally gutted by a perceived ‘mistake’, but also the care, understanding and respect that the experienced Grosjean had for one of the crew.
Not for Grosjean the blame game. He knows that none of the mechanics come to work aiming to do a bad job. Quite the opposite. They spend hours, days, a professional life-time, trying to be the very best mechanics and pit stop crew they can be. No one puts in more effort, especially if you are on the wheel gun and facing the prospect of drilling off and on a recalcitrant wheel nut. Live on TV. In 2 seconds.
‘We win as a team, we lose as a team.’
It’s an old mantra, but no less relevant for that. Team boss Gunther Steiner explained what had happened afterwards. An analysis will take place, the team will work out why one car had a left-rear wheel nut issue, and the other a front-left. The problems may turn out to be the same, or quite different, and for the team a moment of heart-break will be turned into a learning opportunity, a chance to improve. As Grosjean himself said, “We’ll come back stronger.”
As a team, I’ve no doubt they will.