When the German Grand Prix is held this weekend, don't be surprised if a former racing driver heads the winning team.
New research shows that F1 team bosses who started out as drivers or mechanics win twice as many races as their rivals.
Researchers say the key to success is hiring so-called 'expert leaders' – individuals who have built up years of experience on the floor - instead of general managers. The pattern applies not just in F1, but across other public and private sector organisations too.
The findings come from London's Cass Business School and the University of Sheffield, where academics analysed every F1 race – almost 18,000 – staged in the last 60-years.
They found that the most successful team bosses are more likely to have started their careers as drivers or mechanics compared with F1 leaders who are professional managers or engineers with degrees.
“Former top drivers, such as Jean Todt, consistently turn into successful F1 bosses – even when we account for factors such as the resources available to each team,” said co-author of the study, Dr Amanda Goodall of Cass Business School.
The authors claim that former drivers make better managers because of their deeply ingrained technical knowledge, which helps them to formulate more effective tactics and intuitive strategies.
They also suggest that 'expert leaders' command greater credibility among team-mates, having worked on the floor themselves. Their reputation and track record can also help in luring other talented personnel to join them.
“We can see why comparative newcomers like Red Bull (led by ex-driver Christian Horner) and Sauber (run by former mechanic Peter Sauber) are doing so well in F1. These teams may not have a 50-year history like Ferrari, but they are led by hands-on experts with deep intuition,” Goodall said.
The study results held true even when the authors accounted for the type of circuit, the fame of the constructor team, the year of the race, and the number of cars in each competition.
The research is important, say the authors, because it supports broader emerging ideas on so-called 'expert leaders'.
It suggests that organisations perform more effectively when they are led by individuals who have a deep understanding of the core business of their organisations. Being a capable general manager is not sufficient.
The results are consistent with a previous study by the authors which found that hospitals perform best when headed by doctors, not professional managers.