What can Business learn from Formula 1?

09. July 2024 – Oliver Stoldt

The requirements of Formula 1 team leaders have changed significantly in recently years as teams have become larger, more complex, and the business model to which the sport operates has been transformed.

The leaders in F1 today are responsible for leading up to 1800 full time employees, creating a high-performance organisation which is fully aligned behind a strategy aimed at achieving a set of well defined, ambitious goals.

Competitive team leaders create a culture in which team personnel take responsibility and are happy to be held accountable for their performance. Developing a high degree of psychological safety is key, requiring staff to speak up and speak out, with strong cross functional communications. A relentless focus on continuous improvement is part of the F1 leaders mindset, and teams take a data-driven approach to measuring performance, highlighting issues and analysing developments.

But whilst F1 is a technocentric sport, the successful leaders recognise that it is the people who make a difference. This is why so much effort is deployed to create an environment within which employees thrive, using their combined talents to problem solve and create highly innovative solutions in order to drive competitive advantage.

Leadership, Teamwork & Collaboration

Competitive Formula One teams comprise 1800 staff, less than 10% of whom attend the race events, so teamwork requires complete alignment, shared purpose and close collaboration across the business. The world championship includes 24 Grands Prix and these represent a series of non-negotiable deadlines which the entire organisation has to meet in terms of car development, hardware and software upgrades. The ultimate, public example of high-performance teamwork comes in the form of the mandatory pit stops which have to be performed during a race – the record now stands at 1.8 seconds during which 22 staff carry out 36 tasks under extreme pressure.

Alignment behind the team’s strategies and ambitious goals is vital, so too having the agility to flex strategy in the face of constant changes in technology and the performance of competitors.

Data-driven performance & Innovation

More than any other sport, Formula One has embraced a data-driven business culture, particularly with its near obsession with marginal gains and continuous improvement. F1 teams use data to enable drivers, engineers and HQ staff to determine precisely how the car and driver is behaving, diagnose issues, resolve problems and speed up decision making. As information flows seamlessly around the globe, linking car, team and factory, tech security is essential and robust systems ensure protection from multiple threats.

The use of simulators has transformed driver training, enabling systems to be learned, tested and developed in a virtual environment prior to real-world deployment. And with the advent of additive manufacturing, machine learning and AI across F1, the sport’s use of technology to innovate and transform all aspects of its operations is set to accelerate further.

Safety & Risk Management

Safety is a first order priority in Formula One and the last 25 years have seen a profound change to the way in which the sport manages risk. Between 1950 and 1994, there were over 40 driver fatalities at races; there has been one since. This has been made possible by creating clear priorities as regards safety. Compliance is non-negotiable.

Safety is not an area of competitive advantage. Safety systems, processes and technologies are shared so that F1 doesn’t have islands of excellence in oceans of mediocrity. However, the risk averse teams never win in F1 – the teams which embrace and manage risk are more likely to try new things, innovate in ways both small and large, and ultimately drive competitive advantage. It’s the difference between participating and competing. The other factor is ‘fear of failure’.

Teams that have a blame culture create such a degree of fear that everyone minimises their contribution and hides their mistakes, whereas those which thrive on creating a learning environment of continuous improvement have a degree of openness, honesty and transparency which promotes creativity and innovation, and taking risks, in a controlled way.

Health & Safety

Formula One motor racing has placed safety at the centre of its regulatory, technical and operational focus for over 25 years, but it has been the cultural shift among these high performing teams of men and women competing at the forefront of the world championship which has had the greatest impact on the sport’s safety revolution.

Given the importance of human factors and behaviours in managing risk, ensuring safety and guaranteeing positive outcomes, F1 has also broadened the scope of its safety programmes to include the health, wellbeing and psychological safety of team members, giving everyone a voice. F1 teams recognise that mental health, physical fitness and overall wellness are key to ensuring the best outcomes are achieved and sustained.

Change & Transformation

Every industry is witnessing change and Formula One is no different. One of the challenges facing F1 teams is that the sector is ever-changing – so change management and leading teams through periods of transformation is an essential part of the job. Change comes in many forms; technology, compliance, competition, customer demands, environmental and social issues.

Fprmula 1 has had to reinvent its business model, embrace digitalisations, adapt to a changing media and social landscape. Above all, F1’s leadership teams have had to communicate, manage and implement transformation strategies, bringing their teams with them and ensuring that they make the most from embracing change.


Formula One is often seen as a potentially wasteful, gas-guzzling sport which has a large carbon footprint and thus damaging to the environment. Yet the sport is in the midst of a revolution, one which will see the World Championship, all ten teams, 24 Grands Prix and every facet of its operations achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2030.

In 2026 the sport will stop using fossil fuels, working with the energy sector to develop sustainable, synthetic fuels and develop sophisticated hybrid technologies. Factory operations, event operations, technology, travel and logistics – every area of activity – is being addressed to ensure the sport is fully sustainable, developing solutions which have wider applications to society.

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