Motor Racing Psychology: Sebastian Vettel – Bigger Than The Team?

Motor Racing PsychologySo Sebastian Vettel wins the Malaysian Grand Prix. Ignoring Red Bull team orders, the German, unable to reign in his competitive spirit, passes his team mate Mark Webber, despite being asked by Team Principal Christian Horner to follow Webber home, and look after the cars.

Vettel’s win opens up the argument about the dynamic between a team and strong minded individual. What does a team do, when an individual appears to be bigger than the team?

Does the team try to bring them down to size, and suppress their competitive spirit. Or do they give them a free rein and re-organize the team around the needs of that individual?

Well if the individual has exceptional Vettel like talent, then the team has to go with the talent. For the talent can take the team to new levels of excellence. Raise the bar. Set the standards. Bring everyone out of their comfort zone.

There should be no compromise. Ok Vettel ignored team orders. But he did so out of his competitive desire and will to win. The same will to win that has already seen the twenty five year old German claim three world titles. It’s the same desire that may see Vettel become one of the sports greats and legends.

When a team has a talented individual in it, and that individual disrupts the team dynamic in some way, through an over-sized ego, or prima donna behaviour, then that individual needs a degree of control from the team.

But a champion does not need control. They need team support and freedom. Freedom to take responsibility for their own decisions. Freedom to trust their competitive instincts and drive as fast as they need to. It’s what champions do.

They are not cut from the same cloth as others. It felt wrong when Vettel apologised publicly for dis-obeying his team orders. He tried to sound humble. But he shouldn’t have done. No apologies were necessary.

He should have said, ‘Im a winner and champion’. ‘I saw a chance to win this Grand Prix and I took it. It’s what I do!’ ‘I really loved the battle with Mark. Thats what makes this sport so compelling!’

And its what people pay good money to watch F1 for. The cut and thrust of two drivers pulling out all the stops to win. Driving to the limit of their ability. Mixing danger with high levels of skill, courage and boldness.

But a great individual champion can also be a great team-player. That means recognising the work the support team put in to making him a champion.

It was said of seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher, that he knew the important details of every member of his support team. For example, to express his appreciation for their work, he would always have a personalised and appropriate gift to give on their birthdays. He made them feel important, because he knew how important they were to his success.

Thus the champion knows how to get the best out of his team. And the team responds in kind. The two are working together as one. Mark Webber’s role is to push Vettel as hard as he can. Webber was thinking of the team when he allowed Vettel to pass him at Sepang. But he was perfectly in his rights to lay down the gauntlet to Vettel. Say, ‘Ok lets see if your good enough to pass me!’

It’s when the pressure is on that you see what a champion is made of. Webber, fired up and angry will be desperate to put one over Vettel in China. And it’s the demand for a response, that will bring out the best in Vettel, and raise his level. When your a champion you thrive on such challenges. And so should the Red Bull team!

Posted in Motor Racing Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.