Strategy is learning by doing
So said Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principle and CEO, during the F1 post-race interview in Azerbaijan. Valtteri Bottas, one of the Mercedes F1 drivers, should have won the race in Azerbaijan Sunday. Late on in the race he was latest of the front-runners to pit and change his tires. As such he was most likely to change to the most soft tire that should have been more grippy than the tires of the 1 or 2 cars ahead. He was going to have enough laps left to take the race to them. It looked like Bottas was going to win the race! The strategy, to leave him out longer than his immediate competitors (a Ferrari and another Mercedes) looked perfect.
But in the post-race interview, Toto Wolff said in response to a question about how this strategy had developed, “Strategy is learning by doing”. The tires on all cars would rarely behave the same. What with traffic, variable weather and track conditions, there are many things to concern yourself with. As such strategy is not about developing before hand a detailed, item by item plan for the full 51 laps. It seems that strategy is a broad-brush overview or intent, with key decisions steps at places throughout the duration. Pitting (when to) and what tires to use are two key decisions that may change as events unfold around the card. These decision points are where a team or driver might change the so-called strategy. So strategy is therefore learning by doing. Brilliant
10 pints of beer
In the end Valtteri Bottas didn’t finish the race. An errant piece of someone else’s F1 car was presumed run over by Bottas’s car and he collected a rear flat tire. He didn’t finish the race, and as luck would have it, his team mate Lewis Hamilton won the race. That teaches two other lessons:
- Never give up; things may come your way when you least expect it (Lewis seemed to have little chance of a race-win this weekend)
- Luck can very often trump strategy
And as I noted precisely, we should remember that decisions and outcomes are not one and the same. See book review of Making Smart Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Bottas and his team took all the right decisions, given the conditions and known data. But luck appeared and the expected outcome changed. In the post-race interview with Bottas, a clearly upset driver mooted in response to a question about how we might get over such a devastating turn of events, that “10 pints of beer” might help. Given the dedication and physical fitness of these F1 drives, I bet even that might not faze Bottas. He will be on the top of the podium again soon, I am sure.