Virtualmind Blog

Lessons learned as Head of MarCom from the Fast-Paced World of F1

Sofía Perez Guntin
Posted by Sofía Perez Guntin on May 8, 2023 4:03:22 PM

As the second Miami GP went by and left us with another Max Verstappen victory and a Red Bull 1-2, I thought about how I could link both of my passions: F1 and Communication. Now, you might be thinking, what do extremely fast cars and badass drivers have to do with effective communication? Well, from Charles Leclerc saying “cat” through the radio in Baku 2023 and everyone worrying about his car having a “cut”, let me tell you, my friends, that there are countless examples of miscommunication in all the F1 teams. I believe what we can learn from this cases can be applied both in life and business. 

I want to race to tell you a bit more about McLaren and Alpine’s, Ricciardo and Piastri, communication mishap in 2022. If you follow Formula 1, you might remember what I am talking about as it was not so long ago.

Amid rumors, on July 13th, 2022, the seven-time race winner, Daniel Ricciardo, said he fully intended to remain with the team until the end of his contract in December 2023. Silly of us and of him to believe that. A month later, there was another Instagram post published, also by Ricciardo, that said:

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of the McLaren Racing family for the last two seasons but following several months of discussions with Zak [Brown, McLaren CEO] & Andreas [Seidl, Team Principal] we have decided to terminate my contract with the team early and agree to mutually part ways at the end of this season.”

Believe me, I was shocked, to say the least. Now, you might be thinking… Can you change your opinions in a month? Well, yes but was this the case? After Daniel’s first post, McLaren did almost nothing to assure what the Australian said, generating quite a bit of noise in the Paddock and the whole F1 world, and then sneakily sending him to release that infamous post. His 2nd post said “following several months of discussions”… What several months are you talking about, Dan? Just a few weeks ago you were saying that you were going to stay! This was not a huge crisis, at least from my point of view, but kind of a bad move from both parties, as McLaren gained quite a bit of bad publicity and Danny was seen as clueless about what was happening with his career.

But that was not it. At the other side of the Paddock, a young Oscar Piastri, Alpine’s 3rd driver, was chilling comfy when Alpine decided to post this press release:

"As part of his formative F1 journey, Oscar was first promoted to BWT Alpine F1 Team Reserve Driver at the start of the 2022 season and has since been undergoing, under the Team’s guidance and its full financial support, an intensive and comprehensive training programme of private tests in the race-winning A521, the 2021 Alpine F1 car, race support, and simulator sessions to prepare him for the next big step into F1.”

To which Piastri soon responded with a Tweet (I love Social Media, it is forever): 

“I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

Now, I am not behind Alpine’s Communication Team or Board, but… To publish something like this, in this way, and receive that response. I wouldn’t want to be there either. What happened there? Because Alpine wouldn’t have posted that without having some kind of talk with Oscar, right? But is a "conversation" a good enough reason to post it?

Believe me, if this can happen to million-dollar-worth F1 teams, it can happen to all of us. From big to small companies, communication mishaps happen, and it’s teams like mine that are in charge of learning from them to hope for the best next time. There is good news to communicate, and we all love those but, there is bad news too. So, after this analysis, I wanted to leave you with a few recommendations: 

First of all, all parties involved must be on the same page. If someone is not in the loop, things like this can happen. And it will only bring more and bigger problems. In other words, no matter how bad the problem is and the consequences it will lead to, it may turn into a bigger one if you keep it in hiding.

Secondly, be as straightforward and transparent as you possibly can. Go with the truth, as sooner or later it might come up to haunt you, and it’s better to be prepared. After all, we are human. And there is nothing humans value more than honesty. We can deal with the truth, no matter how raw it is, but we do not want to deal with liars.

And, last but not least, it’s all about timing. Doing things quickly can be dangerous in the communication world. Bad choices can be made and once it’s out there, going back from that can be quite difficult or shameful. Take as much time as you possibly can but be able to identify how much time is not way too much time.

Now, the 2023 season has started, with Miami being the 5th race of the year. Piastri is now driving for McLaren and Daniel returned home to Red Bull as a 3rd driver. Daniel is an amazing driver and I hope to see him back on the grid soon, but for now, I wish them both the best in their new journeys and hope for an entertaining rest of the 2023 season.

Topics: Effective Communication

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