When others take away your victory

This year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone was fascinating for the dramas it presented alongside the race itself. At least four of the competitors (‘drivers’ is too mild a term for them) must have come off the track spitting feathers because of the actions of others.
I shall not include Sebastian Vettel, whose extended final pit stop cost him the lead, because Alonso might have caught and overtaken him anyway.

Consider Mark Webber. He qualified in pole position, but quickly lost out to Vettel and the usual clutch of Ferrari and McLaren stars. Still in contention, he also suffered a delayed pit stop, but fought through to third place and was challenging Vettel for second place on the last lap, when he received team orders, “Maintain the gap.” In other words, “Don’t overtake.”

It must have seared the soul of the Australian whose every instinct is to strive for the highest position he can attain, and to challenge anyone who stands in his way.

Then there was the 7-time World Champion, Michael Schumacher, who started well down the grid and fought his way from 16th to 9th, thus demonstrating that he still has it in him. How galling, then, to be handed a ‘stop and go’ penalty for accidentally colliding with Kobayashi. As he sat in the pits during the 10-second countdown, his body language was eloquent.

Third up was Jenson Button. He was having a good day at the office when he came in for his final pit stop. It was quick, and as the lollipop went up, Jenson was off, only to be flagged down and told to return. One of the mechanics had failed to fix the wheel nut on his front right hand wheel. Marching back with his helmet still on, Jenson must have wanted to strangle the person responsible.

Finally, Lewis Hamilton. In qualifying, his car let him down and he started in 10th place. Well before halfway he was up among the leaders, even though his car was still off the pace. The rain had taken away the technological advantages of Red Bull and Ferrari, and it was down to driver skill.

With a handful of laps to go, Lewis was told to back off and conserve fuel, or he wouldn’t finish the race. Someone in Team McLaren had miscalculated. Hamilton was soon overtaken and finished fourth. Not a bad result, but so much worse than the podium position he would have had.

The four incidents had one thing in common: those competitive sportsmen were robbed of the results they deserved, through the interventions and errors of people who were not themselves competing. It’s one of the hardest disappointments that a competitor could experience.

In the high intensity of Formula 1 or any other top level competition, it will be felt most deeply. But it could happen to any of us in business too. And if it happened to you, would you have a Plan B?

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