As a leader, where do you look for inspiration? Your peers. Your competitors. Other leaders in your industry. Entrepreneurs. What if we told you the answers lie in Formula 1. No business develops and changes quite as much like Formula 1. With new rules, regulations, challenges, tech and changes in demographics, there is a lot to learn from those at the starting line. So today, we wanted to give you an inside track on leadership from none other than racing legend David Coulthard and Formula 1 executive Mark Gallagher. Drawing out all of the parallels with the sport, their learnings from working in this ever-adapting industry and how they can be integrated into businesses to make them run like a well-oiled machine. 

Picking a high-performance team

The key to keeping up in F1 is bringing in new and diverse voices and ideas. However, F1 recognised it was ‘one dimensional' and is trying hard to bring in diverse teams across all roles David shared F1’s approach to building teams that he’s now brought across to his production company Whisper Films, “Any approach that allows an opportunity to all, for talent to show itself as we do in sport is a good one. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you come from; if you’re talented and you’re a team asset you’re on the field of play. If they take that open mentality into your business you’ll transform the opportunities and create a more level playing field naturally.” 

Work like an F1 team 

Teamwork and unity of thought is everything when it comes to Formula 1. Especially when milliseconds can mean the difference between a win or lose. And the same goes for business too. David talks about creating a team that is hyper-focused on performance “The whole team is unified and aligned around how are we going to be better tomorrow? It’s quite simple to explain that but it requires a set of behaviours that don’t come naturally to people. You have to be incredibly open and honest about what you’re not getting right.” 

Ultimately in F1 and business, anyone could have the same capabilities, ideas and talent as you. What sets you apart is your work ethic and ability to adapt.  Use time optimally to pick apart your successes and mistakes and learn from them. Not every driver wins every race, but it is from these losses that their team can optimise their next racing strategy. 

Keep an eye on your competitors 

Often in business, we look to competitors and can easily criticise if their idea seems a little out there or vastly different from the way we do things. But David and Mark note a difference in mindset when it comes to F1, “The lifeblood of the racing teams is innovation to seek out opportunities to come with something that no one has done before. And in that respect none of the teams go, ‘That looks different, they must be crazy’ they go ‘That looks different, what are they thinking, what’s the opportunity they see?” Competitors should drive you to push your limits of innovation and think outside of the box rather than be a limit for your own innovation. 

Taking calculated risks 

Being an effective leader comes largely down to decision making and often risk-taking. “No risk no gain. If you keep putting in the same ingredients you keep getting the same cake at the end of it. If you want to improve things you have to experiment”. 

In Formula 1, Mark remembers the decisions made around letting Netflix film behind the scenes of the sport. For many within the sport, they saw this as a move away from F1’s core and potentially cheapening it. But this risk paid off - making Formula 1 an even more popular sport that has increased in popularity exponentially. Queuing more investment within the industry that everyone has benefitted from. 

“The only stupid or bad decision is no decision. You have to take ownership of your decisions.”, says David. Whether that be the decision to pit in a race or saying yes to Netflix - being able to take responsibility for your decisions on a micro or macro level not only means you can take ownership of the successes but also losses that you can learn and grow from. It’s with this objectivity that you can lead with humility and respect from your team or wider business. 


We hope the wise words and thoughts of David and Mark, who have a deep understanding of the fast paced F1 business have helped you kick your leadership into the next gear. Watch the full talk on The Weekly or book David and/or Mark for your own PepTalk by getting in touch with our team.