Red Flag

Sunday, September 6, something happened at the Italian Grand Prix that has not happened in an F1 race in eight years. Under the sun at Monza, the podium (first three places) did not include Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull drivers. Third place was a driver who had only been on the podium once before (in 3rd), Lance Stroll racing for Racing Point. Second place was a driver who also had only been on the podium once before (in 3rd), Carlos Sainz racing for McLaren. First place was a driver who had never won a GP and had also only been on the podium once in his F1 career (in 2nd), Pierre Gasly racing for Scuderia AlphaTauri.

What led to this unlikely outcome was a series of unique circumstances. Mercedes had qualified for both front row spots on race day. Until halfway through the race, Lewis Hamilton had kept Mercedes in the lead. Early on, one of the Ferraris had mechanical problems and retired. A Hass car pulled off in the grass in front of the entrance to the pit lane, and the stewards closed the pit lane. Hamilton didn’t recognize this and pitted anyway, netting him a 10 second stop-and-go penalty. A few laps later, Charles Leclerc (in the remaining Ferrari) crashed, requiring the race to be red flagged. This brought all the cars into the pit lane where everyone got a free pit stop (nullifying Hamilton’s costly pit stop) and closing up the field. When racing resumed, Hamilton had to take his penalty which put him in last place, 30 sec off the leader. One of the Redbulls retired, and the other finished 15th. Hamilton pulled back to 7th, and Bottas, driving the other Mercedes, finished 5th.

For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, neither Mercedes, Red Bull, nor Ferrari finished on the podium.

For many of you, this occurred without you even knowing it, and I apologize for dragging you through it. For me, this was a deeply disturbing event. I am a passionate Mercedes fan, and I am used to my team winning. Hamilton’s penalty was excessive, given his mistake had no impact on the race. Gasly’s win and the others’ podium finish was not a result of their outstanding driving ability or their team’s prowess. The consistent, usual results are a clear indication of each team’s actual capability. Gasly and others benefitted from a fluke set of circumstances that has not happened before and will not likely happen again. At least that’s how I felt on race day.

Hamilton and Mercedes cannot go back and rerun the Italian Grand Prix. Hamilton took responsibility for missing the lights indicating the pit lane was closed and said he would learn from his mistake. Everyone in contention for the World Championship suffered that day, but the teams on the podium were still elated, and they were celebrated as the winners they were, and that got me thinking.

COVID-19 and the current oil downturn are also a fluke set of circumstances and not likely to happen again. I have found myself feeling like I am at the mercy of some unseen force that is wrecking my world. I’m not the only one suffering, but there are some who are actually flourishing. The circumstances are unfair and excessively harsh and the results I’m experiencing are not consistent with my demonstrated capability. So, what can I do when the world turns upside down?

I can focus on the future. I cannot go back and “redo” the last six or seven months. It is tempting to play the “what if” game. What if I had seen the “lights” and done this or that differently? Maybe I could have avoided the worst of the “penalty.” There is an infinite supply of past scenarios that can be wondered about and analyzed. Unfortunately, very little of this effort is useful. The past has already happened. This is always true: I can never change the past. What I can affect is the future. Within minutes of the finish of that disastrous race, the entire Mercedes team was already focusing on the next weekend and the next race. We can begin preparing for tomorrow, today.

I can acknowledge my mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If a lack of education or preparation is involved, owning my mistakes is the key to learning and adapting. Many times, I don’t want to acknowledge that I failed because I fear being rejected or punished. However, failure is the best environment for growth. Instead of avoiding or blaming someone else, I can accept what has happened and then determine a new approach to try next. Hamilton missed those lights and entered a closed pit lane, costing him the Italian GP win. It is almost a certainty that Hamilton will never miss those lights again. We can always improve if we are willing to learn from failure.

I can rejoice with others who are winning. My grandmother used to say that it was an ill wind that didn’t blow someone some good. Often, what wrecks my world improves someone else’s. Focusing on negative emotions about others’ good fortune diminishes me. If I am not willing to be happy for someone else who is winning, I will begin to resent them. Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die—kind of foolish and senseless. The other teams gave the guys on the podium their due. They know what it is like to work hard and fall short, and they know how special it is to have your hard work rewarded. We all want to be acknowledged when we win, so we should be quick to acknowledge others when they do.

This past Sunday, Mercedes once again finished 1st and 2nd in Mugello at the Tuscany GP. This despite not one, but two red flags due to significant crashes in the first few laps and again with less than 20 laps to go. None of the drivers who were on the podium the week before even finished the race. So, things can change again as quickly as they changed before.

That is the real issue. Change is unpredictable yet certain to happen. Sometimes circumstances favor us, and sometimes they hinder us. Our own decisions can improve or worsen the situation also. Life will occasionally wave the red flag at us, yet at the end of the day, the only thing we can do is get up and race again. If we acknowledge our mistakes, celebrate others’ wins, and focus on our future, we may find ourselves on the podium tomorrow. We cannot change the past, but we can work toward a better future for everyone, and that is The Kimray Way.