In 2010, new Formula 1 governing body rules eliminated refueling in pit stops, which ironically returned the race to a test of speed not just for the drivers and machines but for the pit crews who change four tires in under 3.5 seconds.
I spoke to Ole Schack, the #2 mechanic on Red Bull Racing’s Formula 1 car driven by Sebastian Vettels, on creating a culture of speed. “There’s a hell of a lot that happens at the same time, hopefully, to get 20 people drilled to do the same thing routinely time in and time out,” he told me. “It’s no good having 3 corners doing the wheel stop in 2.5 seconds and one doing it in 4 seconds. You all have to get drilled down to doing the exact same thing at the same time.”
What Ole described in the course of explaining his role at Red Bull Racing told me everything I needed to know about building a culture of speed:
One: Getting the right people with the right physical gifts together.
When the rule change came down, the Red Bull team sent its pit mechanics to the UK’s Olympic training facility for hand & eye coordination testing and training. What emerged was the right combination of people to do the right tasks.
Two: Their drills were bloodless battles, their battles bloody drills.
When you and your two other tire change team members change 150 tires a day, videotaping everything from how you hold the angle of your body to where each member stands, you not only build functional skill but bond a team within a team. All extraneous movement and motion is drilled out. The zen of wheel nut gunning.
Three: Our first competitors are always our own teammates.
Each corner – Ole is the wheel nut gunner for the front left tire, or corner – competes against the other. This happens whenever you get the right people in the right settings doing the same things. It happened in the Roman legions and it happens on the Red Bull Racing team. The competition is good natured, to a point, but it’s there and that’s the point. Strong teams compete internally all the time. They know who the enemy is, but they’re not afraid to cause a little friction internally and to test each other.
Four: Making sure you have those people who always want the ball with one second left.
There are those who know, deep down inside, that want to be the one taking that last second shot just as there are those who silently pray that someone else takes the shot. This is the difference between batters who step into the batter’s box planning to hit and those who hope that they can get a walk. The ability to perform under pressure is as central to changing four tires in 3.1 seconds as it is serving out a match or finishing off an opponent in the ring. For a highly competitive speed culture, you want the former, not the latter. “We always want to go down to the lowest time for sure as the best pit stop crew in the pit lane and that’s our target… it’s as simple as that,” Ole told me. “There’s nothing in between the lines. We want to be the best pit stop crew who services these cars the quickest you can get them so everyone looks around and says, ’Blimie, these boys have it sorted, they’re on pole position every time.’”
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These rules are constant across all enterprises where speed is of paramount importance. When I spoke with Mike Cassidy, founder of Direct Hit and XFire, he mirrored these same sentiments, albeit in different words. He spoke of the need to find those “20X developers” who could do in a day what other good developers could do in a month, just as he spoke of the need to find those people who needed to be the first ones out of the gate with a new product.
After studying speed cultures, the big insight is that they win not just because they’re faster. They win because in order to be faster, they by necessity need to strip out all the unnecessary steps and hubris from their internal processes, and by doing so they end up doing things better.
If you’re better and faster, no one can stand in your way.