Jean Todt, left, presided over Ferrari's last world drivers' title when Kimi Raikkonen triumphed in 2007.
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Jean Todt, left, presided over Ferrari's last world drivers' title when Kimi Raikkonen triumphed in 2007.

Story highlights

Study shows "expert" leaders win twice as many F1 races as their rivals

The study looked at every Formula One race from 1950-2011

Claims made by the study even translated into other businesses outside of motorsport

Red Bull boss Christian Horner is an example of a successful former driver

CNN —  

Do you need to be a jockey to ride a horse? Do you need to be a doctor to run a hospital?

Maybe not in all cases, but a new study suggests that you will be more successful in management if you have skills specific to your realm of operations.

These days the trend is very much toward professional managers – executives who swap industries as they please.

However, in the rarified world of Formula One at least, it appears that it pays to employ from within. And with an average annual team budget of $173 million, there is pressure to get it right.

“Former top drivers, such as Jean Todt, consistently turn into successful Formula One bosses – even when we account for factors such as the resources available to each team,” says Amanda Goodall of Britain’s Cass Business School.

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Goodall co-authored a study which discovered that F1 teams managed by individuals who know the sport inside out win twice as many races as their general manager counterparts.

Examining all 18,000 F1 races from 1950-2011, the study revealed that former drivers and mechanics are significantly more successful than those with degrees in engineering or who were managers by trade.

Todt, for example, is now president of motorsport’s ruling body the FIA. Following a 15-year rally driving career and a stint as Peugeot’s director of racing, he joined Ferrari’s F1 setup.

Having been responsible for bringing Michael Schumacher to the team, the Frenchman later became the Scuderia’s chief executive.

While he presided over multiple world titles, his 2008 replacement Stefano Domenicali – a business school graduate – has struggled to repeat the success of the Schumacher era, winning nothing.

“We can see why comparative newcomers like Red Bull and Sauber are doing so well in Formula One. These teams may not have a 50-year history like Ferrari but they are led by hands-on experts with deep intuition,” Goodall said.

Red Bull, formed from the Jaguar team in 2005, has dominated the past two years with world titles in both driver and manufacturer categories.

The Austrian-owned marque is led by Christian Horner, who started out as a racing driver in F1’s development divisions before running his own team in his mid-20s.

Sauber’s restored fortunes have come since founder Pete Sauber rebought the team from BMW in 2009 – though the 68-year-old is gradually handing over control to chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn, whose background is in law.

The authors of the Cass report say the study shows that being a capable general manager may no longer be sufficient, and that employees respond better to leaders who have a deep understanding of their trade.

In fact, a previous study conducted by the same authors discovered that hospitals headed by doctors perform better than those led by professional managers.

“From an early age, driver-leaders develop technical knowledge about the underlying activity of grand prix racing,” the F1 study states.

“They acquire extensive experience in formulating driving tactics, and are able to make decisions under time pressure and stress. This inherent knowledge and industry expertise may, we suggest, inform organizational strategy when drivers become principals.

“We also argue that former drivers may appear more credible to their F1 team colleagues, which extends their influence. Finally, because of a shared value system between the team and leader, driver-leaders may create a more appropriate work environment for the team.”