For Formula 1 fans who support Lewis Hamilton, Sunday's Malaysian GP was a big disappointment, so one can only imagine how Lewis himself felt after his engine went up in smoke and possibly his championship hopes also. This was of course big news and the press hung on his every word but such a huge setback allowed us a valuable insight into the mind of a champion. While he no doubt has been trained by the best PR agents in the business, I'd like to think that what he says publicly, is indeed what he thinks privately, not least because he is a driver who is known to wear his heart on his sleeve. Let's jump in.
As his engine blew, on the radio Lewis said 'Oh, no, no.' Out the car, but immediately after the incident he said
Someone has to give me some answers because it's just not acceptable. It just doesn't sit right with me
Overall, I think he was quite restrained in his response given how raw this was at the time and the implication of how much he has possibly lost as a result. In the jargon of emotional intelligence, Lewis demonstrated 'self-regulation', that is, the ability to control disruptive impulses and moods. Self-regulation is a common characteristic of leaders (even though we acknowledge there are remarkable people who are exceptions). From Lewis, not a single F word in sight. And of course he wants answers, but he's light on the blame game so laying a constructive path for the required post mortem to get to the heart of the answer that is essential in a top F1 team that's suffered an engine failure.
Team leader Toto Wolff was probed by the press hoping to get a rise in light of Lewis' comments, but instead he answered
If you are in the lead and just about to get back into the lead of the championship and the engine blows up, he is allowed to say whatever he wants. It is emotional and completely understandable
I think this is just brilliant as a reply. At some level it is obvious, Lewis is hugely upset, but as a talent manager, Toto just nails it.
At the subsequent press conference, Lewis was pressed further on the issue and goes on to say
On one side we have had the most incredible success these last two years, for which I am incredibly grateful. These guys work so hard and we are all feeling the pain right now. When you get out of the car, the feeling you have after leading and the car fails, it is pretty hard to say positive things.
Having already shown self-regulation, he demonstrates three more qualities that highlight his mindset. First, there's gratitude, as he acknowledges Mercedes has already given him a huge amount of success. Second, he acknowledge that it is a team effort and it is not just about him. Third, he demonstrates empathy, he acknowledges that it is not just his pain, but recognises that pain is felt across the team. The latter two points are again highlighted when he follows on by saying
I saw tears in the eyes of my mechanics, so I know we all feel the pain
Finally, he discusses a point that is critical to every winning mind-set I have encountered from sport to business
While the struggle is real right now and has been this year, I honestly feel it is constantly a test of will, of my spirit and who I am as a person to get back in and keep fighting it head on. It's not how you fall, it's how you get back up
It's not how you fall but how you get back up. It is seen time and time again in the narrative of success reflecting that there will always be major setbacks when your reach is so ambitious. The will and spirit of ultra achievers is remarkable but even just knowing the importance of overcoming misfortune can help us 'mere mortals' rise up after we get knocked down.
Cynically, it might all just be seen as the polish of PR, but even then, that would still be impressive to stay on script when the emotional self has been well and truly battered (something that Donald trump is unable to do). But I choose to think it is more than that because it cannot be denied that Lewis Hamilton and the whole Mercedes team have a winning mindset. And Lewis, in the face of a potentially fatal setback to his world championship hopes, was still able to demonstrate self-regulation, gratitude, teamship, empathy and a recovery of the will to fight. Not bad for a single press conference.