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18 January 2019
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‘You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take’ 

7 July 2014  

Niki Lauda recalled the above quote by US basketball ace Michael Jordan at Silverstone on Saturday after Lewis Hamilton had aborted his qualifying lap in final qualifying at the British Grand Prix. 

Hamilton had thought that conditions had worsened and that he had pole position in the bag from his previous effort, only to find that five others were able to beat his time.

One view is that he made a huge mistake, and with the benefit of hindsight in looking at the consequences it was. An alternative view is that to have pushed and risked going off could have wrecked his car, and possibly hurt him, so with pole position seemingly secure to play safe was a good option. Consider the headlines if he had spun off trying for a flier in deteriorating conditions; the media are ruthless either way.

You can read the last paragraph and think that in such cases you can’t win; whatever you do you have an equal chance of getting it wrong. In itself that is perfectly true, but the point of Jordan’s words is that if you don’t try you guarantee that you fail. You may only have a success rate of 10 per cent, but that is better than a failure rate of 100 per cent.

Fear of failing is behind not trying. It’s the same point that I used about decision-making the other week in that people won’t commit to a decision in case they make the wrong one. I used to joke about using my decision-making dice that had Yes and No on it and the truth of that humour was that if I did take that method I would probably have got a reasonable return, but if you weigh up your options and make a call based on the best information you have, then your chances are better than 50-50.

Lauda was right in proposing that Lewis lost out because he didn’t see the lap through, but I suggest that Lewis deserves credit for having made a decision even if it did turn out to have cost him. 

It is not a disaster to be starting sixth because Silverstone is a fast track, he has the fastest car, is a very quick driver and could well be up with – or go past – his pole position-winning team mate within 10 laps. A race win is not out of the question, but had he gone for it on the final qualifying lap and put his car into the wall he might have found himself starting from the pit lane in a rebuilt car after everyone else had got away and with a mountain to climb. Worse, he could have hurt himself and had to miss this race, and maybe the next.

Graham Hill once said that in Formula One you could go from hero to twit in a second. Very true, and Lewis managed that yesterday, but the trick is to put it behind you. You may fail, but you can’t win them all. Don’t let failure or a mistake put you off, for what’s done is done. Learn from things that go wrong and move on, but don’t brood on errors or they will put you off your next try.

By the time that you read this, the British Grand Prix will be in the record books and it may well show that Lewis Hamilton won. If that is the case I’ll not be surprised [Ed – he did]

John Bowen is an FM consultant