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The Driving Formula

Formula 1 is back. With a bang!

On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton won the opening race of 2021 in Bahrain by the skin of his teeth. Wheel-to-wheel action all the way to the end. He actually lost the race lead to Max Verstappen in the Red Bull with five laps to go. However, the Dutchman exceeded track limits on Turn Four so was ordered to give up the lead. He then didn’t have the speed to re-take the lead. What an irony that it was Red Bull who had complained about Mercedes exceeding track limits during the race. Hoist. Own. Petard. Oh, the cruelty of F1! (I can already hear ardent F1 fans tapping away at the keys to give me ‘feedback.’ Winking smiley face.)

I’m not an F1 geek, but I’ve come to love this sport. Especially since the release of the Netflix show, which has followed the last few seasons of the sport. So what, in heaven’s name, has F1 got to do with Christian leadership? As it happens, quite a lot. It throws up all kinds of analogies and lessons.

Lights out! Here we go.

First, the brain has two sides. A left-hand side and a right-hand side. These two sides of the brain perform different functions. The right brain is more associated with the emotions, intuition, imagination; the left brain is more about logic, maths, sequencing.

In F1, we have a sport which brings together in perfect harmony these two sides of the brain. Here’s how:

It’s all about the car. Make no mistake, in F1, the car is king. The championship is won by engineers in a factory with their computers and their scientific application of aerodynamics. More downforce? Less wear on the tyres? A more powerful engine? It’s the designers and engineers who make it happen. Something as seemingly innocuous as a brake duct caused one of the controversies of last season. Some of them were so upset about a little brake duct on a competitor’s car!

But when we watch F1, we don’t cheer the designer at the computer, who’s just figured out how to make the car go faster. We don’t gasp when he clicks and drags his design onto the schematics, and in so doing wins the championship for his driver. Of course not! During the Netflix show, they give absolutely NO attention to the science. None at all. They just talk about “working harder.”

Why is this?* Because F1 is all about the raw emotion. It’s a feeling sport, as all sport is to varying degrees. It’s all heart. The roar of the engine is a metaphor for the human heart. It’s a lion’s roar of passion and drive. F1 is a sport in which the emotions run very high. Just listen to a driver who has won a race, the shrieking, the ecstasy, the sheer unadulterated joy that comes from winning.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes, of course. Some are critical thinkers, others are emotional artists. I understand that. However, the fan of F1 is mostly caught up in the emotion. Why?

Because human beings are feeling beings above all things.

We are certainly more than just a swell of emotions – how could we build bridges and rockets otherwise? – but we are often carried along by our emotions. Have you noticed that during an argument your explanations mean almost nothing? Arguments reveal just how emotional we are, whether we suppress our emotions (very common in the U.K.) or not. It’s worth adding that I find those who are uncomfortable about discussing emotions are often those who need to express them more. Make of that what you will.

So . . .

The people you serve are feeling beings.

They have felt this pandemic deeply. They feel the loss of relatives, the loss of connection. Their emotions have been wrung out over the past year. They need love, not explanations.

They want to be loved. As we all do. How wonderful that we have a God whose love is mighty and everlasting, and beautiful and pure.

Second . . .

Did you just say it was all about the car? Are you kidding?! Have you ever seen Max Verstappen drive a car? How is it that he manages to out-perform every single one of his teammates? Sometimes by almost a second (in F1, a second is a vast ocean). But George Russell climbed into the Mercedes last season – a man who was at the back of the grid in his Williams – and almost won the race. It doesn’t matter who drives that Mercedes, the car is what matters. Or does it?

And so goes the debate in F1 – is it the driver or the car? It’s both.

Which is why F1, unlike any other sport, is all about expectations. In the Premier League, only five teams have a realistic chance of winning the league. But hold on, because Fulham beat the champions, Liverpool, not that long ago. Not so in F1. In F1, the Williams will be at or near the back of the grid every race. Guaranteed. Their car just isn’t good enough. That’s how it is.

AlphaTauri aren’t fighting with Red Bull and Mercedes, they’re challenging the other mid-field teams. This means that when a team over-performs, they are ecstatic. Absolutely delirious. We came fifth! A Williams scored a point. Let’s celebrate! You won’t see that in many other sports. And when out of nowhere, a mid-field team wins a Grand Prix, like last season, the whole team goes bananas! When Pierre Gasly, demoted the previous season from Red Bull, won the 2020 Italian Grand Prix in his AlphaTauri, I thought he was going to explode. He was leaping about like a wild man. His whole team went berserk in the pit lane.

The lesson?

The Parable of the Talents (Matt 25.14-30). Each servant is given a different number of talents. Each F1 driver is given a different car. Each servant is asked to be faithful with what he’s given. Each F1 driver is asked to do his best with what he’s given. In the church, we’re not competing, of course, (see blog post on competition here) but we are given different gifts and different opportunities. We’re not all the same. God knows this, which is why we’re each called to be faithful with what we’re given.

The world keeps telling us that we’re being measured against metrics like success, wealth, fame. But these are lies. First, we’re not being measured against anyone at all! We are simply given a life to lead, and we’re called to offer it back to our Master. And each of us is dealt a different hand.

From rich to poor,

From justice-seekers to beauty-creators,

From musical to tone deaf,

From artistic to science whiz,

From ‘buttoned up’ to ‘let it all hang out,’

From thinkers to feelers to all mixed up.

In your church, you will have people with tremendous gifts and others with gifts that are less sparkling, less fancy. As leaders, we must endeavour to communicate to ALL our members that we are valuable because of who God is, and who he has made us to be. We are each unique and beautiful.

Each one of us.

1 Cor 12 until we die.

Eliminate anything in the church which creates competition – resist the fame culture with all that you have. And keep pounding away with the message that God is worthy of our praise, because of who he is. Give thanks that he has made us for himself – each one of us – to worship him, and find our identities in him.

ALL of us.

Let me finish with a piece of wisdom from John Calvin:

“We are God’s own; to him, therefore, let us live and die.”

*It’s worth saying that F1 teams don’t share their designs, because they’re highly secretive. The journalists never venture into the science, because they’d be given short shrift. “Oh no you don’t. That’s private.”


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