PSYCHOLOGY IN FORMULA ONE
The Different Lenses We Look Through
The 2021 World Championship -
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton v. Red Bull's Max Verstappen (part 1)
In Formula One racing, there are 2 championship titles at the end of the season: the Driver's Championship title goes to the driver with the highest number of points and the Constructor's Championship title goes the highest scoring racing team.
In 2021, the rivalry between the top 2 teams, Mercedes and Red Bull, and the top 2 drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, culminated at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton and Verstappen were tied in points - a feat that had only happened once before in F1racing back in 1974. It was going to be an epic battle to the finish line.
I am a relatively new fan of F1 (and admittedly, a "bandwagon-er" of Netflix's awesome Drive to Survive series) and I do believe that for any true lover of sport, nothing is worse than having the outcome of a competition determined by (a) cheating or (b) the officiating.
Unfortunately, for the sport of Formula One, the 2021 Driver's Championship was determined by one of those very things: the officiating.
Max Verstappen won the Driver's Championship after the FIA (the officiating body of F1) implemented safety car procedures in a way that had never been applied before. As a result, Verstappen was able to win a race that almost certainly would have gone to Lewis Hamilton.
On that day in 2021, as I watched Verstappen cross the finish line first, I was despondent as a Hamilton fan.
But the psychotherapist in me saw what was happening through a different lens. As I watched the human behavior of the Red Bull team unfold on the screen, I was horrified. No one on Red Bull seemed even slightly ambivalent about claiming their victory. How could that be? I was so disillusioned to the extent that I felt I was in the twilight zone.
From a psychological perspective, I wondered:
Did no one on Red Bull have a problem with
what had just happened?
* * *
Were they actually proud of this "victory"?
* * *
Did any of them even have a moral compass?
or any sense of right v. wrong?
I may be an ardent Hamilton fan, but this is not about beating up on Red Bull or feeling bitter that my team lost.
As a psychotherapist, my disillusionment was about something much bigger than my team losing - it was about the ethics of right v. wrong and how, as humans, we rationalize wrong when it suits us.
If we could snap our fingers and play out the exact reverse situation with Hamilton in Verstappen's position and taking the win in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull most definitely would have been furious about the injustice of the result while Mercedes celebrated their victory.
So, how does this happen? How do individuals or groups see the same circumstances so differently in the moment - even when they would adopt the opposite point of view if the situation was reversed?
To answer that question, I have listened carefully and studied the reactions of the Red Bull team - both immediately after the race and over the last several months - and the words they have consistently used to describe Verstappen and his win were: "worthy", "deserving", that he "over-performed his car", and "if any driver deserves to win this title, it's Max".
In other words, my conclusion is that Red Bull viewed the race through the lens of ENTITLEMENT.
Red Bull felt (and still seems to feel) that their driver, Max Verstappen, was ENTITLED TO WIN.
The psychological implications of someone who feels this kind of ENTITLEMENT is that they do not tend to see or care about their own hypocrisy. They minimize inconvenient rules and facts that don't align with their entitled beliefs. Add to that their feelings of resentment, jealousy, or envy and you are left with a situation in which morals and values have no place. The ethics of right and wrong become irrelevant. And after time had passed, Hamilton used the word "traumatic" to describe his experience at Abu Dhabi which is exactly what happens for the person on the receiving end of that kind of entitled thinking. I don't know if he was intentionally using the word "trauma" as we therapists use it in our sessions but he is absolutely accurate that the events of that day did rise to the level of trauma and for an explanation of why, please read my blog here.
But I recognize this is just one possibility. It's also possible that Red Bull saw their victory through a different lens. After all, the FIA defended its implementation of the rules and the individual teams have little control over those decisions. So, Red Bull may have simply said "Hey, it wasn't our call - we just raced the best we could under the circumstances we were given".
In other words, SELECTIVE PASSIVITY.
A common reaction in sports when an incorrect call goes in your favor is to throw your arms up and say: "I don't make the rules, I just play by them" or "I had so many bad calls against me in the last 2 races, this just evens it out" or "Mercedes had so many calls in their favor when they shouldn't have so they should just suck it up"...
It is most obvious when it happens in those individuals who are normally strong, assertive, and outspoken. Then, when a call or a ruling goes in their favor that they know should NOT have, suddenly they change to becoming passive and complacent and say: "I guess the rules are the rules - it isn't up to me. I just follow whatever the FIA (or the referee or the umpire) says..."
They become selectively passive WHEN IT SUITS THEM.
It's also possible, though highly unlikely, that Red Bull could have viewed their victory through a radically different lens that would have led to a completely different result.
They might have viewed the last minute rule decision with the same shock their competitors felt and said: "We realize that what just happened was not right - regardless of who it benefited. Therefore, we relinquish first place to Lewis Hamilton who should have been the rightful winner today".
In other words, a lens of ALTRUISM that took the MORAL HIGH GROUND.
It might seem crazy to even imagine a competitive team giving up a victory but "victory" can be defined differently depending on the lens through which it is seen. Red Bull might have told the world: "We feel better following what seems right and fair, rather than claiming a victory that will always be questioned".
Somewhat less altruistically, they might have hoped that the goodwill and positive attention they drew might benefit the team more in the long run than a single victory would have. Imagine that in the history books... that would have been a HUGE opportunity for Red Bull to set a precedent for something so much bigger than winning at all costs - than putting the individual above the sport - THAT would have been so much more memorable than an illegitimate victory in the history books.
So how then does this relate to all of our lives?
The more we understand the different lenses we see through, the more we can consciously and deliberately choose them.
Most of us look through multiple lenses every day. We have lenses for our family and lenses for our friends. We view our jobs and coworkers through different lenses. Our failures and successes get their own lenses too. Too often, our lenses diminish our deserved victories and enlarge the setbacks.
These lenses, like the F1 example above, can lead us to very different places even under similar circumstances. In your life, imagine you are behind a slow moving car driven by a stranger. Viewed through your "drivers I don't know" lens, you get angrier and more frustrated. Later you find yourself behind an even slower car, but this time, it is being driven by your nephew who is just learning to drive. You now have on your "drivers I know and love" lens and you are patient, understanding, and full of pride at his accomplishment.
If we imagine that each of us has our own unique walk-in closet that is full of glasses, there are dozens of pairs to pick from for all kinds of situations. Some glasses were given to us in our childhoods by our parents, our siblings, other adults in our lives, our school teachers...; others have been with us since before we can even remember. Often the glasses we wear most frequently are from sources that are long forgotten yet we cling to them faithfully.
We've selected these lenses for years without much thought - we reach for them without even thinking and without really understanding why we make the choices we do. Often these lenses are so strong that we literally do not see them as a choice at all. Sometimes, without the comfort of our familiar lenses, we feel blind.
The good news is that once we know that we are choosing these lenses, we can go into our walk-in closets at any given moment and INTENTIONALLY pick the lenses we want to wear.
We can throw away old lenses that don't fit us anymore because they have only caused low self-esteem, sadness, hurt ...
It can be difficult to separate ourselves from our lenses but ultimately, learning how to choose our lenses is the MOST POWERFUL WAY WE CAN CHANGE OUR LIVES IN THIS VERY MOMENT.
After all, how many things that are within our control can have such an immediate impact?
Are there lenses you need to get rid of in your walk-in closet?
Or are there new lenses you need to add to your collection?