Nico’s purpose vs F1’s product

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Nico Rosberg may have retired from Formula 1 but he’s still a young man at 35-years-old. In fact, that places him in the generational category of a Millennial. Like many other Millennials, such as Lewis Hamilton, Nico is motivated these days by purpose.

When he was young, rising through the junior ranks of motorsport and becoming a world champion was his singular focus but like many Millennials, things have now turned toward being purpose-driven and serve a more altruistic notion.

“Take the European Championships for soccer – I think we should hope to inspire a championship like that to put purpose at its core, to use the reach they have to raise awareness for climate change,” he added.

If you read enough articles about Millennials, you will hear a common refrain in which they say it is important to them that their actions help make a positive difference in the world. Is this a sort of hallmark of the Millennial generation or is it something that’s just being examined more closely due to the size of their generation—with 80 million in America alone.

I’d argue it is the latter as if we all back from the discussion and focus on generations who came before, we can see a pattern in which the years 18-40 are typically focused on self and finding meaningful relationships while 40 and beyond tends to focus on a sense of self with what and how they contribute to the world.

In that sense, Nico and his Millennial cohorts come by it naturally but due to the size of their generation, they tend to make a very loud voice that business seems to cater to. If millennials want a purpose driven workplace, then organizations would be remiss not to deliver. Nico says Formula 1 has work to do if it wants to deliver.

“F1 doesn’t have great purpose yet – motorsport needs to position itself as having great purpose for mankind.

“That race-to-road tech transfer helps. Formula 1 can do better and they are working on it. Synthetic fuels, for example – if they take charge of that space and really innovate, it can benefit millions of people around the world.

Rosberg concedes that F1’s hybrid power unit is an innovative piece of design that does speak to sustainability.

“But F1 has done a lot already with light materials and hybrid engines, which is the most efficient engine in world.”

As a Generation X myself, I don’t resonate with Nico’s call for every crevice in the corporate world having an altruistic, purpose-driven existence that is benefitting humanity and changing or benefiting the world. In fact, I am not quite convinced that every person will or needs to “make a difference” to the world.

There is a line from a song in my youth that said: Some are born to move the world, to live their fantasy but most of us just dream about the things we’d like to be.

Perhaps you could place the stereotype on me as the disaffected Gen X in contrast to the blithe optimism of Millennials but I think there is a much more elegant reality to generational prime movers.

You see, I don’t believe that Formula 1 has to position itself as having a great purpose for humankind as Nico put it. F1’s main goal for decades has been to create a racing series to entertain. Entertainment, in my view, doesn’t always have to have some purpose-driven goal outside of entertaining humanity. Neil Finn once said, “color is its own reward” and he’s right. F1, in my opinion, is its own reward. As is MotoGP and other forms of racing.

If your litmus test for any business, industry, or corner of life is that it must have, as its reason for existing, the purpose of benefitting humanity, I think you have set a very high bar for most to fall short of.

If entertaining humanity isn’t considered a purpose, then we could parse the altruistic nature of entertainment, and the cost of entertaining, in order to determine that F1’s imprint on resources is not worthy of continuance as it isn’t giving back a sort of humanity-saving purpose. I’d argue that, like football, baseball, and other sports, F1 is giving back via an entertaining escape from life’s graft. Isn’t most sport a past time and entertaining escape from the daily grind?

To me, that’s a purpose. Sure, it may not be delivering thousands of bottles of clean drinking water, installing solar panels in impoverished nations so as to remove wood-burning stoves, championing electric and other sustainable methods of mobility, bringing awareness (whatever that really means) to a cause, or solving some oppression around the world. F1 was never intended to do that. It lacks the resources, methods and means to do so.

If Nico feels that the European Championship of Soccer should simply use its platform to tell people about a cause, that’s fine but it does very little to actually address the cause itself. Is simply crowing about a cause altruistic enough because many believe this is green-washing, sports-washing or some of derogatory description and what business entity wants that label?

F1 has ten teams that employ, let’s call it, 800 people. That’s 8,000 people with families and children that the sport sustains, provides healthcare to and education. Then there are all the secondary and tertiary families it impacts in sponsors, suppliers, hospitality, regulatory and other facets of the series.

Thousands and thousands of people are sustained through F1’s existence as an entertainment industry. I am slightly befuddled as to why people feel this isn’t enough when anything they are doing on a personal level comes nowhere near what F1 is doing for thousands.

Nico “bringing awareness” to a cause is not even close to the impact that F1 has on actual lives. Lewis Hamilton may have a large social media platform but simply raising awareness doesn’t always constitute action on the part of those who digest his message. F1 delivers to thousands of people every single day in the form of real, tangible resources needed to survive.

Is that not purpose enough?

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Xean Drury

If the purpose were to race cars really really fast while pushing technology and engineering to the limit, would that really be so disappointing? KERS, aerodynamics, fuel efficiencies, and the like have done perhaps more to help clean the world of pollutants than EV/clean Earth proponents would like to admit. When you get right down to it, Formula 1 and pinnacle racing series help move the world forward, even if it’s in spite of itself. By hitching your horse to a specific cause, collateral benefits will likely lessen. And if you choose not to decide, you still have made a… Read more »

gary said what

I parted ways with F1 at the end of 2020, around the time Saudi Arabia was announced as an F1 venue. My thinking at the time was the this was one ding dong country too far. And what a dinger, too! But observations about other deplorable outposts on the schedule do put a dent into the purity of these thoughts, while also raising the question: Has there been ANY tangible good to come out of all this commotion in any of these countries? Is ANY good to much to ask? It might be. I have tried and failed so far.… Read more »

gary said what

If the host nation wants F1 to wash itself in glamour and glory, and F1 is unwilling to use its considerable leverage to seek certain standards of civil behavior which are quite ordinary the world over, then…they get what they got. Nothing. Which is pretty pathetic, given what they could get if they pretended to have the slightest bit of interest in the kinds of outfits coughin’ up the skrilla. Instead they talk like Zak Brown (if they talk at all) of the initiatives etc. happening in these places yet are unable to name one single example. And of course,… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by gary said what
Xean Drury

None of it’s surprising. Not a single country on Earth wants to sit there and have another part of the world tell them how to live. Just like the Olympics, arguably the largest sporting event of them all, has not changed China. What is changing China and indeed any other country is the force of the people within, citizens of said country, pushing for change; wanting to be more like the ‘normal countries’, whatever that means. And that said, one never knows what will be the next catalyst. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, something… Read more »

gary said what

Could be as simple as the FIA offering to help set up driving instruction programs for women in Saudi Arabia or some such, dovetailing with what they say they are sort of, kind of, doing already. Could bet any li’l old thing. Does not have to be something onerous or prescriptive. But, as you say. Nothing. At. All. Zero. I’d guess something might arise from someone like Hamilton throwing a few spitballs here and there after he retires and after the series rights itself financially. But these are people with feet of clay when it comes to this stuff, and… Read more »