Monday March 3, 2014
By Emily Perry - Marketing Director, Purple Cubed
This weekend I finally got round to watching Rush – the blockbuster movie based on the true story of the turbulent and dramatic 1976 Formula One World Championship and the intense rivalry between Brit, James Hunt, and Austrian, Niki Lauda.
For those who aren’t aware Lauda vs Hunt is probably the most famous rivalry in Formula One history – resulting in some of the most significant rule changes to the sport. Since 1970, these gentlemen had been positioned as rivals. Fast forward to 1976 and Lauda is driving for Ferrari as the current F1 World Champion. James Hunt is announced as the new driver for McLaren and the main competitor to the title. A furious and powerful competition between the two ends in disaster for Lauda when he crashes and is seriously burnt.
Lauda is rushed to hospital and it’s touch and go as to whether he will pull through. During this time, the F1 competition continues with Hunt taking full advantage of Niki’s absence. Having been significantly behind on points, Hunt was rapidly closing in on first place. After days in a coma, Lauda’s condition improves and thus intense treatment to ensure he reaches full health begins. Throughout Lauda watches the TV and Hunt’s move up the leaderboard…
Miraculously, despite being read his last rites, just 40 days and two races later Lauda was back on the starting grid at Monza. Racing legend, Jackie Stewart said it was the most courageous comeback in the history of sport. In the film Lauda credits this to James Hunt:
Niki Lauda: The toughest part of my treatment was the vacuum. Pumping the shit out of my lungs. It was hell. And while doing it, I was watching television. You winning all my points.
James Hunt: Your points?
Niki Lauda: I would say ‘I hate that guy’. And then one day, the doctor came and said ‘Mr Lauda, may I offer a piece of advice? Stop thinking of it as a curse to have been given an enemy in life. It can be a blessing, too. A wise man gets more from his enemies than a fool from his friends’. And you know what? He was right. So don’t let me down now – I need you busting my balls.
And it’s not just in sport where this advice has applied. Throughout history some of the greatest business successes have been stead in fierce rivalry – Coca Cola vs Pepsi, Ford vs General Motors, Gates vs Jobs to name but a few. At some time in their history, all have credited their opponent with driving their success.
So whilst focusing on our competition can sometimes feel like a waste of time (and longer term, incessant ‘stalking’ is probably not so healthy); in the right circumstances it can present an important opportunity for growth. Competition makes you work harder, focus and be more creative. It teaches us about ourselves, promotes taking calculated risks and makes things more interesting. This isn’t ‘analysis paralysis’ though – the idea is to gain information and use it to make educated decisions, not become consumed by what others are doing.
For Niki Lauda, continuing to follow Hunt’s progress ensured, that despite what his doctors felt or advised, he would be out of action for the least time possible. He used Hunt as his focus for recovery and made the critical decision to get back in his car. Despite missing important races, in the end the Championship decider fell to the final race in Fuji – where racing conditions were as treacherous and hazardous as those in the Nürburgring where Lauda’s accident occurred. Once again Niki used his knowledge of his opponent to make the difficult decision to quit the race after just two laps. He knew Hunt’s risk-taking nature would prevail and he would do what it took to win. Lauda chose his safety and left it to Hunt to achieve the required points to become the 1976 Formula One World Champion.
Despite their rivalry, Hunt and Lauda were friends off the track – demonstrating that if you respect each other’s differences, individuality and style then rivalry doesn’t have to be loathsome. Hunt was the maverick – risk taker, playboy and PR dream. Lauda the technical genius – precise, consistent and disciplined. Without Hunt, Lauda may never have raced again. Without Lauda, Hunt may never have won the title. And without either of them Formula One would not be the sport it is today – just like computers, cars and soft drinks without their competitors…
Do you know your competition? What opportunity does this offer?
Emily is the Marketing Director at Purple Cubed and is our communications whizz kid. If you'd like to chat thorugh your communications challenges over a tea and cake email firstname.lastname@example.org