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How to make an F1 genius

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How to make an F1 genius
Nov 30, 2008, 9:32 PM

I read a fascinating article this weekend by a writer called Malcolm Gladwell, whose new book "The story of success" looks at what creates success ...

I read a fascinating article this weekend by a writer called Malcolm Gladwell, whose new book "The story of success" looks at what creates success in many walks of life.

He describes some studies by psychologists into music students and concludes that however much talent someone has at something, what makes the difference between them becoming a stand out or an also ran is practice and opportunity. Amazingly the studies couldn't find any "naturals" - people whose natural ability allowed them to be better than the rest on a fraction of the practice. It's talent and practice which make a genius. By the age of 20 all top musicians had done 10,000 hours of practice and those that hadn't were already doomed.

Delving deeper, he finds that the same is true of sportsmen and women too, that magic figure of 10,000 hours comes up again and again. It is the number required to hit true expertise in a field. It is a huge amount of time, equivalent to twenty hours per week for ten years.

It got me thinking about racing drivers, especially modern ones. Since the rules were relaxed to allow children to start karting at the age of 8, many drivers have been able to focus their lives on racing from a very early on and are hugely practiced by the time they arrive in F1 at 21 or 22. And that is why drivers like Hamilton and Kubica can perform as they do from the start of their F1 careers.

Michael Schumacher was from a previous generation, where 11 years old was the starting age for racing, but as his father ran a kart track he put in endless hours of practice from the age of 5 or 6, running in engines, testing and having fun. By the time he got to twenty he was well and truly in the "10,000 hours club".

He was lucky that he had the opportunity to do all that practice, as were Hamilton and Kubica. Lucky too, to have incredibly supportive parents to give you those opportunities. I'm sure David Beckham was the same, putting in endless practice, urged on by his father, Ted.

I doubt whether any of the modern F1 drivers' families have heard of the 10,000 hour theory, but by co-incidence that is what their dedication has brought them to and this is what distinguishes the great drivers of today from their peers from the 20th century.

It is also what makes Bruno Senna's task so much harder, as he faces up to the possibility of a Honda drive in F1. He got started young enough, but after his uncle died at Imola, racing was off the menu in the Senna household. When Bruno started again aged 18, the chance to get those 10,000 hours under his belt had gone.

He's been racing around to catch up and I admire his spirit; he's not got his uncle's intensity but he's certainly got plenty of his determination. However history and the work of some eminent psychologists, suggests that he will not be able to match the true expertise of some of his rivals. And there are new ones coming along all the time. [ Listen to Malcom Gladwell interviewed by Simon Mayo on BBC's Radio 5 Live | Download ]
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