How to choose a Formula One driver


[Image from wikipedia Formula One entry]

A top formula one driver announces his retirement.  His organization faces a decision with potentially huge financial consequences. Decision theorists line up to offer their expert services

This week [September 2 2016] Felipe Massa announced his retirement from the Williams Formula One racing team at the age of thirty five.

He has earned a reputation as a great driver and also a superb role model in the way he dealt with injuries and other setbacks.  He earned that least-wanted accolade of the greatest in his chosen sport who never won the highest prize.

He was thwarted for much of his best years by the supremacy of the great Michael Schumacher. Massa thought he had won the world championship in 2008, in his home Grand Prix in Brazil. Seconds after he crossed the finish-line his celebrations were cut short. Lewis Hamilton had squeezed out a fifth position in the last corner of the last of the season’s races.

Who will replace Massa at Williams?

Now the Williams outfit has to find a replacement.  In some ways the decision is relatively straightforward.  There are a handful of the most gifted drivers already driving who might be attracted from their existing places for various reasons. To these might be added the next ‘greatest racer in waiting’, who has been outperforming his contemporaries from pre-teenage events.  Lewis Hamilton was one such figure.  The eighteen year old Dutch prodigy Max Verstappen is the most recent one, albeit already pugnacious enough to have upset his more experienced rivals

Enter the decision theorists

The impressive Claire Williams of the Williams racing organisation has to reach the decision for Massa’s replacement.

Many years ago, I acquired a comprehensive set of notes being taught at the time at Harvard by the great decision-theorist Howard Raiffa. They anticipated later developments in statistical decision theory, game theory and negotiation analysis now taught at Business Schools. Maybe Claire Williams is already fully tooled-up with access to the best theorists whom money can buy. Her explanation of their intended process (interview with Sky Sports, September 3 2016) was a model of clarity:

There are many criteria, and we know what they are and the value we attribute to them, she said. At the appropriate time we will announce our decision. [My quote from memory of the interview given to Sky Sports by Claire Williams]

Bounded for success

A simple decision?  Not really.  But a nice example of a decision-maker pragmatically reducing the uncertainties by ‘bounding the rationality‘ of an important decision. The question ‘which available driver will maximize returns on investment?‘ would require a pit lane of quants Profs. The question ‘which driver meets our criteria best?’ is one from which it is easier to arrive at an answer.

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