The 2017 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan  saw a surprising race with the Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo as winner.  After a safety-car phase, Luis Hamilton (Mercedes) not accelerated as fast as expected, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel drove into the silver car. He assumed an intentional behavior to obstruct him. Based on a short decision, Vettel drove alongside the Mercedes and slightly rammed Hamilton from the side.

Racer drivers act on the limit, what not only means continuously full concentration, but at the same time also high adrenaline and stress. The last includes the risk that the ability for logical thinking gets blocked and, in turn, this leads to sub-optimal decisions. Instead of an extended decision making process, time pressure only allows the possibility for a short one and the first possible option may get used, without thinking about long-term consequences, or even short-term ones.

The same applies to employees sent to far-away regions, different cultures or other stressful situations. The closer humans are acting on the limit, the higher the risk that they overstep the limit. For this it is imperative to prepare such employees, on the one hand with clear guidelines and instructions, but also workshops, what they have to expect on their travels.  This to elaborate emergency scripts for different possible situations and even more, foster values to strengthen ethical decision making for unknown scenarios, which could not get defined by guidelines.

Nevertheless the organization has to be aware that “accidents can happen”. If employees report a violation to corporate guidelines, the company should present leniency and avoid disciplinary sanctions. Employees who acknowledge a wrong decision or behavior, understand how easy you can overstep a guideline and so may become an important communicator for Compliance.  Especially when he or she understands the reason for the policies and why violations mean a business risk.

With some days of distance, Vettel excused of his behavior in a letter: “During the re-start lap, I got surprised by Lewis and ran into the back of his car. With hindsight, I don’t believe he had any bad intentions. In the heat of the action I then overreacted, and therefore I want to apologize to Lewis directly as well as to all the people who were watching the race. I realize that I was not setting a good example. I had no intention at any time to put Lewis in danger, but I understand that I caused a dangerous situation.”

Thanks to his insight, besides the 10 seconds pit-stop, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) refrained from further disciplinary sanctions (a part from limited hours of social work). At next week’s Austrian Grand Prix, Vettel repeated his explanation and also addressed relief that it was accepted by the Formula One organization: “It was a wrong move and I made the wrong decision.”

His rival Lewis added that with this, the case is closed for him. He still respects Sebastian and will continue to fight hard for the championship. Of course, also based on his proper experience on how easy it is to overstep the thin red line in the heat of the moment: “I really don’t think there’s tension between us. You guys (media) might think there is, but I don’t feel it.”

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