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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

George Russell, Des Linden, and the "Multiply by Zero" Effect

Imagine (in a post-pandemic world) that you go out to eat at a nice restaurant. The host is welcoming. The waiter provides great service. The food is delicious.

But if there is sewage spilling out of the bathrooms, you'll never come back.

This is the example author Eric Jorgenson uses to describe the "multiply by zero" effect. Just as placing a zero in a multiplication equation turns the answer to zero, there are many circumstances we face where a single variable can ruin the whole experience.

This effect was on display this past weekend in Bahrain, where Formula 1 raced the Sakhir Grand Prix. In the 15 races leading up to this one, British driver George Russell had raced for Williams, who are last in the constructor (team) standings, still yet to score their first points (top 10 in a race of 20) of the season.

However, last week, it was announced that Russell would be driving Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes car, after the latter tested positive for COVID-19. Hamilton leads F1 with 332 points, already having locked up the World Championship. Mercedes leads the constructor standings with 540 points, well clear of Red Bull in second, who have 282.

Russell has been regarded as one of F1's future stars, and a very good driver in his own right. But in 15 starts, his best qualifying position was 12th, and best finish was 11th, both still in the bottom 50%.

Was George Russell's car a zero in the equation?

Behind the wheel of the Mercedes this weekend, Russell qualified in second position. He took the lead early in the race, and led for 59 of the 87 laps. But during a late pit stop, his crew gave him the wrong tire set, and he was forced to pit again, slipping to fifth.

Not to be deterred, Russell drove back up to second, and was closing in on leader Sergio Perez when one of his tires punctured. Having to pit again, Russell dropped back to twelfth. With just a few laps to go, Russell moved up to ninth at the checkered flag, having collected his first points of the season. (Watch the full race highlights here).

The way Russell drove the Mercedes, passing opponents with ease, it's evident that he is one of F1's best drivers. But his usual Williams car is a zero in the equation.

 

When I think about the "Multiply by Zero" effect in our sport, the first thing that comes to mind is Des Linden's victory at the 2018 Boston Marathon.

Facing strong winds, driving rain, and cool temperatures, the weather became a zero for most of the elite field. It didn't matter how fit the athlete was. If they did not wear enough layers to keep their bodies from freezing, it was over. From a mental standpoint, if they were motivated by time goals or bonuses, that went out the window. Most runners were at least 10-15 minutes slower than their personal bests.

But Des, wearing a thick jacket, gloves, and a headband, coupled appropriate attire with a mindset of having trained through Michigan winters, and outlasted the field to win in 2:39:54.

From a coaching perspective, I think it's important to identify the zeroes in an athlete's training and/or racing equation. For some, it's as a simple as a poor footwear choice or lack of sleep and recovery. For others, it's more complex, like a dearth of closing speed to win on the track.

While there is much to be said for amplifying strengths, finding the zeroes can be just as useful. Because if there's a zero in the equation, no amount of strength will change the answer.

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