It was 1950 at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Juan Fangio was in the lead.
He roared out of the tunnel into the bright sunlight and blinked.
Something didn’t feel right.
At those speeds there is no time to think.
There’s barely time to react.
It didn’t feel right.
Fangio backed off the throttle, the car slowed.
He rounded the corner and directly in front of him were nine crashed race cars all across the track.
If he’d kept going he would have piled straight into them, becoming the tenth.
But because he slowed down he didn’t hit any of them.
He nudged one car out of the way and carried on to win the race.
A few months later he became World Champion.
He was 40 years old.
He won the World Championship again in 1954, in 1955, in 1956, and in 1957.
Juan Fangio was approaching 50 when he retired.
He is generally agreed to have been the best racing driver of all time.
So on that day at Monaco, what made Fangio slow down when all the younger drivers kept going and crashed?
What did he notice or feel that they didn’t?
After the race when he had time to think about it, Fangio realised what it was.
When he came out of the tunnel he was in the lead.
The faces of the spectators in the stands should have been facing him.
But he didn’t register a sea of pink.
He registered a sea of brown, the backs of a lot of heads.
They weren’t looking at him, they were looking at something else, something more exciting.
It could only be a crash.
Without thinking he backed off the throttle.
Fangio’s age and experience meant he instinctively registered things younger, less experienced drivers didn’t.
What Bill Bernbach describes as “intuition resting on experience”.
Bernbach talks of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
“It was an idea arrived at through experience playing upon intuition. It was not provable. It was beyond the facts”.
Einstein didn’t incrementally, logically arrive at his conclusion anymore than Fangio did.
He arrived at it intuitively and later backed it up with logic.
Bernbach also quoted Bertrand Russell, one of the finest minds of the twentieth century.
“The way I work is to get a feeling that something is so.
I then try to work out the mathematics to prove it.
The proofs, for what they are worth, are dressed up afterwards. They are not there at the moment of discovery.”
Russell also said something exactly counter to the way we work.
“If the mathematics don’t work out, I don’t throw the idea out, I throw the mathematics out and start again.”
That’s something we could take to heart.
Russell, Einstein, Bernbach, Fangio.
That’s a pretty good argument for intuition over logic.