In 1965, Jim Clark was in the lead in the British Grand Prix.
He didn’t like to save anything for later, he liked to build up as big a lead as he could as fast as he could.
He knew that Formula One cars are subjected to amazing stresses, and after a few dozen laps flat out, things begin to break or wear out.
So he always tried to build up a lead while the car was still in good condition.
Which was just as well because he was 35 seconds ahead, about halfway through the race, when things started to go wrong.
His engine started to leak oil, for a Formula One engine this is bad news.
The reason those cars sound like they’re screaming is because the engine is working many times faster than a regular engine.
That means it runs very hot, and the thing lubricating all those spinning parts is the oil.
Without lubrication, the spinning parts overheat and expand and the engine seizes up and locks solid.
Clark knew this as he watched the oil-pressure gauge drop alarmingly.
But unlike most drivers, Clark knew engines inside-out.
And he noted where the oil-pressure gauge was dropping most was on the corners.
Clark knew engines, he grew up working on tractors on his family’s Scottish farm.
He knew if pressure was dropping away on corners, that meant centrifugal force was forcing the oil away from the oil-feed pipe.
So he knew he had to somehow nurse the car round the corners.
And that’s where the 35 second lead he’d built up came in handy.
He began slipping the car into neutral on corners, so the engine was merely turning over and didn’t need so much oil-pressure.
Then he’d slam it back into gear for the straights, where centrifugal force didn’t matter and the oil surged back towards the feed-pipe.
This cost him time of course, he was cornering with no engine, losing nearly two seconds a lap and Graham Hill, in his BRM, was closing on him with every lap.
With 6 laps to go, Clark’s lead had been cut to 19 seconds.
With 2 laps to go, Clark’s lead had been cut to 9.6 seconds.
With one lap to go, Clark’s lead was down to 6 seconds.
And Clark crossed the finish line just 3.2 seconds ahead of Graham Hill.
With that attention to detail, Clark won the Formula One World Championship that year and the Indianapolis 500.
In its list of the best Formula One drivers, The Times rates Clark as the Greatest-Ever.
Not just because of his driving skill.
But what enabled him to drive that way was he knew every detail of how the car worked.
He didn’t just know his own job, he knew everyone else’s and that gave him an advantage.
Where another driver would have pulled into the pits, Clark knew he could slip into neutral for the corners because he understood the engine as well as any mechanic.
That’s always our secret advantage, to understand the jobs of anyone who impacts on us.
For us it’s directors, photographers, typographers, animators, illustrators.
But it’s also planners (strategists), and media, and account-handling, and clients.
If we understand their jobs then we are more able to take the decisions that impact on us and our work, rather than leaving it up to them.
I’ve seen this many times, we often beat people because we looked places they didn’t.
They didn’t look because they didn’t think it was their job.
Well they’re right, it isn’t their job.
Which is exactly why knowing about it gives you an unfair advantage.