January 22nd, 2013 (F1plus / James APrker).- This week in Formula 1 has provided us with a ludicrous amount of controversy that makes the 2012 “Silly Season” look like a walk in the park. In fact in the afternoon I am currently writing this article, I have literally got my head in my hands over the strife this latest band of news has caused, it has taken a good 7-8 weeks since the end of the season for F1 to burst into life, but much to relief of fans around the world it has, and with a bang.
To kick things off on Monday, we had the Marussia/Glock story which dominated news surrounding Marussia axing the German due to financial “implications”, and then not wanting to be outdone, Mercedes AMG decided to wade in and create their own media storm yesterday, and with it causing numerous intriguing thoughts that I am sure, are on the minds of the many heading into pre season testing.
Heading out of 2012, after a truly dire season, we were always expecting Mercedes to make quite dramatic changes going into 2013, they have brought in world class talent in Hamilton, updated the wind tunnel to a 60% scale model to improve development (having been only one of two teams using 50% in 2012) and now look to further strengthen a Technical team that has more people than you can shake a stick at. This is all in the effort of finally cracking the stranglehold the top 5 teams at the fore of the field enjoy, and eventually achieving the long term goals of success in Formula 1, something that the Mercedes board have expected since their return to the sport in 2010. I suppose it would be wise to backtrack to the 2012 season, just for a second.
The W03 was not an awful car at the start of the season, with a DDRS device that was hugely effective in increasing straight line speeds, and a good solid aerodynamic platform, the car looked quick. Schumacher retired from 3rd in the first race of the season, and then the team could potentially have had a 1-2 finish in Malaysia, before Schumacher once again retired with a loose wheel, leaving Nico to take the team’s first win in Formula 1 since the comeback.
The signs were promising, a sign of hope for the coming year was evident, but the longer the season drew on, the fatal flaws in the development path of Mercedes was evident, and that is the most vital part of this conundrum, it is the piece of the jigsaw the team has looked to change for 2013 by recruiting technical heavyweights of Formula 1.
Nico Rosberg won his first GP at Shanghai last year.
But is it possible, by having this knee jerk reaction almost, that Mercedes have gone over the top in terms of technical team signings and have actually shot themselves in the foot somewhat? Well let’s start at the top, it was announced this week (a year after declaring his allegiance to Williams) that shareholder and Director of Williams Toto Wolff, would be joining the Mercedes team for 2013.
Whilst retaining his shares with the Williams team, he would also become a shareholder at the German giant and reportedly will look to take over the reins our old friend Norbet Haug has left as Head of Motorsport. At the top he joins Lauda, Brawn and Fry to make a 4 way Management team, (which looks set to change) but more on that in a minute. I want to delve deeper as the technical team is one of a great interest to me, which, when you look at the management, leads to a very top heavy team.
Alongside the initial four stated above, we then have Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, who are extremely experienced individuals. Aldo Costa has a long history with Ferrari, joining the team since 1995, he was the protégé of the famous Rory Byrne, and rose to Technical director of the Scuderia after the iconic South African retired from Formula 1.
Bob Bell too is no stranger to success, he was the driving force behind the 2005-2006 Renault F1 double which saw Fernando Alonso dominate alongside Pat Symonds and Flavio Briatorie, and together they made the “Fantastic 3” crushing the Ferrari dominance after a 5 year spell. Wills has a long history with Brackley having joined them back in 2001, and since then has been technical directors at both RedBull Racing and HRT before coming back to Brackley this time in Mercedes rather than BAR/Honda guise.
When we glance over Mercedes, that marks 7 huge figures in the Formula 1 world, all under one roof at one of most expectant teams in the sport. Whilst having so many great technical minds together can create a wonderful situation for Mercedes, I have my reservations, and this I think potentially might cause huge nightmares for the German brands board.
Simplicity is considered the best possible solution in Formula 1, which for the pinnacle in Technological engineering might seem a surprise, but there is method in my madness. When we look at the most potent combinations in the sports history, there is always one thing that remains constant in a successful team, one ingredient that stay’s constant – that being the amount of figureheads at the head of a team.
In 1988 Formula 1 witnessed one of the most dominant seasons in its history with the MP4/4 McLaren claiming 15 out of 16 wins in the year. Three men were at the forefront of that success, Gordon Murray, Steve Nicholls and Ron Dennis. Then in 1992, Williams almost emulated that feat with the now infamous FW14b, hazard a guess how many men were behind that? That’s right three, with Patrick Head, Sir Frank Williams and Adrian Newey the figureheads behind one of the most wondrous machines in F1 history. Of course most recently there is yet more proof, in the form of RedBull with Adrian Newey and Christian Horner working together in complete harmony, and in doing so giving 3x WDC Sebastian Vettel a car that is ultimately capable of challenging every year at the sharp end of the grid.
You could highlight so many more instances (including the Ferrari/Schumacher years) where only 3 to 4 figureheads were the only driving force behind title winning cars. When you look at Mercedes’ 7 technical/management collaboration it starts to paint a picture of the complete opposite.
Recently Darren Heath the F1 Photographer spoke to a Mercedes Insider who stated “We've got so many bosses, there's just not enough work to go around", and that in my eyes is incredibly worrying. The situation has potential to explode into a giant political nightmare for the Mercedes board to handle, how do you keep everyone happy? When you then consider that Niki Lauda reportedly has been using his new management title to hire new team members without Team Principal Ross Brawn’s knowledge, it gives off an incredibly confusing and worrying situation.
Too many big boses maybe?
Niki and Formula 1 have always created controversy, famously falling out with Luca Di Montezemolo in his Ferrari days during the 70’s. But his team ownership skills have been constantly under the microscope, with both Ferrari and Jaguar under his leadership and guidance proving to be catastrophes, the latter eventually being sold to RedBull after the Jaguar team went south.
Fresh news this week hasn’t stopped controversy arising at Brackley too however, as it was reported that Paddy Lowe, McLaren Technical Director has been linked with Mercedes, after over 20 years with McLaren, it would mean he would join the likes of Costa and Bell as another veteran Technical minded director.
There is however an ulterior motive potentially as it was suggested that Lowe’s signing before 2013 could mean Brawn and Fry’s demise at Mercedes, Lowe potentially taking over Brawn’s role, however was something both Wolff and McLaren were quick to deny – more will follow that soon I am sure. Will all of these changes happening before pre season testing, it must cause huge distress for many Mercedes fans. When all a team’s effort should be focussed on data acquisition and testing duties, Mercedes instead are shaking up management teams and Technical leaders, this in itself will directly cause disruption within Brackley and potentially cause a huge conflict of opinions at the very top. The W04 will be inevitably already in the final stages of development, but it will be the development path through the season the team decides to take that will intrigue me, who will take the lead?
Looking back over the entire situation that has materialised over the past week or so, I am incredibly confused. Hamilton must be frightfully nervous ahead of the new season with so much disruption being caused at the very top of the teams foundations, and if Brawn does eventually move from Mercedes, I am sure McLaren will be first in line to secure his signature if the Englishman does not decide to go on to retirement – a massive coup for everyone at the MTC if that would be the case.
Politically the team has become a nightmare with so many big figures all trying to flex their shoulders and something will eventually give. The phrase “how many people does it take to screw a lightbulb get’s chucked around quite a lot”, but in Mercedes case it materialises into “How many technical directors does it take to design an F1 car”, and in my opinion it will either become a huge detriment to the team or stroke of genius.
Only time will tell.