We all know that Formula 1 has a long history and heritage. It’s the pinnacle of Motorsports, and the best of everything is presented here. For so long, We had the debate of Drivers vs Technical Directors/Designers, and have always argued as to who really is the best in the team, In that context, It is important to understand that, there are literally a handful of people in the Technical Directors/Designers category who have dominated the sport in the last two decades. With these dominating technical personalities entering their fag end of their career, We look at the next generation of personalities, and wonder if any of them is capable of carrying the torch.
The Battle of the Ultimate Designer/Technical Director is one such hot topic that might not raise the eyebrows of each and every Formula 1 fan out there. Although the debate as to who exactly is the ultimate person of the team remains, Diplomatically, we can say that the Designers/Technical Directors have a fair say in the success of the car. If we look back at the history of various decades in Formula 1, One Designer/Technical Director stood up against the odds, and produced a Title winning benchmark car for few continuous seasons if luck was also in their way. Owen Maddock, Gerard Ducarouge, Gordon Murray, Colin Chapman, Patrick Head, Rory Byrne and Adrian Newey. Each of these designers were hailed as the greats of that era, Some arguably co-existed with others, and continued to use their tricks to outsmart others. They are mere designers, but what made them different was their ability to produce a car which remained unmatched in terms of innovation, and speed in that period.
The innovations that the yesteryear designers have produced, are now often used in roadcars. When people ask about the lack of innovation these days, One can blame the strict rules and regulations that are in place, and the designers can get bored easily. When Gordon Murray got fed up with the strict regulations that was put up on the board, he showed severe displeasure, and thus was moved to McLaren’s roadcar division. That move was done by Ron Dennis, who tried to prevent Murray from signing up to his rivals. The other thing worth reminding of those designers was their ability to stick to their basics, they didn’t have use of technology that’s being offered now, they just followed the basic principle, and used their ‘logic’ along with their talent. Adrian Newey’s success might also do with the same, He is hailed as the greatest designer of the modern world, and it should be surprising to see him use the traditional drawing board as compared to the modern ‘Computer Aided Design’.
Few weeks back, it was announced that Rory Byrne is working on the Ferrari’s 2014 car. Ferrari have been doing all they could to clinch their first title since the 2008 season, but they have so far been unanswerable to Adrian Newey’s dominance. This should be seen as a desperate attempt as bringing back someone who is in his late 60’s, and is on a retirement, doesn’t seem to be a pleasing sound.
Most of the Modern league of designers/Technical Directors are still in the Midfield if not lower. There are two reasons for this, One has to do with the fact they may not have proven themselves or might be the fact that the top teams aren’t setting their sights on the young blood. We aren’t short of talent which is for sure, there are handful of designers who are waiting in the wings, and the demise of HRT is not helping them at any cost. Not that HRT could afford a designer/Technical Director if they existed, but it’s one opportunity less for these personalities.
Now, we also have the NEWS on Paddy Lowe moving to Mercedes, which was on the expected lines of many, Mercedes are pushing their team as if there is no tomorrow. This move might also signal the end of Ross Brawn, who mysteriously seem to have lost his touch in the last couple of years. There has been many groans against Mercedes, their policy seems to hire as many people as possible, which signals their championship aspirations. But unfortunately, not many in the Western World believe in superstitious as compared to the people in Asia to be specific. There is fundamentally something wrong with the Mercedes team, they have spent countless years in rebuilding the team which was effectively called ‘Brawn GP’ in 2009, the championship winners for that season. There is no more of Schumacher era in that Team, Norbert Haug himself has admitted to be responsible for the team’s mess, and has voluntarily agreed to step down from his position as Chief of Motorsports for Mercedes. Toto Wolff who joined the team from Williams, has admitted publicly that he is assuming the charge, on the basis that his head too, may roll out of the team if the word ‘progress’ is not shown on track. Geoff Willis, Aldo Costa, Bob Bell are some of the names to join the German Team towards the middle of the 2011 season. The Team was showing ‘progress’ in the early races of 2012 season where they even won their only race till date, their performance like the that of Ross Brawn dropped off sharply as the Formula 1 circus arrived in Europe. The team reported to have excess tyre deterioration, and the performance of their car was clearly not effective in the race or sometimes in qualifying or sometimes for the entire weekend. With the recent inclusion of Paddy Lowe, Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff and if Ross Brawn exits the team on his own will, it would be the beginning of a new chapter in the team’s books. But maybe, as stated earlier, they have to believe in superstitious more, Honda too suffered similar fate, the team’s performance was deteriorating with each passing season, inspite of their noble gesture to promote the Environment. Eventually Honda was caught in the recession, and bowed out of Formula 1. Maybe the Mercedes Team has to move out of their factories to a new destination if the current changes aren’t affecting their performance On Track.
This was the reaction of Ross Brawn back in 2011, when the team announced the decision to hire Aldo Costa and Geoff Wills.
“Building a winning team is an exciting challenge for us all as we work towards the competitiveness and standards that we aspire to as the Mercedes-Benz works team. With a strong technical structure led by Bob Bell, we are moving ourselves into the best possible position to achieve our ambitions.”
But is it necessary to have these many roles within the team?
We understand that the Mercedes has a competitive (Complicated) structure that’s in place to take on mighty frontrunners of the sport. They currently have a technology director (Geoff Willis) and engineering director (Aldo Costa), These two positions are under the control of the Technical Director (Bob Bell). The Team has also put out a notice stating that, they are recruiting for new positions in their Aerodynamics department, with the available positions include Track Aerodynamicist, Aerodynamics Group Leader, and also Senior Aerodynamicist.
For starters, A Technology Director is someone who needs to introduce new components, and will act as a link between the Commercial Directors and the technical team. The Engineering Director on the other hand, needs to discuss the feasibility of the new technology/product. The Chief Aerodynamicist, A role which has been integrated with the design departments in the modern world is responsible for functioning of a car’s Aerodynamics. The Technical Director which is major position, is in charge of all the technical departments within the team including, Engineers, Designers, and other Technical Directors. Certain team uses a specific names for the posts, while the teams with money rather than being called as ‘Frontrunner’ further splits up these positions like that of Sporting Director, Operations Director, Performance Director and so on. In certain Teams, mostly the ‘Backmarkers’ or the teams on limited budget, they doesn’t have a specific positions at all, Like Sauber, who have maintained that the Team doesn’t require a Technical Director at the current structure. Force India meanwhile doesn’t seem to have a Chief Designer as such, Andrew Green, the Team’s Technical Director takes additional responsibilities, a tradition that’s been followed at this Anglo Indian Team ever since their tie up with McLaren for Technical sharing, or ever since they lost their technical core staff to Caterham, and other teams.
We can pick a few names, who can provide a challenge to Newey in the near future, if they are given a proper chance (The Term 'proper chance' might signify the presence of resources, mostly funding) or we can say that, we believe these personalities will lead the charge of Formula 1’s Technical group in the near future.
Probably one of the Young blood in Formula 1 Technical Management, Currently holding onto the position of the Chief Designer at Ferrari. He has already gained lots of experience in Formula 1, and is good to go a long way in the future. 2013 is a crucial season for this man who is a Greek. Ferrari had lots of issues with their Wind Tunnel, which clearly doesn’t do the squad any good in terms of performance. With the team sorting many things during end of last season, Nikolas has a vast resources, and a strong Technical Group to shine and move on to more responsible positions probably at Ferrari or its rivals. His quest is to outshine their Austrian rival team, and to give Alonso, a good car to fight for the championship. Although the F138 might not be a pacesetter initially, things are looking good for the future.
He is already holding onto a responsible position at Ferrari, as the ‘Director of Chassis’. This is a crunch time for Pat Fry, the Former McLaren and Benetton man, who was under immense criticism last season due to the lack of performance from F2012. With new structure in place for the 2013 season, Pat Fry has surely got the backing of his designer Nikolas Tombazis. It will be interesting to see what a failure of F138 would mean on his long term future. Rory Byrne has already been appointed as the man to oversee the design of their 2014 challenger. Maybe the faulty windtunnel was to be blamed for the mess that he got into, Maybe. But for sure, he was long sought by Ferrari from the 1996 season, and he made a move from McLaren only towards the end of 2010 season, he clearly wouldn’t be booked by the team, if he couldn’t have his roots to challenge the mighty Newey.
Chief Designer at Sauber, A Team who is probably one of the few to not employ a Technical Director. Although it’s to be argued as to whom exactly the success of C31 should represent, Matt Morris improved the package which was born under the impressive James Key. With plenty of podiums, and many successful results in 2012, C32 is built with mighty expectations, and is argued as the best of the midfield teams. Another impressive product, would result in a appointment card from a front running team pretty soon as it is understood that Sauber have emerged as the strongest package in recent years.
This man currently needs a stable team, and needs to have a focused mind. No, We really mean it. He was looked as a man who could do anything with a limited package offered to him, Initially, he spent countless years under various other Technical Directors, but once he assumed the charge of the lead group as a Chief Technical Director for Force India, He really turned it on. He is responsible for the upswing that Force India team is facing from the 2009 season. He moved to Sauber, and produced the same result there, He has to share the success of C31 with Matt Morris. Although that point can be argued. James Key with his products was always looking to upset the front runners, but the lack of continuity on two different occasions has to be blamed for sure, as it has put an end to the further progress. Currently residing at Toro Rosso, We have to wonder if Red Bull are already looking for a replacement for Adrian Newey when he decides to step down in the future. James Key really needs to sit down for a few years now at any team, and if that’s guaranteed, then things would definitely be very interesting to watch.
One of the consistent performers of the 2012 season was the Lotus E20. Here is the man responsible for the success of the comeback of Kimi Raikkonen. James is no stranger to success, He was the Deputy Technical Director of Renault in 2005-2006 season, a period when Renault looked in dominant form. James took over his current position in the 2009 season, when the Renault wasn’t clearly at its best and were struggling on many points. After the team’s rebranding, Lotus are clearly looking as the mighty dark-horse of the 2013 season, and who knows, Maybe the championship actually beckons this team now. Unlike the Mercedes DDRS system, the Double DRS of Lotus wasn’t used to its fullest in the 2012 season, James Allison proved that he isn’t afraid to experiment which is a pleasing sign in this regulated era.
As stated earlier, there are talents across the market. These Formula 1 Teams actually do not impose a strict requirement during its recruitment trail, while the top teams ask for an experience in lower category, the midfield teams or lower ask for an experience in the relative field only. Many Teams are still taking in people for various posts which is a good sign. Formula 1 is a lucrative field, but yes there is an element of risk involved in the jobs. While a successful member of the Technical group can go to places, the ones who doesn’t show performance are often sacked. The hunt for the next revolutionary designer is still on, it is not that the team has to be equipped with various Technical Directors to clinch the championship, but an ideology of one person can surely change the team’s fortunes. Some of the personalities as mentioned in the post are clearly the ones to watch out for in the sport’s long term future. Many of them can make it big, sooner than later. As James Key and Sam Michael showed, You don’t really need to have plenty of experience to get a Top post as a Technical director, with some talent, you can really make it large. We really hope that a next radical designer comes into Formula 1 soon. We need someone who can think radically, and experiment hard, and yes, put an end to Adrian Newey’s dominance, if not, carry the torch to the next era.