It’s taken some time, but Thursday brought the confirmation of a story that has been brewing for several weeks. James Allison, former Lotus and Ferrari Technical Director, is to fill the void left at Mercedes by the departing Paddy Lowe.
On the face of it, Allison’s signing seems to be a like-for-like substitution. In reality, it has several significant plot points.
While the outbound Lowe’s destination is yet to be officially confirmed, strong rumours point towards a return to Williams. With the team having lost Pat Symonds’ services over the winter, they are in need of a technical leader and with Valtteri Bottas having been poached by Mercedes, it seems likely that Lowe could have been used as a bargaining tool in the negotiations.
Paddy’s post was as Mercedes’ Executive Director (Technical). The modern way is to have team boss duties split between several individuals and that is precisely what the Champions have practiced since 2013. Lowe has headed technical matters while Toto Wolff has taken care of the business side.
The most fascinating element of Thursday’s announcement is that Allison enters the team as Technical Director. He does, however, lack the executive powers that were held by his predecessor. Allison will answer to Wolff, making the relationship between the two similar to what he and Maurizio Arrivabene shared at Ferrari.
This means a big change at Mercedes. Toto Wolff now holds a more traditional role as Team Principal and the team will now seemingly revert back to a management structure that was presumed to be an unsuccessful formula in the modern formula.
“I am delighted to welcome James to Mercedes and very much looking forward to working with him,” the new de facto Team Principal stated. “Our technical team is extremely skilled at every level and at the top of its game after delivering three world championships in a row.
“It wasn’t an easy task to find the right personality who can strengthen our experienced group of engineers, give our talented young team members the space to develop and also bring his own vision to this role.
“James is a sharp engineer; I think we have found the perfect guy and the right fit with our senior leaders.”
It would be intriguing to know which party was the driver of this decision to alter the role. Did Allison decline the option to hold executive powers in the team, opting instead to keep things simple and maintain a solely technical focus? Or, did Wolff dictate that an expansion of his role would be the best approach moving forward? Did Daimler request a change?
It certainly simplifies the management structure but does tamper with what was a winning formula. Signing James Allison is a superb reaction to Lowe’s departure and ensures that Mercedes have the personnel to continue to perform well in what is becoming an aero-driven sport once again. As for it’s wider consequences, those remains to be seen.
It would be a fascinating time to be a fly on the wall at Brackley.