If McLaren thought losing Lewis Hamilton at the end of the 2012 season was a blow, the Woking team have just been hit harder with the defection of Paddy Lowe.
According to the presser from Monday afternoon, Lowe has been placed in “a different role with McLaren until the end of the year”, although it is widely believed by folks in the know that the 50-year-old is off to Mercedes.
Director of Engineering at McLaren Tim Goss is being promoted to Technical Director in place of Lowe. However Goss’ appointment may take on a different format than used by Lowe, although that may have more to do with the nature of skills employed by Goss than anything else.
Whereas losing a favoured driver can hamper immediate results, the loss of top end personnel can have long-term drawbacks for a team.
McLaren have been busy shuffling the team in recent seasons, starting with Pat Fry move to Ferrari in 2011. Since that time former Williams man Sam Michael has joined as Sporting Director.
Further reshuffling at the high end of McLaren’s engineering department, as well in the drivers seat will do little to create a confident air and this Hamilton’s departure may soon begin to hurt.
Of course Jenson Button remains with the team and is a known quantity, but with all due respect to Sergio Perez – who is a very good driver – he is not Lewis Hamilton; his ability to draw a team may appear limp compared to his predecessor.
Where the likes of Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel possess the natural talent to drag top results from any given car in their field, a focussed project emerges from seasoned personnel, engendered with the expertise to guide and nurture the engineering staff around them.
That ability is not one that is easily discovered, especially during an age when diversification of engineering knowledge has seemingly taken precedent over a generic technical skill set.
McLaren’s ability to perform may remain healthy in the short term, but their future will be defined by Goss’ contributions.
Lowe’s eventual arrival in Brackley could prove something of a problem for current Team Principal Ross Brawn.
The man who guided the squad to the World Championship in 2009 (as Brawn GP) is seemingly more and more out of favour with the Mercedes, following three seasons with one win and five podia, despite the manufacturer’s colossal budget.
Like McLaren, Mercedes are in the midst of a reshuffle, although the German squad’s realignment has taken on something of a comical look in recent months with a seemingly endless number of Technical Director’s being signed up to head various departments.
Whether it Brawn, Bob Bell, Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis or Lowe, Mercedes are painting a picture of team heavy in management, but light in success. With Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda also on the board, one wonders how long before this messy situation generates into raw open friction.
Admittedly, the team do appear to be hedging all their bets on a 2014 winner, but if it screws up, Formula One may be shy of a manufacturer soon afterward, although I am convinced Mercedes HWA (a company in which Wolff is a large shareholder) would take up the reigns, leaving the manufacturer to remain as engine supplier. I am basing that on nothing other than gut feeling.
For both squads, the ongoing confusion has the potential to heavily limit opportunities for success and while restructuring is a necessary evil from time-to-time, the uncertainty created by the manner in which the dealings have been conducted could do much to hurt the performance of their squads – both on and off track.
If nothing else, the destabilisation amongst the silver teams may open a door for Lotus to jump McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship.
Meanwhile, Lowe’s different role at McLaren should ensure the gardens at Woking are well cared for the next ten months at least.
As an aside, former-McLaren racer Alain Prost remarked in an interview yesterday that he expects Sebastian Vettel to equal his tally of four World Championships this year.
I’ll go one further than that and say Vettel will wrap up his fourth title with about two or three races to spare.