McLaren sack technical director in a bid to save their season
McLaren have announced a big restructure of their technical department in a bid to arrest their alarming decline in performance, with technical director James Key leaving the Woking team with immediate effect.
Key's role has been split into three separate technical director positions under team principal Andrea Stella.
Frenchman David Sanchez rejoins following a decade at Ferrari to lead car concept and performance. He will begin on January 1 next year after completing ‘gardening leave’ from Ferrari.
Sanchez is joined by two internal promotions - Peter Prodromou on aerodynamics and Neil Houldley on engineering and design.
All three will operate with the job title of technical director in charge of their own area of expertise.
The changes come after a disastrous start to the 2023 season, with McLaren yet to score a point after two races and their lead driver, Briton Lando Norris, publicly stating before the last race in Saudi Arabia that he is “not the most patient”.
McLaren's poor start to this year comes after they slipped from fourth to fifth in the constructors’ championship last season and then lost team principal Andreas Seidl to the new Audi project, a departure that led to Stella’s promotion.
McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said the new changes would provide the team with “a solid foundation” for the “next phase of the journey”.
“It has been clear to me for some time that our technical development has not moved at a quick enough pace to match our ambition of returning to the front of the grid,” Brown said. "I’m pleased that, having completed a full review with Andrea, we are now able to implement the restructure required to set the wheels in motion to turn this around.
“These strategic changes ensure the long-term success of the team and are necessary to see McLaren get back to winning ways.
“We have everything coming into place now with our people and infrastructure and alongside an exciting driver line-up, I’m determined to see McLaren get back to where we should be.”
Zak Brown is right - something had to be done at Woking team
By Tom Cary
McLaren have not got much right over the past decade or so but Zak Brown, their bombastic chief executive, is certainly right about one thing. “Change was needed,” Brown tweeted after McLaren announced their big technical restructure on Thursday. The American then added, hopefully: “We push forward!”
That is far less certain. Will these changes do anything to restore McLaren to their former glory? Only time will tell. But as Brown implied, they had to do something. McLaren were drifting under Key, who arrived back in 2019 with a good reputation following successful stints at various midfield teams but for whom it never clicked in Woking.
It will be interesting to see whether this reboot has a positive effect, but McLaren need to get a wriggle on, especially with Norris looking more and more glum.
After a promising 2021 season which saw the team win their first race in nine years, the 23 year-old agreed a new long-term deal last year, committing himself to McLaren until end of 2025. But contracts in F1 are made to be broken. If the current situation carries on much longer, it is not hard to imagine Norris wriggling out of his deal and signing for a more competitive outfit.
McLaren do have a couple of aces up their sleeve as they look ahead. Their new wind tunnel has now been completed (the team currently rents Toyota's wind tunnel in Cologne, which involves packing parts into a van and sending them off to Germany). It should be ready for the 2024 car by this summer. There is also a state-of-the-art simulator in the offing, which is by all accounts pretty cool.
But they badly need this new technical setup to click. How long it seems since Lewis Hamilton won the last of their world titles back in 2008.
Brown has made a decision at least. He has also visited Red Bull to talk over a possible power unit partnership from 2026. The American is a doer. But unless the second part of his tweet on Thursday comes true - and McLaren do push forward - questions will surely start to mount over his own leadership. Many McLaren fans feel they are spreading themselves too thin with their programmes in IndyCar, Extreme E, eSports and now Formula E. They need this to work.