Nielsen leaving Caterham

It is not a good news for Caterham that its sporting director Steve Nielsen is leaving after just one year in the job. Nielsen joined the team from Renault but it seems that there has been an offer from another team. The fact that he has decided to accept it suggests that things were not easy with Caterham, which would not be a great surprise as Nielsen is a forthright individual and has the experience to back up his opinions, and this may not always have gone down well. Nielsen (48) has nearly 30 years experience in the sport, having begun his career as a truck driver for a company that catered for Rothmans-sponsored teams. He moved to F1 in 1986. After a year in Grand Prix racing he was offered a job as a driver with the Team Lotus test team and moved through the ranks to become spares coordinator and then moved to Tyrrell in a similar role. He then became assistant team manager and moved up to team manager and stayed with Tyrrell until it closed down at the end of 1998. He then worked with Honda Racing Developments which planned to start a Honda F1 team under Harvey Postlethwaite, but when he died the team fell part and Nielsen moved to Arrows where he stayed for a couple of years before moving to a Sporting Director role at the Renault-owned Benetton team. He stayed there throughout the successful Alonso days.

Nielsen’s most likely destination is Mercedes GP, where he would be reunited with Bob Bell and others with whom he worked at Enstone.

55 thoughts on “Nielsen leaving Caterham

  1. Perhaps tony Fernandez is not the easiest guy to work for – especially after all the hype and poor year they had.

      1. Joe,

        Sam Michael went from technical director at Williams to sporting director at McLaren. I know this is the opposite direction to what davcuk asked about (technical to sporting, rather than sporting to technical), but how interchangeable are these positions and skill sets? For example, is a technical background or understanding required to be successful in a sporting role, and vice versa? Thanks.

  2. Oh brilliant, that’s exactly what the silver arrows need. Someone else in a senior management position. Soon, they’ll have a former tech director from every other team on the grid, and their cars will almost definitely go like really, really fast.

    1. Ho Ho – and this is the team that was once the spectacularly successful Honda team (although to give Honda their due they did not drop Ross Brawn in the clag when they pulled out). I really hope it works for Lewis but does Ross Brawn (if it’s Ross Brawn rather than Mercedes-Benz who is driving it) really want/need all these people? . Chiefs and Indians etc

  3. Oh brilliant, that’s exactly what the silver arrows need. Yet another senior manager. Soon, they’ll have a former tech director from every other team on the grid, and their cars will almost definitely go like really, really fast.

  4. Wow, you don’t hear a career like that very often! From truck driver to sporting director, that’s really impressive.

    1. Super story. I claim not for myself (long way, yet) , but who made it from ground up can be a right difficult so – and so! Never forget either, our host has been in F1 for all his adult life, as well (presumably only excepting intimate moments we don’t need to know about!) and frankly, that’s how you get to be good.

      But put self – made man next to self – made man, and sparks rather often fly. The problem is, that this is one of those “likes attract” things. You just want to work with someone who is just as hard nut, rough and tumble. As patrician as TF may seem, I rate him as pretty tough. A man I’d love to have a genuine argument with. (“argument” is not a bad word, in my book)

      Just it’s really hard to step down a bit. Much harder if you are the boss, because managing that gentler signal is probably not how you got to be boss. I dream of being so adept as to juggle, but then I am silly. I am not sure you can do that on one’s own. Maybe that is even the origin of the “good cop, bad cop” idea. I know how many times someone has had to been shown the door by me, because they misconstrued my more affording moods. Inch, mile, etc.

      I started my life by barging through a door (telephone technically, then in person a hour or so later) and yelling “gimme a job, anyone you got going!” So I more than agree with you, what a great career Nielsen has made for himself.

      I am younger just a little than Neilsen. But when my contemporaries offed to Uni, the world changed, you suddenly needed a PhD to mop a junior’s coffee spill at a bank. I’ll argue that change was happening around me, and also at the time Nielsen got his start, so he is clearly no average character. The era of devaluation of a degree or whatever started before I was pushed because I’d be a bad stat for a never beaten on stats school. (I was just a bit indecisive then, or disliked to be pushed, or something) But that really was a advantage of education almost nobody gets. My dad did a very silly thing: he suggested once I might cruise it a bit. I was having none of that, so started making things harder for myself, not in very creative ways. Rather shoved down my throat, the education, actually, hence my being forever a bit of a dick. (the paragraph of expletives required to adequately describe how I was or can be is unpublishable in any known universe) So from truck driver to Director flaming well impresses me no end.

      Think I ought to get more familiar with the names out there. Out of respect, really. But my life’s desire now is to try to get some unlikely lads to think they can do as well over my way.

      I keep a mental list of who started out in the lowest jobs and ended up making a real mark. Getting fairly long now, just from casual observation. Because I was privileged, I hated that, not now, now I am thankful for it, but at the time I hated every inch of it, and so my admiration for who makes it well without such help, or even the confidence that can come with a certain upbringing, is million fold.

      Pity that Caterham loose their man, but hearing about who I’d never have known of otherwise, is a huge upper.

      I try never to say this to anyone likely ever to invest in my company, but my corporate idol is Fairchild Semiconductor. They argued right up to fist fights in the corridor, and exploded into a myriad of new companies that became Silicon Valley. I could cope with failing so well.

    2. All credit to the guy. And you are right, there is not so much of that today. His story was much the same for me. Although engineering and driving were my two main passions, in the early years, I did all manner of things, including truck driving and operating heavy plant to pay my way. In addition to that for a car, I proudly possess many other types of driving licence, including HGV 1, 2 and three, as well as that for a track laying vehicle, having passed each test first time. Ultimately, I became chief engineer.

    3. This was the first thought that popped into my mind when I read the article, very impreive but as others have pointed out it’s not that rare in F1.

      Joe, are careers like Nielsen’s where someone that starts at the very bottom of the totem pole, makes their way up near the very top still happening? …is the sporting directot of some team driving the truck for another at this very moment. You allways hear of people in F1 having qualifications like Gillian’s but the again you also get stories like this.

    4. Don’t forget Dany Bahar’s old mate Gino Rosato — from part-time minder and odd-jobber at Ferrari to… erm, what is Gino doing these days again?

            1. All top stuff, but Michael wins, IMNSHO, for racing topicality. Happy holiday thingy to all!

              “Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd. But able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names. “

      1. Joe – I suspect the role of Sporting Director varies slightly between teams but can you outline broadly what the role entails ?

  5. It’s looking to me like all things are not well at Caterham. Driver problems, less than expected performance, people leaving: maybe the vision they had was flawed, but something or someone can’t or won’t change to correct it???

    1. The team has only recently appointed a new CEO. His job is to whip the team into shape. Give him a chance to get the job done before writing the team off. He was brought in to do exactly that.

  6. Steve is a good bloke, I worked with him at Renault. He has just become a father again to twins in the last couple of months so I expect that probably has something to do with it.

  7. Somewhat separate topic, but this possible move from a ‘wanna be’ team to one of the bigger ones leaves me thinking about budgets. I know it’s a difficult thing to assess but I used to know roughly what Ferarri and McLaren spend a year, seems less transparent these days weirdly. I wonder if RB outspend the big 2 and what the gap between say a Sauber and a MCLaren is these days. Do you have a steer on how the finances compare Joe?

      1. Have you ever thought of doing a non-motorsport-business subscription rate for Business of Motorsport (if that’s not an oxymoron)? I don’t know if it would even be technically feasible or whether you would have motorsport people trying to blag their way into the concessionary rate. “My name is Blavio Friatore and I am just an ordinary fan interested in your publication…”

        But if it was workable… speaking for myself, as an F1 fan but not a team principal or expensively-suited marketing person, $299 is a bit steep — but at $60, say, I would probably bite.

        1. Ash, the average cost for good business newsletters is in the thousands p.a.

          Joe desperately undersells his newsletter, and throws plenty of it here, for free.

          Maybe, offering issues from a few years back, would be a good promo, at a nominal rate.

          I put the fact BOMS is merely a few ton as a function of personal modesty, a kind I understand, and that may have cost me by virtue of trying to do the right thing, many times, not as the rate real business pay for real information.

          Actually a bit sorry to hear Joe once discounted it. That can so easily be a one way street. Just look at who rates it!

          The link following is for reference, but also a suggestion of the value you might get: http://www.grantspub.com/ because Grant is equally no fool, and equally well respected.

        2. Just to say, it’s my life ambition still to get such publications out for next to free, because the advertising potential is undervalued. Letters such as BOMS ought to be in every university and library, at least. That, and many many other serious trade magazines, because that is the way to get people involved. Kids may want many things, but showing them where to go make a living is, if it appeals, about the highest calling. You only have to think about how many professionals had roots in their family in the same trade, to realise how a simple and clear connection with the skill has such influence. People sometimes accuse such things of being a dynasty, or whatever. No, you do what you are attracted to and what you are exposed to. Of course, that may be something new at university, but those people are exactly who I am trying to connect with the outer world.

          I remember when my dad was told how photocopiers were being used to reprint his Squash articles. Some sight that was. That’s why I actually got interested in printing technology.

          But there is a lot to learn, to have a chance. You’d not feel sober if you knew how much I’ve blown. Really big outfits have tried. I have been adjusting my life to have other skills, in case of failure, because ultimately, that is where the heart is, and one cannot flake out.

          However, it’s all I have been at since a teen. The problem is that even if I have a goer, well, it will take some time to affect BOMS, and so, although I think I have a mechanism, it may not deliver you Joe’s serious work freely, just yet. But, remember, the only reason there was ever a price on a print magazine, was to pay for the postage. (there’s debate, there, but not a lot) ad can you imagine how good I’d feel if I had a trading system that gave you all that for free, or next to nothing? I shall never say of what mistakes I really made, nor personal private costs, though I learned maybe a bit too much how humans react to failure, yet the motivation is born from a boy who read trade magazines carried freely, and learned much about what was possible, from that. I think the idea is simply called “pay it forward”. One must, in life, do what is positive for who follows you. This is my little angle. As you may imagine, because big companies have expended vast sums to try, it is not simple. The job is, as with all things, to simplify.

          But maybe the concept is simple enough: if enough real business spenders can be advertised to through BOMS, a fair number of copies may then be given freely. Hardly revolutionary. But rather scary to the establishment crowd. You cannot even attempt without skills they do not hire.

          If, one day, I ever manage, boy then shall ever Christmas have come for me in one go, from here to eternity. I think, as a child, I got about anything I wanted, not that I asked for much, I was when very young very happy, rarely asked for anything, other than pencils or paints. But when I got hooked to reading business magazines, erm, well then I was out of pocket money. Okay, I did experience heartache nobody wants, but if you ever find me associated with a big business, it shall be because I want to give something away. That which I was, essentially, told to go earn my own money for: good publications. Hardly surprising, as I was paid for by a author’s efforts, he’s say go earn your own, to buy what you want to read. My little dream: make what can be made free, free. Not this rubbish of “information wants to be free” or internet blaggery, either, one that means the authors can live as well as their effort deserves.

          Little thought: my father never gave presents except on his birthday. Because he had none as a child, and was grateful for each year.

  8. Although I guess it’s a pity that this forthright individual with the experience to back up his opinions has left, it’s not as though Caterham doesn’t still have a forthright individual with the experience to back up his opinions. But I suppose it’s in the nature of things that forthright individuals each with the experience to back up their opinions don’t always see eye to eye.

    Thanks for the interesting detail Joe. To anybody else, this is barely a story, but the way you tell them, it’s a good story. People who have been promoted often, and on the basis of their actual work, are usually good people to have in an organisation, irrespective of technical qualifications.

    Happy Christmas to you and yours, and many thanks for your unending flow of insights.

  9. Totally unrelated, but thought I would just say thanks for writing such a wonderful book – The Grand Prix Saboteurs. Took me a while to read it, as it got misplaced during a house move. Amazing detail, really impressive research. Sent a chill up my spine when I read Benoist and his fellow prisoners were placed in camp up the hill from Weimar, as I travel though this station on a regular basis, including in a few days on the way to Leipzig for Christmas. Ironically, I will be travelling 1st class ICE, quite a stretch from the cattle wagon they were in….

  10. What happened to Mike Gascoyne exactly?? (Apart from sailing the Atlantic!) I take it he was shuffled sideways somewhere?

    1. I have not missed a race since 1988, but David Tremayne has done the same plus three I believe. Bob Constanduros has had a longer run than that I believe but I honestly don’t know. Longevity is not THAT interesting!

      1. It IS interesting! There’s been a lot of amazing moments in the past 23 years, and you’ve been there for them all. Any single great moment stand out?

        You were discussing your annual travel budget recently – I guess you dare not think about your total travel spend over those 23 years…

  11. Hi Joe, Off topic I know. Any thoughts on this story??…The usually staid Canada Pension Plan Investment Board headed into more exciting territory Friday with its first forays into motorsports.

    The manager of Canada Pension Plan’s investment portfolio unveiled two deals on Friday – a 39-per cent-stake in Dorna, a Madrid-based marketer of motorbike racing, and a $400-million financing for Formula One Group, the company behind F1 auto racing. Happy holiday.

  12. Off topic, but there is a very good interview with Montezemolo in the Independent today, Here is a segment that really caught my attention:

    “Of Ecclestone’s leadership style and the route down which he has taken the sport, Di Montezemolo was scathing. He lamented the lack of atmosphere at grands prix staged in the middle of nowhere, the loss of major engine manufacturers, the ageing demographic of the audience, a failure to engage the adolescent mind, the homogenising of technology with no room within the rules for imaginative engineering relevant to road cars, and last but not least his current bĂŞte noire, the billions wasted in wind tunnels.”

    My thoughts exactly. It’s worth a read: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/motor-racing/ferrari-call-for-flair-and-fun-to-save-formula-one-8427884.html

      1. I think the quote relevant may be this:

        No, not an oath: if not the face of men,
        The sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse,—
        If these be motives weak, break off betimes,
        And every man hence to his idle bed;
        So let high-sighted tyranny range on,
        Till each man drop by lottery.

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