The speculation regarding Paddy Lowe’s departure possible departure from McLaren in order to join Mercedes has started the ball rolling. It is too late now for the changes to have any influence on the 2013 cars. These are being built and will start running in the next couple of weeks. This is traditionally the time that engineers move on. There follows a period in May-June when there is more movement depending on the quality of the cars that each team has. Movement at this time of year is generally by choice, in May and June it is usually because an engineer has been shown the door. The preparations for 2014 are more important than in most years because of a change in the regulations which will offer a great opportunity for a new pecking order to be established in F1.
Formula 1 teams tend to go for the best engineers available at the moment they are needed. To get an idea of the men in demand one needs only to look at the results from last year. Adrian Newey is the top of the ladder and he seems to be happily ensconced at Red Bull Racing, and seems to be unavailable for other teams. However Italian media reports that Christian Horner was spotted recently in Maranello and it is known that Horner and Newey have a deal between them so that they will work together. Thus it is conceivable that Ferrari was sounding out Horner about hiring the pair of them at some point in the future. Newey has often said that he does not want to move to Italy because of his family in England. He has four children, but only one is still of school age and thus a move outside the UK is more likely now than it has been.
If one assumes that Newey is happy to stay where he is, the next man on the pecking order would logically be Pat Fry of Ferrari, but he has only been in charge at Maranello since May 2011 and thus he is still building the team he wants and fixing problems that are left over from previous engineering teams so he is not likely to move and unlikely to be pushed out (unless Newey is available).
Using the Constructors’ Championship of 2012 as the guide, the next in line would be Paddy Lowe at McLaren, which explains why he has been courted first by Williams and then by Mercedes. Lowe has been at McLaren for nearly 20 years and may feel that he would like a little more recognition for his work, as McLaren tends to emphasise its collective ability rather than making stars of its designers. There is a great opportunity for someone to become a big star at Williams and Lowe started his career there and so will no doubt have some fond memories of the team.
The next name on the list would be James Allison at Lotus F1 Team. He started his career at Enstone back in 1991 and became chief aerodynamicist there in 1997. He was lured away to Ferrari on a five year deal between 2000 and 2004 but returned to the team in 2005 and has been there ever since. He has stuck with the team through the difficult times, despite offers from other teams because he believes in honouring contracts. He has already experienced Ferrari and so the logical destination for him would be McLaren, although he might not find the corporate style there entirely to his taste. If, however, his contract is coming to an end, then he could be a free agent and be open to offers. There are whispers that he could be may be on his way to McLaren to replace Lowe, which would definitely be a step up the ladder, although he might argue that he would rather climb to the top with the Enstone team. The key question, therefore, is whether he is confident in the owners giving him what he needs to do the job properly. It should be pointed out that the rumours might also be designed to destabilise the team at a time when it is in negotiation for big sponsorships and when there are people out there who would like to acquire it from the current owners.
As with all things in F1 these things are difficult to fathom unless someone is willing to talk openly.