Allison on the move

I am hearing whispers from Enstone that there are changes afoot in the technical department of Lotus F1 Team, with the word being that Technical Director James Allison is finally going to leave the team. There has been much interest in James from other teams for the last couple of years and he has rejected all offers – but obviously he has now been made an offer he cannot refuse. This would seem to suggest that the offer is from Mercedes-Benz. I heard rumours that he was on the move a few weeks ago and asked around but Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes have all denied that he is joining them. What really set the alarm bells going was when Kimi Raikkonen won in Australia and Allison was not on the podium, as it was the first race which he had attended as Technical Director which the team had won and he had clearly played a major role in the success.

Whatever his destination, it seems that Allison has signed a non-disclosure agreement with someone in F1 and is on the move. The word from my spies in Enstone is that he will be replaced by Yorkshireman Nick Chester, a very smart 43-year-old engineer who has been with the team since 2000. Chester started his career after graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in mechanical engineering. His first job was at Nick Wirth’s Simtek Research, where he developed simulation software for secret BMW F1 project that never happened. This ultimately became the Simtek F1 team and after that closed down in 1995 Chester moved on to TWR Arrows to work in research and development and extended the team’s simulation capabilities before becoming a chassis performance engineer with Pedro Diniz in 1997.

I remember at the time being told that I should keep an eye on him as he would be going places.

In 1998 he became Mika Salo’s race engineer. The team was soon running out of cash and when it closed down he moved to the Benetton team where he engineered Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella before becoming head of vehicle performance in 2005. He later moved up to being head of Performance Systems and in April last year was appointed Engineering Director.

125 thoughts on “Allison on the move

  1. bad news for Kimi……

    Joe, how’s the financial situation in Enstone?? Any potential sponsors being linked for the time being??

  2. Hi Joe. Why do you say Mercedes is his destination? TheJudge13 seems to think McLaren which seems plausible seeing they are short of an experienced Tech Director, although Tim Goss has been appointed…

    Ferrari have a full stable and if he is indeed going to Mercedes then does this not go against what Wolf and Lauda are saying about simplifying the structure. Are they on a mission to see how many ex Technical directors they can get?

      1. I thought you would have remembered him – didn’t you recently ban him from commenting on this site…

        1. Yes. I am happy to have most people comment, but some overstep the mark in dramatic fashion. He was very rude and offensive to me – not all of it was published – so I took the decision based on the Blog Rules to stop him commenting. I am not in the business of promoting outsiders who know a few people and think they know all the answers. There are several of them out there. But why shortchange yourself? Why read amateurs with big opinions when there are several places where you can get the real thing from much better connected professionals, with years and years of experience?

  3. A few website started reporting this yesterday, and the rumour is he is going to Mclaren.

      1. True. He is probably going to Ferrari. He won 5 titles with Schumacher there. He probably thinks he can duplicate this with Alonso. Time will tell.

  4. Joe, in your opinion, is this a good move for a talented guy, or another example of “too many cooks” ?

    The Brawn/Lowe/Wolff/Lauda jumble is at a higher level ?

  5. Did you ask at Red Bull? They need to build for the post Newey era. Placing James Key at STR was the first step. Allison and Key could be quite a strong technical pairing.

      1. Red Bull might well be “here to go” as such, and leave F1 as soon as they think it serves no further purpose to their attempts at world domination, but the value of the Red Bull Racing will factor in the succession plans, if any, in place. The company is hardly counting pennies, but proper planning for the future makes financial sense as much as anything else.

  6. Surely he’s off to McLaren to replace Paddy? Moving to Mercedes really would make them incredibly top heavy, whilst he should know that if he does a good job at McLaren he’s a career there for many many years.

    1. I asked McLaren and I believe that I was given a true answer. If not I was lied to by someone who does not lie to me.

      1. …or possibly by someone who’s been kept in the dark? Allison’s gag order means that at least one person at some team isn’t going to be happy.

  7. Shrewd move by whichever team has lured Allison away. His inevitable “gardening leave” period means 2 Technical heads are now taken out of the 2014 technical development race.

    1. Is “Gardening Leave” still a required thing?

      It’s seemed rather hit or miss for the past few years. Sometimes there’s a bit of it, sometimes is seems there is none at all.

      One supposes it’s the result of the confluence between employment contracts and EU work regulations, the first of which could vary mightily from person to person.

        1. Am I remembering incorrectly, or haven’t there been some occasions in the past few years where high level technical workers moved far more quickly than six months?

      1. It’s a question of not wanting highly intelligent folks working their notice in positions where they have access to highly sensitive information.

  8. Allison said in a recent Sky interview that “the car doesn’t need to be improved very much to keep us in the title hunt”. Presumably that implies he’s passing on the baton.

  9. “Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes have all denied that he is joining them”

    “Never believe anything until it’s been officially denied”. πŸ˜‰

    It was once suggested to me that McLaren (or at least Mr Dennis) has an aversion to overly powerful and influential TD’s. This, it was said, was due to RD’s experience with John barnard, McLaren’s first TD.

    Don’t know (of) Nick Chester at all, but it seems to follw the trend of having non-aerodynamicist TD’s. I leave it to others to assess how successful that trend has been, compared to the old school aero specialist TD’s who seem to have won a few races and championships over the last few decades. But then, maybe times are changing… ?

    1. I only trust people who do not tell me lies, so when I say it has been denied, it has been denied. However, I would say that one needs to check out whether new people are liars so there is always a possibility that a new person has told me a lie and henceforth will not be trusted and/or bothered with again.

      1. Point taken. Another site (that of your old employer, Joe) is suggesting Ferrari.

        The quote about officially denial come from Claud Cockburn (a journalist) though some attribute it to Otto Von Bismarck. I learned of it via Sir Humphrey Appellby. πŸ™‚

  10. Speaking to someone in the team, James leaving has nothing to do with money or another offer. He didn’t want to leave Enstone, but decided that he could no longer work with Genii.

    1. I don’t believe that he is going nowhere… He has signed a non-disclosure agreement with someone.

    2. You are exactly right, that and the fact that Genii have a habit of not paying salaries (3 missed last year) or suppliers, many of whom are now operating a cash on delivery policy.

      1. I think you will find that all the salaries were paid. One or two of them may have been a few days late. If it was worse than that everyone would have left!

  11. I get it, Merc is just hiring personnel to prevent them from working for the opposition. At this rate other teams will have to go by hiring young FSAE engineers πŸ™‚ MGP are really becoming the Real Madrid of F1.

      1. you seem to be steering (fairly firmly?) towards James at MB – but on initial reading of just your article without comments I did wonder if Ross and James might be going to Williams to do a turn around given all the chiefs there (MB) at the moment

  12. Ferrari have got to be considered. If they’ve consistently failed to lure Newey from his Red Bull den, they might be looking at the Lotus’ ability to undercut the RB nemesis as their only way of picking up that Alonso 3rd championship. Clearly even Ferrari aren’t going to dominate in the aero wars again, so why not go a different route? Pat Fry hasn’t been doing the job for long but he’s not exactly inspired the team (from the outside observer anyway).

    Didn’t Allison and Fry used to work together? Or am I thinking of something else entirely…

      1. Ok thanks Joe. Just spotted Andrew Benson on the BBC is saying Mercedes appear to have ruled it out, but it’s pretty vague as there is no actual denial in his report, just that it was an ‘historic’ approach.

        Oddly the BBC has gone down the route I mentioned about Ferrari. As you have better insiders , that certainly sounds like it’s MB then.

        1. I am happy to be proven wrong but I trust my source implicitly. If he has not been telling the truth then he will not be my source any longer. It is that simple.

          1. That sounds entirely sensible Joe! The BBC report, as I say, suggest Mercedes ruled it out, but if one reads the actual text, it doesn’t have an actual denial, just Wolff saying it was an approach by Lauda in an ‘historical’ context when they were reaching out to everyone. That doesn’t sound like a firm denial really.

            1. It was denied to me unequivocally, but everyone else still thinks James is going there because no-one can figure out where else he might go.

              1. Not Ferrari, not McLaren? Well, that does suggest that Mercedes. What are those guys up to? Lowe and Allison? They are hatching a Cold War brain drain

                1. It depends on the roles. If one is team principal and the other technical director. It works like that now with Brawn and Bob Bell.

          2. Has it ever happened that a source has been misguided by others so as to muddy the waters with journalists?
            I’m curious, because it has happened in the past.

              1. Could it be that your sources are in the dark as well? Maybe only upper management actually knows the truth.

                It is an intriguing one. If it weren’t for the probably lack of finance I’d say Marussia would be an option – I assume he has worked with Pat Symonds before and they certainly seem to be achieving good returns on a small development budget.

        2. Benson is known to come up with stories that there are no proof to… Called speculation πŸ˜‰

    1. Ferrari aren’t going to dominate in the aero wars again?
      I have to assume you mean that no-one is capable of beating Mr Newey.
      My counter argument is, between 2000 and 2004, when Ferrari did dominate aero, they had a certain Mr Byrne in charge.
      From everything I’ve read, he’s responsible for next years Ferrari
      Does Ferrari need him? I’m not so sure

      1. I think that you may be giving him more credit than his consultant role merits. Yes, I am sure he is helping the team, but I do not think that this means you can call it his car. These days it is hard to give any single engineer credit for any car.

        1. I’m a rose tinted Tifoso and get carried away sometimes.
          I agree, it’s been several years that one man is responsible for the design of the car, usually the design department numbers hundreds of engineers.
          It’s something that frustrates when the casual reporters give credit to the main man of an organisation.
          Adrian Newey may be RBR’s Chief Technical Officer, yet the main designer is acknowledged, on RBR’s own website, as Rob Marshall

      2. Byrne is a legend, but it’s not just Newey at Red Bull, he’s had carte blanche to build a team to his specs. And there are a lot of aero guys at RBR who fit into the Newey master-plan. I think Ferrari have tried everything to beat Red Bull in the aero wars and it’s failed. There’s something about the Red Bull that is just totally geared towards one way of winning and it’s found it’s driver in Seb.

        Ferrari would have to look at Lotus and think, ‘okay, so it’s not always necessary to win the aero wars against Red Bull, we could build a car that needs less stops on these tyres and win that way’.

        The point I was making is that Ferrari have been complaining about aero dominance ever since the Brawn and then Red Bull took it to extremes. They might just think that going the Lotus route is a better option to winning. Hence my guess at Allison to Ferrari – which Joe has pointed he has a denial on, so I was wrong.

        1. Interesting point you make. But one significant point you haven’t mentioned, testing was banned from 2009.
          Ferrari have had to invest in virtual technology which the other teams have been using for some years.
          They have Fiorano and Mugello and cannot use either..

    1. Because they tend to recruit from within and have some very good people. Just as Lotus has done.

    1. Aldo Costa, Bob Bell, Geoff Willis. Soon to joined by Paddy Lowe and possibly James Allison. All under the stewardship of Ross Brawn.. Incredible.
      Whatever happened to Giorgio Ascanelli, he’s a quality team director too.

  13. The non-disclosure part of the agreement is the bit that is a little baffling for me.

    For me it means that Maclaren, Ferrari or Williams are unlikely as I cannot foresee any of them being worried about such an announcement coming out.

    The only two teams that would are Red Bull (as it would put Newey’s future in doubt) and Mercedes (as it would be a re-run of the drama played out upon the employment of Lauda and Wollf).

    I have no sources whatsoever, but out of the two the most likely is Mercedes as they are the team evolving at the moment, whilst Red Bull seems to happy as is.

  14. Hmmmm, James Allison is the man behind the Lotus which is very kind to its tyres. The Mercedes is notorious for chewing up it tyres and they currently don’t seem able to fix it…. 2+2 = ?

      1. Well, that depends. 2 + 2 base 3 is 11. 2 + 2 modulo 3 is 1. We could continue but …………

  15. I think it is pretty clear it has to be Mercedes. They almost let the entire cat out of the bag at the beginning of the season with the Brawn saying / leaving fiasco (that what you get when you got Lauda!). Alison is joining as it is a change of the guards. Lauda+Totto heads, Paddy to run it, Alison to head design. So I suspect some others like Aldo might be on their way out, hence the confidentiality clause as we are not even mid-way season.

    1. Hmmm as someone wrote, he leaves because he doesn’t Genii, and heads into a team with Lauda in control…

  16. It will interesting wherever he ends as he came across as a very nice bloke in the gp+ article and reminds me a bit of Mr. Brawn. Wouldn’t it be great, if he went to Caterham! We wouldn’t be able to stop TonyF from laughing at the irony all season. He does do irony, doesn’t he Joe?

  17. I say Ferrari,,,but then again who am I to speculate and guess? Makes sense he returns to a place that he knows and who knows him, and his kids are older now, a good time to be in Italy…pure speculation though on my part.

    1. I am willing to be proved wrong, but I don’t believe that. If it is McLaren then a person I respect enormously is a liar and I just don’t believe that.

      1. Joe, is it possible that one of your sources honestly believes Allison wasn’t hired, but is genuinely wrong because they weren’t told about it? Just noting that I’m not being sarcastic, sources are a fascinating subject.

        1. I choose my sources very carefully. If they lie to me once I don’t believe them again.

          1. It IS McLaren. And, your source doesn’t lie to you Joe, either not in position to say, or simply not know.

  18. Merc is going for gold, you dont recruit lewis hamilton and his huge fee and not to be a major player at the top. The only way to the top is recruit the best guys in the sport including J.Allison. Am i right joe or there about????

    1. It sounds as if the whole Mercedes set up is in civil war behind the scenes right now. You have to assume Joes sources are correct and that means people are going to be pushed out at Mercedes – and whichever power centre is now setting this up doesn’t want the others jumping before the push!

    2. What if Merc is just building up a very competitive work environment?
      ie. Build 2-3 solid design groups, give them all the same problem and let them battle for the best solution internally. Then, take the winning solution to the track.

      Terribly inefficient, but with all the expertise they are gathering it would be harder not to fill more than one design team.

  19. It could be the way some of the comments are written, or that I’m reading too much into them. However, I think some of the posters are being a bit disrespectful to Joe. Unlike some publications, Joe has never been someone else’s puppet nor spread rumours to generate web traffic. His posts aren’t the first, but they are in my opinion, always the most considered.

    Some posters would be good to consider their choice of words before postong.

    1. Well said. The lack of appreciation for the excellent work that Joe does continually amazes me

    2. I think what they are missing in their thought process is that Joe is one of the elders of the circus. All this questioning of his sources (who asks someone they don’t trust for an opinion?) and I am having trouble thinking of anyone, other then the genetic marvel Ecclestone, that is still active and been around the paddock longer.

        1. Concerning that Joe, now that DSJ and Jabby are no more, and Roebuck at fewer and fewer races, who is the ‘senior’ journalist in the circus in terms of time-served?

  20. This has to weaken Lotus next year, No? Still time to contribute to ‘someones’ 2014 car then?

  21. So he’s also out of any championship charge Lotus may have this year? Bad timing for Lotus!

  22. Joe what about “mysterious Honda team” are they working only on engine or something else?
    Secondly is it possible that more people will leave Lotus (Allison closest team members)?

  23. From reading the mountains of opinion and reactions from key players on this over the past week, IMO there are two possible scenarios playing out which have not been overtly noted

    1. The NDF is in fact between Lotus and Allison, so he is in fact a free agent, destination to be confirmed. Bouiller and Allison may have reached a fork in the road Explains a lot of the quick denials, not least Lucas words today; or
    2. Mercedes is building a motoracing powerhouse across high performance disciplines. With the alleged lineup of technical leadership talent, they could spread their intellectual property across more than just f1 without letting any of these brainiacs loose, no? A Honda-like rotation program for not just their Senior technical talent but junior mechanical talent would create a formidable development program for Germany’s engineering elite graduate and devolving professional class of engineering talent. Even the formation of a high tech auto engineering body along the lines of an internal/ external consultational think-tank does not seem far fetched given the quality and depth of knowledge being currently accumulated. Benz after all is not thinking of reducing production, so the euros will not stop flowing.

    Or 3, any other logical theory currently doing the rounds.

  24. I have a theory …
    I wonder if there might be some kind of buy-in to Force India ?
    This might involve someone like Nick Fry (and possibly Ross Brawn in the near future ?) with James Allison assuming a TD role ?
    It’s a great team which , like Lotus , is punching above it’s weight and , also like Lotus , is knocking on the door of the sharp end of the grid .
    Mercedes motors in the back too !
    This might also explain the secrecy regarding James Allison’s future .

  25. Having thought about it seems entirely logical for James Allison to go to Merc, given the car issues with graining and the Lotus being better, he might finally sort this issue.

    1. True, but I am tending towards Ferrari now. But still no one seems to KNOW we are all still guessing!

      1. Would that be to replace someone or would that be to take on the role of technical director? After all, pat fry is tech director for chassis, or is that just a Ferrari naming issue?

        Off topic Joe, but I hope you might be able to help as I know you live in France.
        A number of years ago I read an article about a small town in France that had been subject to a massacre by the S.S. it was left as a memorial to the dead and a reminder of WW2. Old cars, and buildings left exactly as they were in 1944. Would you know of its name and location?

        I’ve studied history, a passion of mine and I want to take a touring holiday with the family of France and include some WW1 & 2,places as this is a subject they are covering. Any help greatly appreciated.

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