There was a time, 20-odd years ago, when one knew most of the F1 engineers and had time to talk to them at races. Many of the juniors in those days have now moved on and become key people in the sport and so those links from years ago are quite useful…
However the sport has expanded so much in recent times that it long ago become impossible to keep track of them all. Today there are literally thousands of F1 engineers beavering away in design offices and wind tunnels. The engineers that one hears about moving from team to team are just the tip of the F1 engineering iceberg and there is a constant flow of talent between the teams. In general the most stable teams are the successful ones, but one does hear of some of the trends that are going on. At the moment it is said that a lot of engineers are leaving Lotus F1; and that Red Bull has been targeted by Mercedes, McLaren and Williams, as they try to improve their engineering groups. But is this a true reflection of what is going on? To illustrate the point I thought I would look at some of the moves in recent months, only among the senior engineers that I can find out about.
We know, for example, that Infiniti Red Bull Racing has been heavily targeted recently with McLaren grabbing chief aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou. Williams lured away Shaun Whitehead, who ran the Red Bull windtunnel operations, to be its new head of aerodynamic process. Mercedes has grabbed Red Bull’s head of vehicle dynamics Mark Ellis and its head of simulation Giles Wood. Williams has also taken Lotus’s deputy head of aerodynamics David Wheater to be its head of aerodynamic performance and it has also picked up Graeme Hackland, who has been head of information technology at Enstone for many years. Williams has yet to confirm it, but the team is also expected to have Rob Smedley on board this year. He was formerly Felipe Massa’s race engineer at Ferrari. We are not quite sure where Sauber’s Head of Track Engineering Tom McCullough is going to end up but he may be returning to Williams, where he worked for many years.
It is well known that the Lotus head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer is now at Ferrari, but no-one picked up on the fact that Mercedes grabbed Dr Gary Hall, who was head of materials at Lotus, plus two aerodynamicists from Williams: Craig Dear and Enrico Balbo. Lotus has also lost one of its design engineers, José Gallego Segura, to Porsche Motorsport, where he will become the head of aerodynamic design. Lotus has been out in the market grabbing replacements and two of these, Gerson Brand and Tristan Favre, have come from Caterham. Caterham, on the other hand, have taken a pair of CFD men from Enstone: Paul Cusdin and James Crook. Lotus CFD head Jarrod Murphy laso departed some months ago – en route to Mercedes.
Down at McLaren they have picked up a Ferrari aerodynamicist called Matteo Sansavini, while Force India has lost one of its senior aerodynamic staff Christopher Harley to Wirth Research. The team has hired Scuderia Toro Rosso aero designer Michael Tramonto to fill the gap.
Toro Rosso tends to fly under the F1 radar because of its remote location but the team has been doing some major recruiting of aero staff in the last 18 months. This department operates out of the Toro Rosso windtunnel in Bicester, in the building that used to house Reynard Racing Cars. Technical director James Key has hired former Mercedes AMG Petronas engineer Brendan Gilhome to lead the operation and has picked up Matthew Schofield from McLaren; Davide Felappi from Force India and Frederic Launoy from Lotus. Paul Smart, a long time Ferrari aerodynamics R&D engineer has also joined the team along with Ferrari’s supercomputer specialist Raffaele Boschetti. The race team has also been strengthened with the recruitment of race engineer Xevi Pujolar, who will be working with Jean-Eric Vergne. He was previously the chief race engineer at Williams.
Marussia has also been on in the act and recently took on a new aerodynamic team leader in Rob van den Heijkant, a Dutchman who has worked in F1 for many years, notably at Force India, Toyota and Jordan.
This is by now means a definitive list of the movements that have happened but it does illustrate the kind of activity going on at the moment.