Beneath the tip of the F1 iceberg

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.

50 thoughts on “Beneath the tip of the F1 iceberg

    1. I had not seen that, but i was only working from around September onwards. A lot of the ones listed on the site you mentioned are before that. Still, it makes the same point, doesn’t it?

  1. Hey Joe, Assuming many, if not all, these moves generally encouraged by hefty pay rises, might these have some impact on the proposed cost controls ??

    1. Some will have pay rises but some are jumping because they want job security, better job titles, new challenges etc. All pretty normal stuff.

    1. It is not really for me to say as I am not an engineer. He was one of the original Jordan designers (when there were about three of them: Gary Anderson, Mark Smith and Andrew) but he went quiet for a while. He was always thought not to be a great manager of people but I don’t know is that is true because the Force India technical team has been doing a great job.

      1. Initially I wondered if this was because of the new rules package this year but it’s far too late to directly influence the car design, isn’t it?

  2. How are teams (trying to) securing the innovative knowledge or even perhaps IP that these tech guys have seen/worked on etc.? Or perhaps all teams works on the same R&D routes since they are (or could be) limited?

    1. You can’t do anything about it – unless the guy has a contract which must expire before he moves. In which case you continue to pay him and tell him to stay at home so that he doesn’t see what you’re working on. Obviously you retain all the drawings, CAD files etc, but you can’t erase what’s in a person’s head.

  3. Great insight Joe, as always. One question that’s slightly-related but a bit off topic if you’ll divulge me: now that Webber has left Red Bull, and indeed F1 altogether, would he have been approached by his competitors in an attempt to learn any useful technical info? It’s not every year that a driver for a top team leaves F1 altogether, so I just wondered what the chances were and if this sort of thing went on.

    1. Mark is a remarkably decent bloke and has always seemed to keep quiet and loyal to RBR even when it was clear he wasn’t getting their 100% full support. It must have been on Ferraris mind when they tried to replace Massa with him a couple of years back – but I wonder how much technical knowledge drivers retain (or even understand – these guys may be awesome pilots but I’m sure most aren’t great or even that interested in the technology as long as it makes the car faster and easier to drive for them) – and how much of it would even be worthwhile following a big rules change anyway.

  4. Hi Joe , do you know of the whereabouts of Gary Savage, ex of Arrows, BAR,Mercedes. Many thanks and I enjoy reading your blog as an ex F1 man myself of 12 years standing I know how well respected you are, keep it up!

    1. I have no idea what happened to Gary. The last I heard of him he was at Red Bull. I am sure that a reader somewhere will know the answer to that!!

  5. Thanks for the fascinating insight. Similar to reading about the changes in coaching staffs in other team sports. Wonder if you have any opinions on who improved and who lost out in these transactions.

  6. Hi Joe
    With the seemingly large exit at Lotus I don’t see too many, if any, joining them, do you know what is happening in that quarter? Are they recruiting graduates and promoting from within? Best wishes Chris

  7. Looks like Lotus is bleeding personnel at a greater rate that the other top teams. I hope they manage to stop the hemorrhaging and mount a 2014 campaign similar to that of 2013. Sad so see a good team “dissolve” for lack of stability…in their funding.

  8. You can kind of seeing what some of the teams, certainly McLaren and Mercedes, may be doing, specifically with regards to Red Bull. Not being able to beat them on the track – in particular when this season was heavily weighted in Red Bulls favour with the tyre debacle – they go about other ways of undermining the opposition. So they go about head hunting talent from the leading team(s), so that the knowledge and talent base at that leading team becomes diluted (not taking into consideration of course that RB may themselves recruited talented individuals). It’s just another way of trying to beat the opposition and it’s all standard stuff, what might be happening is that there’s a bigger push this year. What’s happening behind the scenes is just as important, and is probably more important, than what’s happening on the track.

  9. I guess that security of salary might count for more than the headline number. Would account for the many leavers from Lotus, I guess

  10. Happy new year Joe.

    During the quiet season I thought that I would attempt a little web research on race car aero and CFD. I found this piece from 2006. http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/42969/1/GetPDFServlet.pdf

    In the references, there were only two F1 names that I recognized. Peter Waugh and Mike Gascoigne. I presume that there are others that you recognise, but it shows just how little information gets into the public domain.

    The collective aero skills in F1 are probably greater than NASA, Boeing, BAe and EADS combined, yet no one gets to know the fruits of these unsung heroes.

    1. In the refs are former head of Aero at Caterham Marian Hinson, senior aerodynamicist at Mclaren Andreas Ruhrmann , Dirk de Beer, Ben Agathangelou, Phil Adey, Peter Wright and of course Willem Toet is one of the authors. (Probably more but that’s only the F1 names I spotted).

      I would dispute that the aero skil in F1 are greater than those you mention, but they are better paid and better funded.

  11. I’ve wondered if there are any personnel at all now on F1 teams whose job title is just “mechanic.”

  12. Joe,

    Williams have definitely been on the back foot for some time, however do you get the feel they’re perhaps now getting themselves back into a position to climb up the ranks again? I know it will be a long hard slog but I certainly hope they’re up to the challenge.

    Go team Willy!!!

    Thanks,

    Mike

  13. Joe, what’s your understanding of the role of such personnel in the high cost of F1? As part of the overall megacosts, are such people a prominent part or are they pocket change?

  14. Joe,

    What’s it like for someone trying to get an Engineering job in F1 these days.

    More competitive than older days?

    Are team very picky about which University you studied your Engineering degree?

    Thnx.

    1. I remember a quote from Patrick Head about 10-15 years ago, saying that if someone applied these days (i.e. at the time) for an entry level F1 job, with the CV that he himself had when he started, he wouldn’t even give them an interview. That’s how far it had moved on at that point!

    2. I recall emailing McLaren HR out of curiosity about 7 or 8 years ago to see if they favoured any particular school and the reply was Imperial College. What is noteworthy is that some of the current illustrious F1 Technical Directors did not study there.

      1. Used to be Imperial and and Southampton. Because Head of Aero went to Imperial and Tech Director went to Southampton. They now cast their net wider.

          1. True, Cranfield is well represented. Cambridge doesn’t do too badly either.

            Not too many from Queens at McLaren. (Though Bob Bell did his PhD there and went to McLaren.)

            At least one notable McLaren aerodynamicist from Manchester (Doug McKiernan).

            .

            1. If I remember correctly, out of the current technical directors, Paddy Lowe (Mercedes), James Allison (Ferrari) and Nick Chester (Lotus) went to Cambridge

      2. I think Sam Michael is the lone Aussie who hails from UNSW – University New South Wales in Mechanical Engineering.

  15. Joe,

    Many thanks for solid data points to help to gauge F1 team prowess for 2014 and possibly expect performance keeping these changes in mind.

    From the facts as u’ve shared, its clear that Lotus has bled and that too heavily in the name of attrition. Do they still have enough of best in the business too mount any sort of serious challenge in 2014 ? I feel its a pertinent question, as they still can’t seem to attract multi year contracts with large sponsors or is there an update there as well ?

    PS: Finally took the plunge with a membership of GP+, can’t wait for the fun and games to begin.

  16. So has any team come out on top after all these movements or is it pretty much the same. I suppose its pretty hard to rate everyone and determine who is better than who.

  17. Thanks for this Joe. What strikes me is that there’s so many aero engineers moving around. There’s been bits of talk about how aero will be de-emphasised under the new rules, but clearly the teams think aero is going to be important.

  18. It could prove very difficult for Lotus this season. I can’t see how they’re going to entice quality people, probably with children to feed and mortgages to pay, away from the financial stability of other teams. All of which will lead them to promoting junior staff from within or recruiting (most probably) inferior staff from elsewhere.

    It’s bad for Formula 1 but I guess will serve as yet another lesson to teams to cut their cloth accordingly.

    Good to see people moving away from Red Bull though in the hope that this will help spread a little more insider knowledge around the paddock. I’m assuming they’re being well compensated though to leave behind the very generous Red Bull bonus scheme…

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