McLaren engineers fired ‘brutal’ warning as sackings are on the way

McLaren's former technical director James Key was axed from the team after it was decided that the technical department would be rebuilt.

Former Ferrari engineer Rob Smedley has warned that McLaren’s new technical team could find themselves “dead in the water” if a “weak link” is detected amongst the new line-up, with the Woking-based team having overhauled their technical department.

After making a dreadful start to the 2023 F1 season, McLaren CEO Zak Brown decided that immediate change was needed, with the American having informed team principal Andrea Stella to rip up their entire technical department.

As a result, James Key was axed from his technical director role at McLaren, with the new role now being carried out by three people instead of one.

Somewhat coincidentally, McLaren scored their first points of the season in Australia after rebuilding their technical department following the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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Smedley was sad to see Key leave McLaren but admits that a “fresh start” was needed at McLaren, in their bid to return to the front.

“It was a shame to see James leave the team,” said Smedley on the F1 Nation podcast. “But that’s Formula 1, I guess, Formula 1 is brutal.

“I worked with James a long time ago when we first started our careers. In fact, we were two race engineers together at Jordan, so I was with Giancarlo Fisichella and James Key was with Takuma Sato.

“He’s done a good job there [at McLaren] and he’s done a good job at other teams, so it’d be nice to see him do well somewhere else, but, it’s time for a fresh start at McLaren.

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“I think under Andrea’s leadership, Zak [Brown] as the chief executive, and then three technical chiefs that they’re putting around themselves there, hopefully we can see good things at McLaren and see that brand come back to the front.”

With three people now controlling the role, which is typically carried out by one person, some have queried whether this will cause any issues in regard to decision-making.

Smedley doesn’t think this will be an issue but that cracks could begin to surface should one of the three employees in the role be judged as a “weak link”, something which could result in their decisions being disregarded.

“No, because I think there’s clear demarcation,” admitted Smedley.

“I think a single technical director, the teams are too big now, they’re just way too big, the technical organisation and the level of details.

“A technical director within a Formula 1 team is still operational, it’s not somebody who is navigating where the ship is going to be sailing to in the next 10 years, what new technology you’re going to bring in, that’s what we would call a chief technical officer.

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“These guys who have director in their title, they’re still operational. So they’re still decision makers, and there’s clear demarcation as to the areas where they’re going to be making decisions.

“Andrea’s job now is to make sure that all three of them are collaborating well together, and you don’t get into a situation where one of them or two of them are looking at the other one and thinking ‘well, that’s a bit of a weak link and we probably have to override some of the decisions’.

“Because once you get into that, then you’re dead in the water, you need all three to be operating at a significantly high level, a high functioning team which all rely on each other, so that you get the synergetic effect. And that’s what brings you a good car.”