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Ambitious Mercedes add two top engineers
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Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Sep 2011   |  11:40 am GMT  |  75 comments

Mercedes GP has announced today that both Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa have joined the team, beefing up a technical staff which is already well stocked. This is part of a process in which Mercedes are adding a significant number of people to their team, which was slimmed down in the Brawn GP era of 2009.

The signs are clear; Mercedes are going for it. The board has signed off on an expansion plan to take the team up to the limits imposed by the Resource Restriction Agreement and enable Ross Brawn’s team to challenge Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren for the top honours. Crictics might argue that it looks like a case of “too many chiefs” but – to extend the metaphor – there are plenty of talented “indians” at Brackley and technical director Bob Bell has clearly seen some areas where more leadership expertise is required. To have people of this calibre joining in these roles is impressive.

Willis, who specified the wind tunnel at Brackley during his time there, is in charge of aerodynanics, research and development and getting the most out of tools like the tunnel, CFD and others to feed into the design and development process. Costa will oversee the design and development of the cars, as he did at Ferrari under Ross Brawn. Both men will report to technical director Bob Bell.

Costa is on the rebound from Ferrari; he was dropped earlier this year in favour of his understudy Pat Fry after presiding over the building of a car not capable of fighting for the title. Insiders say that, as a leader, Costa had got himself into a mentality of not wanting to take risks for fear of failure. When he was working for Ross Brawn in Ferrari’s all conquering years, he had Ross there to decide what risks were worth taking. Now Fry has his head on that particular block and he has the responsibility of producing a car for 2012 in which the drivers can take on Red Bull.

But Costa’s record at Brawn’s side speaks for itself with eight world titles won and now he slots in as engineering director.

Meanwhile Willis is an interesting appointment as he has been around the block a bit recently, leaving BAR Honda to join Red Bull, getting dropped by them and then ending up at HRT until walking out a few months ago. Willis is like Brawn and the man he and Costa will report to, technical director Bob Bell; a very practical and experienced technical manager of men and of resources. He slots in as technology director in the new set up. Willis joins the team next month, returning to the Brackley factory where he spent six years in the early 2000s when it was BAR Honda. Costa will join in December, when his Ferrari gardening leave, so will have limited input into design of the 2012 car.

From Mercedes’ point of view 2012 is the third season since buying the team from Brawn and his management group. I’m not sure how long Brawn is tied in on a “key man” clause, nor how long he intends to carry on as Team Principal, but there is no doubt that the management looks in pretty good shape long term with these appointments.

Coming on the back of McLaren signing former Williams technical director Sam Michael, the pattern seems to be of consolidation of experienced senior people at the top teams as they struggle to get on terms with Red Bull. This should make for an epic battle over the coming seasons.

“I am delighted to announce that Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis will be joining the MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team,” said Brawn. “Geoff is a highly respected engineer with over twenty years of Formula One experience, and we look forward to his arrival next month. Having worked closely with Aldo for many years, I know that he will bring dedication and championship-winning expertise to the team when he joins
in December. Building a winning team is an exciting challenge for us all as we work towards the competitiveness and standards that we aspire to as the Mercedes-Benz works team. With a strong technical structure led by Bob Bell, we are moving ourselves into the best possible position to achieve our ambitions.”

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  1. athlon says:

    Fantastic news!

    Is that news true that Chris Dyer is heading to McLaren-Mercedes?

  2. jmv says:

    Not to say anything bad about Italian culture.. I live here and love the place and the people. But one thing I noticed coming from the North to Italy and working in an all Italian office, is that all decisions are pushed to the top level for decisions to be made.

    There is always a kind of fear or insecurity of deciding something new on ones own responsibility.

    I never saw that before. And I think that at Ferrari there must also be a similar culture – as Lauda said.. too many Italians. It plays well in the hands of Montezemolo who calls all the shots. When Todt was around it was he who took responsibility.

    On the other hand, a positive that I see here is that when you all work on something big.. and your part is finished.. you dont just pack up and go home.. you stick around in solidarity to the team. And I think that this is also one of Ferrari’s strengths, that closeness in fighting back.

    All in all I love this place, but am still a McLaren fan :-)

    1. jmv says:

      of course my comment comes in reference to Aldo Costa’s performance over the past 4 years at Ferrari, when the team became much more Italian.

  3. JamesF1 says:

    All this means is there are absolutely no excuses for failure next year.

    1. I wouldn’t really agree with that – it’s a bit late in the game to expect a huge step forward for 2012 as a result of these appointments. Just look at how Honda’s 2008 car ended up being worse than its (pretty terrible) predecessor, despite having Ross Brawn on board.

      I will be expecting big things of them in 2013, however.

      1. Duke says:

        Schumi and Brawn are gathering all the tried and known brains together.Good on y’er Merc,but I think next years car may not be the winning one,not enough time left.However if -fingers crossed- Schumi decides to stay on for a couple more years,then those elusive podiums will all be a thing of the past.
        Schumi still has the raw speed,and the hunger,and there is no one more competitive than Schumi when he is fired up.There are plenty of fans around the World who still want Schumi to win again.

  4. dave mingay says:

    Mercedes is going for it, not Mercedes are going for it.

    1. Yes and no. If the team is considered as a unit (the Mercedes team is based at Brackley) it is considered a collective noun and used as singular. When the team is dealt with as individuals, they are considered plural (Mercedes are ready for Schumacher’s pitstop).

      The rule isn’t consistently applied in British English, though. There seems to be a tendency to consider a team (or company) as a collection of individuals and address them as such, even when it is not technically correct.

      Personally, “Mercedes is…” sounds wrong to my ear, but your mileage may vary.

  5. goferet says:

    With such added firepower, Mercedes should at least start fighting for wins next year & it better be quick for car manufactures don’t like staying in Formula 1 for long without wins to show for it or the suits in Berlin will start getting cold feet & pull the rug.

    Yes, Brawn is bringing in all this new talent but the elephant in the room is a certain granpa!

    Schumi’s Singapore accident surely shows that his eye sight is gone for I read on the internet that jet fighters & F1 drivers should have retired by the age of 40.

    On the other hand, history isn’t exactly on Rosberg’s side to bag the WDC for apart from the quiet squirrel, no other former F1 champion’s son has gone on to win the WDC for themselves.

    So who is going to save this team that’s too big to fail (cue enter Paul Di Resta) At least he isn’t German, Ja! – At least this is a good omen in a German team!

    1. dont think you can put schumi’s accident down to old age , as hamilton made the same mistake.

      in the end , they need a faster car first, then they can worry about what drivers they got

      Matt

    2. Tom Gower says:

      Not true Graham and Damon Hill were both WDC’s

    3. Dmitry says:

      Can’t totally agree with you (on sons of F1 champions) – you have definitely forgotten Graham Hill and/or his son Damon Hill, both being great champions.

    4. F1Fan4Life says:

      These guys are only joining them now so I don’t think Mercedes will be expected to challenge for wins next year, I’m certain they’ll be given at least two years. Your golden boy Hamilton is the one that should be fighting for wins next year, this year he’s imitating Schumacher last year. Have you checked Hamilton’s eyesight recently?

      Still don’t think Schumacher is a bad bet. He’s performed well in a few races and been close to Rosberg, who is a definite talent. In my opinion he’s gradually improving his performances and will keep getting better as he gets closer to his past form.

  6. Me says:

    Can someone explain to me the “indian” allusion?

    1. James Allen says:

      From the saying – Too many Chiefs.. not enough indians.

      1. Jaco says:

        I figured it must be something like that, but it’s a bit vague James..

      2. It’s a very common saying in English-speaking workplaces, but perhaps it doesn’t travel that well?

        There must be equivalent phrases in other languages, though. The concept is too ubiquitous for there not to be!

      3. John Ferdinand says:

        “To many bosses and not enough workers”. 40 years old? Did we forget Farina & Fangio. And I thought 40 was the new 20. Apparently “goferet” has watched Logan’s Run one to many times and his crystal is about to go off : )

      4. dave mingay says:

        Should that be a capital ‘I’ as in Indians?

      5. Midnight Toper says:

        Pot, kettle, black.

  7. Rob Newman says:

    We were expecting this for a while now. Next year could be very interesting.

    I am not sure how much influence Geoff’s and Costa’s input will have in the 2012 car but I believe Mercedes will be very strong next year.

    Something tells me McLaren will struggle next year and Ferrari could be better if they can sort out their tyre issues. But again Red Bull will be the team to beat and Webber will be strong without the hot air blowing.

  8. Jon says:

    It will be interesting if they make much of a difference to next years car, especially when Costa doesn’t join until December. Perhaps they’ll start to challenge more in 2013. Will be good to see Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes all fighting for wins with Red Bull.

    If they all deliver similar paced cars, we’ll see the star drivers rise to the top. Can only be a good thing for us fans.

  9. Curro says:

    I know he’s not a technical guy, but where is Nick Fry? Haven’t heard much of him since the Mercedes takeover.

    1. Kristiane says:

      ceo of Mercedes F1 operation and takes care of commercial side of things if I recall correct.

      Correct me if I’m wrong =)

  10. Gerk says:

    So Michael Schumacher is doing it again, building the second dream team and laying the foundations for future success, only this time it’s in silver instead of red.

    Hats off to the man and his perseverance, I honestly would not have been able to keep up my motivation and drive had I been in his shoes, coming back to F1 and 41 and to a team that was well down in 4-5th. Because I believe in hard work, karma, in dedication, passion, and therefor in M.S., I firmly believe Michael Schumacher will re-retire from F1 as an 8-time world champion with Mercedes.

    Good luck to Mercedes!

    1. val from montreal says:

      well said …. !!

    2. Duke says:

      @gerk,Yes,yes,yes.Schumi will win the 8th star.!!!!!!!

  11. Alex T says:

    I don’t understand the eulogizing of Geoff Willis. I seem to remember the only half decent car he had a hand in designing was the 2004 BAR. Further, in thirteen seasons Brackley has only designed that car and the 2009 Brawn to have any reasonable competitiveness at the sharp end. James is spot on. Mercedes is going for it but it needs to. Otherwise it will be the next Toyota. Constantly stranded in mediocrity.

    1. I think that’s a bit unfair. Willis was Adrian Newey’s right hand man at Williams and McLaren and was involved in the design of some great cars.

      Once he was made technical director at BAR, their cars improved year on year to the point where they were challenging for wins. They did go backwards in 2005, but due to circumstances out of Willis’ control – namely a rotten winter testing (including Nelson Piquet Jr smashing one BAR007 chassis to smithereens) and their two race ban from Imola. From Button’s performances in the second half of 2005, I think the basic design was at least as good as the 2004 car.

      The last car Willis designed for Honda, the RA106, was clearly a cracker let down by an underpowered engine. Honda replaced Willis with Shuhei Nakamoto halfway through 2006 and I would say it’s no coincidence that the RA107 and RA108 were dogs. The car that became the BGP001 had a truly staggering amount of money thrown at it – with Honda developing three different concepts as far as wind tunnel testing, then ditching two of them. Willis never had that kind of resource available to him.

      His record since has been patchy. He spent some time with Red Bull, but I could imagine it being difficult going back to work under Newey after having been a lead designer for so long. HRT was clearly a bit of a fiasco and I’m hardly surprised he walked away if, as is rumoured, next year’s car is to be another evolution of the awful Dallara they entered the sport with.

      I think these are great appointments for Mercedes and although they are probably a bit late to have a big impact for the 2012 car, could lead to the team producing a front runner for 2013.

      Admittedly, Willis has had a tough time of it since.

      1. James Allen says:

        Willis was not at McLaren

      2. kowalsky says:

        who said he was?

      3. kowalsky says:

        Mercedes are on the up. But who is it going to take advantage of the improvements?
        Schumacher is not young enough
        rosberg is not world championship’s material
        Paul di resta? maybe…

      4. Craig says:

        Quote:-

        Kenny Carwash Reply:
        September 30th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

        I think that’s a bit unfair. Willis was Adrian Newey’s right hand man at Williams and McLAREN and was involved in the design of some great cars.

      5. Athlander says:

        Seeing as I can’t reply to your question above, Kenny Carwash said Willis was at McLaren.

  12. mad max says:

    Really good article James,

    “Costa will oversee the design and development of the cars, as he did at Ferrari under Ross Brawn.”

    Bit confused, was Rory Bryne not the main fella back then rather than Ross in the design area?

    1. James Allen says:

      After Rory retired, I mean

  13. zombie says:

    Almost a freaky news! Just a couple of days back i was thinking Ross Brawn should probably persuade his old friend Rory Byrne out of retirement. After all, in the last 2 decades if there’s been one man who stood up and challenged Newey, it was Rory. Well, what do i read today ? Rory hasn’t been woken up (yet), but his right-hand man Aldo Costa has been brought in. Good decision in my opinion. Aldo can flourish and do things at Mercedes which was simply not possible in an Italian outfit.

    Hope they’ll have all pieces in place to challenge for the world title by 2013. I really doubt it if they’ll be able to join the ‘Big 3′ next year though.

    1. herowassenna says:

      I have been reading on other sites that Rory Byrne is consulting for Ferrari and with Pat Fry on the 2012 car.
      It seemed unusual to see him on the TV during the Italian GP.
      Do you have any news about this James?

      1. Andy c says:

        I understand he has always dabbled even since” retiring” to Thailand. I believe he has always continued on a consultant level for Ferrari (not well publicised).

  14. Janis says:

    Interesting indeed!
    Apparently, Brawn was not exactly happy with his aero men, and so asked Willis who knows this particular wind tunnel inside out, to come.
    And of course he knows very well what Costa is capable of. No more overheating issues next year?
    The only sad thing about this is – these men are coming a bit too late for Schumi. I don’t think they will be able to produce a winning car next year already – and it is probably the last year we will see Schumi driving for Mercedes.

    1. The wind tunnel point is a good one. My understanding is that the failure of Honda’s RA107 and RA108 cars was in large part due to problems with the calibration of the wind tunnel at Brackley. Problems that only crept in after Willis left and resulted in fundamental aerodynamic flaws in the finished cars.

      Getting reliable, consistent results from a wind tunnel, that are representative of real world aero, is a mind-bogglingly challenging and complex process. Just getting the air to move in a straight line through the testing section is an enormous task (the fan blades naturally produce a spinning airflow).

      I don’t think there’s anything significantly wrong with the tunnel at Brackley now, as the Mercedes cars have had reasonable pace and look quite driveable. Brawn knows they need it to be absolutely spot on if they’re going to produce a race winner, though.

  15. noahracer says:

    Is this thing, Resource Restriction Agreement, a rule, part of the Concorde, or a gentlemen’s handshake?

    1. James Allen says:

      A FOTA legally binding agreement

      1. Graeme says:

        So HRT could do their own thing. Doubt if they can.

        Wasn’t Bell with Renault Alonso championships?

        G

      2. James Allen says:

        That is correct Bob was TD in those years

      3. CC says:

        James, would be an interesting article someday on just how all expenses are monitored. To someone outside it all, I wonder how exacting such a thing is possible. Thanks.

  16. Craig says:

    Even without these appointments, you can see Mercedes are getting closer all the time, obviously developing the car too over the season.
    Will we see a Brawn 2009 type start next year from Merc?
    Schumi retires end of this season, Jenson back?
    Stranger things have happened…

  17. Andrew Halliday says:

    This is great news. Historically it has taken Schumacher and his team a few seasons of development before winning championships and it may turn out to be the same with Mercedes. I don’t know how long it will take before the expertise of Willis and Costa is evident in the cars performance on track but if things keep moving in this direction maybe we could see Schumacher stick around in F1 for longer?

    1. Mashu says:

      This does seem like an increasingly likely prospect given that his perforance over time is steadily improving. He’s got the maximum out of the car far more this year than last and I don’t see why that trend won’t continue as he beds into the new team and regulations.

      This announcement from Mercedes is exactly the kind of thing coupled with the above that is likely to make him think it is worth staying on a season or two before his final retirement.

      1. Mashu says:

        Moreover I doubt thw two points above are in any way mutually exclusive…

      2. For sure says:

        Yes, if it was just rookie driver, people would say, “this Schumacher guy is pretty impressive this season”. Just because he won so many titles, got beaten last season and his age, people are writing him off. But if you look at his performance trend, he has closed the gap to his teammate, he was voted driver of the day a couple of times. So I think he and Mercedes will come through.

  18. Oliver says:

    James what do you make of the comments that drivers have asked for a discussion into lewis hamiltons driving at suzuka? Is it true? and if it is do you know which drivers have asked for this?

    1. James Allen says:

      Saw it in Gazzetta DELLO sport. Never a good idea to single one driver out,

      1. Bones says:

        I remember that in 78 after Peterson’s death drivers asked Fisa to punish Patrese for his “wild” driving,he got a 1race suspension(USA West Coast).Do you remember any other case James?

      2. kowalsky says:

        prost asking balestre to punish senna and gift him the title.

    2. Olivier says:

      That would be ridiculous!

      Hamilton & Schumacher are driving on the very edge. This is what I like. Who cares about Buttons second place? It is battles that will be remembered in F1, not second places.

  19. DaveF says:

    Hmm, not sure what to make of this really. Neither strike me as being the right people for the job. As James has said Costa didn’t take enough risks at Ferrari and the best cars were really just developments of what Rory Byrne had done. As for Geoff Willis what did he really achieve at BAR?

    Perhaps Ross Brawn is simply planning his exit strategy and bringing in established players with a view to them heading up the team when he leaves?

    What I’d like to know is where are all the new designers? Who will be the next Rory Byre or Adrian Newey? It seems to me that none of the current group have the imagination to beat them.

    1. kowalsky says:

      they are lucky that ferrari and mclaren are not on top form. But red bull is a well greased mechanism. Hard to beat.

  20. Chins says:

    James, another nice article as ever!

    On a different topic, can you elobrate on the benefits of having two F1 teams, like in the case of RedBull and ToroRosso?

    Thanks!

  21. Rafael says:

    Although we probably won’t see the effects of these hirings until mid-2012 or even 2013, this is a real great move by Mercedes and Ross Brawn. I sure hope having multiple top engineers will not be detrimental to the team’s road to progress, like it was to some extent to Red Bull in their earlier years (they were hiring too many big dogs and didn’t use them wisely, I think) – but with Ross Brawn onboard, that looks highly unlikely.

    Can’t help but think though, how could Ferrari have let the likes of Bob Bell and Geoff Willis slip off their radar? And if Aldo Costa proves to be a success under Ross Brawn, that will surely say a lot about Stefano Domenicalli’s leadership, won’t it?

    1. DJH584 says:

      “And if Aldo Costa proves to be a success under Ross Brawn, that will surely say a lot about Stefano Domenicalli’s leadership, won’t it?”

      It certainly will. Too many Chiefs making the decisions on matters they know nothing about and not leaving the Indians to get on with the job – preferably unhindered.

  22. mo kahn says:

    Mercedes is not happy with their car and so is Schumacher… It is not in their culture… They will dominate… they are paving the path for a brutal domination.. so behold :)

    1. kowalsky says:

      they are planning on it, but to beat red bull you need to be close to perfection, and i don’t see any of the top teams there just yet.

      1. herowassenna says:

        Get that Ferrari within 2/10ths of Red Bull and Alonso will make up the rest.
        If the 2012 Ferrari is that close, I predict Alonso for champion but sadly Massa won’t be quick enough consistently to win Ferrari the Constructors title

  23. Werewolf says:

    The interesting points to me about these appointments are not just that they show Mercedes’ commitment but an understanding of how teams work, ie with talented and respected people reporting to a pragmatic head.

    Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn could easily have rested on their egos and gone for sackings and replacements rather than enhancements.

    We know because history proves it that Brawn and Costa (and Schumacher) were at least part of a winning team. I have not yet formed a view on Willis as to whether he has been unlikely, perhaps politically unwise, or part of the problem, despite obvious talents. I probably lean towards the former and I would like to be right!

  24. zombie says:

    James, you seemed to have missed the other bit of interesting news that Rory Byrne has been seen at Maranello a lot of late. Rumor in the Spanish press has it that he is back as a consultant to work with Pat Fry and Nick Tombazis.

    1. James Allen says:

      I’m looking into it. Don’t deal in rumours, only in things which have some legs. This may have legs, tine will tell

      1. Andy c says:

        I’ve heard from a very reputable source James (that you know) that he has continued consulting for Ferrari off and on. But that there may be legs in an increased involvement.

  25. val from montreal says:

    As long that they dont change the tire regulations , keep the tires consistent and same tires for all teams for future years ,all looks in order…. Mercedes-Benz Works Team (I prefer that name more ) with the association of Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn and co will win the title eventually…
    Dream Team part 2 ….

    Schumacher’s next win will earn him a total of 92 race wins … Equaling the amount of senna and prost combined …. with that win his mojo will be back 110% …. Right now , schumacher and mercedes are putting other teams and drivers on guard …

    Michael schumacher will continue BEYOND 2012 if next years car is fast … fast enough to fight for the podium EVERY race …

    He wants to win a title for Mercedes , where it all began … He is determined , extremely fit , smarter than all of the drivers ….

    If there is one driver who vettel does not want to see behind his mirrrors its Schumacher ..JB, hamilton , alonso are all good , but with schumacher its always more exciting ….

  26. tim says:

    Sorry, have to call you on this: I didn’t know the term “indians” or “Indians,” when referring to people not from the sub-continent, still passed as acceptable in today’s media use of English. The terms aboriginal, indigenous, native, First Nations, etc., are all at your disposal.

    1. conor says:

      It’s a well used english saying, so none of those words would work at all.

  27. Vassy says:

    With all the top technical people being hired by top 4 teams, arn’t they kinda depriving mid field to improve in future?? These big guys are showing off their aura and giving big pay checks to them and to their liking all of these tech gurus accepting them. None of them want to take a challenging role like what Newey did with Red bull i.e., take up slower car from back and make it a winning car.

  28. iloilo city says:

    This is good news for the merc team. Hope they can give a better car next to msc.

  29. WRR says:

    With Michael great team leader and his iconic part as well as his completeness as a driver plus dream team 2, Merc going to be a strong team

  30. Sikhumbuzo Thomo says:

    I can recall a time once James when Mercedes conceded an approx 6 month gap behind schedule in terms of development, together with some issues the current W02 was facing as a result of its short wheel base they said.

    Now, adding the likes of Aldo and Geoff one can only see Mercedes trying to more than half that gap given the combined experience the 2 guys bring from and HR point of view. Meaning that we may see the next car as late as possible next year to allow for finer wind tunnel tuning accpetable for the start (from JW) of the season and the developmental aspects (from AC)to catch up!

    Because frankly it is not the engine that is an issue for Mercedes but the chassis, unlike Ferrari from the mid 1990′s. So they have part of the problem sorted. And by the way I m still not convinced that the 18 rpm limit is the best option from a tecnological point of view perhaps raising the limiter to say 20k rpm can bring more excitement, Mr Allen!

    ST

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