It has been confirmed today that McLaren is to lose its Technical Director Paddy Lowe to Mercedes and the company has appointed Tim Goss to replace Lowe in the role.
Lowe had been planning a move to join Toto Wolff at Williams before the Austrian was offered the chance to head Mercedes motorsport operation. The plan then evolved for Lowe to divert to Mercedes and this was openly discussed a month ago, with Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn asserting that he remained in charge at Brackley, while new recruit Lewis Hamilton insisted that Lowe would not be moving to Brackley.
“I’d like to offer my congratulations to Tim on his new position, which, after more than 20 years of exceptional service for McLaren, he richly deserves,” said McLaren team principal Matin Whitmarsh.
“His quiet and unassuming persona conceals a fierce competitiveness and a wealth of experience, coupled to an unrivalled level of expertise in the field of Formula 1 car design and engineering.”
Whitmarsh’s reference to Goss’ “20 years service” is a pointed reference to loyalty. McLaren chairman Ron Dennis recently stated that he did not want anyone in the team who did not “bleed McLaren”.
But behind the rhetoric, the loss of Lowe, so soon after the loss of Hamilton to Mercedes, is a blow to McLaren’s prestige and underlines how high the stakes are nowadays among teams’ technical staff as they all strive to keep pace with Adrian Newey and the Red Bull juggernaut. The Milton Keynes outfit has won the last three world championships for constructors and drivers and informed paddock analysis puts the 2013 Red Bull car as the one to beat after the first two tests.
Lowe will be made to play out the remaining year of his contract at McLaren before he is released and it’s likely that he will be given a role well away from any proprietary information pertaining to the new generation 2014 chassis and engines.
This will be a setback to him and his new team in terms of his knowledge of the evolotion over the next 10 months of the new technologies, but he is a very smart operator and will have already gained plenty of knowledge on the subject to this point.
The question now is where this leaves Ross Brawn. He insisted last month that he is in charge at Mercedes, that he was aware of plans to recruit Lowe and that he will decide whether to continue as Team Principal. There are clearly fault-lines with Niki Lauda as non-executive chairman, but Toto Wolff appears to be playing a conciliatory role, so far. Brawn has always been one for succession planning and Lowe may well be the natural successor. The question is, how long before he takes over the reins?
Given that he will not even set foot inside Brackley until January 1, unless a deal can be struck with McLaren for an early release, he would need at least a season to get a handle on the team before taking over from Brawn. So for stability’s sake, a 2014/15 handover would appear more likely.
Interestingly, to show how fluid things have been at Mercedes, Hamilton insisted when he met with a few of us in Brackley at the end of January, that Lowe was not joining Mercedes,
“As far as I’m aware there are no plans to bring Paddy here,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been assured by Ross that his commitment is for the long term and he is here to try to win with me, which reassures me and continues to give me a positive feeling moving forward.
“There are lots of good people here and I’ve obviously had great experiences with Paddy but he works with McLaren as far as I’m concerned.”
* FOTA has announced that the first Fans Forum of 2013 will take place on Wednesday night at Barcelona circuit. The panel will comprise:
Xevi Pujolar, Williams, Race Engineer
Giedo Van Der Garde, Caterham Driver
Graeme Lowdon, Marussia President/Sporting Director
James Allison, Lotus Technical Director
Jaime Alguersuari, Pirelli F1 test driver
You can follow it live streamed here on JA on F1, starting at 18-30 CET (17-30GMT)