F1 Winter Break
Sam Michael moves to McLaren as Sporting Director
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Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Sep 2011   |  11:34 pm GMT  |  87 comments

The mystery over where outgoing Williams technical director Sam Michael would end up was resolved today when McLaren announced him as their new Sporting Director. The post has been vacant since Dave Ryan stepped down from the job at the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2009.

The role of Sporting Director can mean many things in F1. For some teams it is a kind of glorified team manager role, for others it can been more engineering-led. Usually the Sporting Director is the senior person who is required to know the FIA Sporting Regulations rule book inside out and back to front. So when something happens in a race, where some interpretation is required, the Sporting Director will be the one liaising with the Race Director and arguing the toss. They need to have an understanding of all areas of the racing business, from engineering to strategy to rules to logistics.

At Mercedes the vastly experienced Ron Meadows holds the role. Dave Ryan was a similar kind of Sporting Director.

Sam Michael comes at it with a background as a race engineer to Heinz Harald Frentzen at Jordan, when he was winning races. Then he became a senior operations engineer and took that role to Williams. When BMW parnered with Williams he was promoted to Technical Director in his early 30s. As Williams has adjusted to life as an independent team, Michael has worked with the resources available, not always with happy outcomes.

His switch from being in overall control of all things technical at Williams to Sporting Director at McLaren will also take in responsibility for operational matters at the race track. So it is a return, in many ways, to the role in which he was most effective with Williams and Jordan; playing to his strengths essentially.

Of the options open to him, which are believed to have included Force India and even a Ferrari role was rumoured, Michael has taken the most obviously appealing. He will no longer have responsibility for overseeing the design and build of the cars, but only of making them as effective as possible at the race tracks.

This will add strength to McLaren in an important area, not least in getting the best from the drivers at every race, but to beat Red Bull they need to be sure to build a fast car from the outset of 2012. The McLaren has rivalled the Red Bull for pace lately, but was well beaten for speed in Monza. Getting it right between now and winter testing next February is the key.

“He’ll bring a very valuable blend of experience and expertise to our pitwall, and will also enrich the technical management we provide for our drivers, ” said McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh. “I’m certain he’ll work extremely well with our senior technical management team, which I firmly believe will now become the strongest in all of Formula 1.”

“Being a racer my whole life, I know that McLaren is one of the all-time greats of Formula 1.” said Michael. “I already know and respect many of the team’s senior technical management figures, and becoming a member of that excellent working unit was one of the prime attractions of this new position.”

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Great move by McLaren IMO


Yes I totally agree, this is much derrided by McLaren fans on other websites but everything I have read suggests that Sam Michael is very well respected in the paddock and knows his stuff for sure. The problems at Williams will not be fixed by making a scapegoat out of Michael, they should never have accepted his resignation. I thnk even Sir Frank knows that this is Williams' loss and McLaren's gain. At least Sam will be able to concentrate on 1 job instead of 20!

Sam Michael is worth 10 Adam Parrs in my opinion.


"Sam Michael is worth 10 Adam Parrs in my opinion"



Mclaren are building a dream team, lets hope he isn't overstretched at Mcclaren like he had to be at Williams.


I think that seems to be the idea.


All the confirmation I needed to confirm my suspicions that McLarens long term aims are focused midfield.

I recall Sam blatantly favouring R Schu over the fabulously fast JPM for whatever reason which IMO cost Williams GPE their last real chance at WDC & CC 2002/3-ish (Magny Cour),change of pit strategy,the momentum was lost.

"God bless McLaren".


I think your wrong, but it does appear that maybe this was paid for by Mercedes before they sold their last shares.


A bit revisionist there. Montoya was unhappy that he wasnt getting preferential treatment at Williams. You sight Magny Cours 2003 but that was a lights to flag victory for Ralf because his engineer called him in to cover off Montoya's early stop. By allowing them race Michael was hardly showing favoritism.


You suspect that McLaren's long term goals are midfield focused? It's not often that I can say with utter confidence that a poster is completely wrong but in this case.... You are utterly wrong sir. Even if they ended up with a midfield car you can be sure that was not where they aimed to be!


As a big McLaren fan I can't say that I am over excited about this news. Whilst a lasting name in the busines, Michael has done little to improve the once great Williams in fact has been a key player during the demise of the team.


What could one man do at Williams? The team as a whole is financially strained and lacks resources, especially human. Everyone there wears too many hats. Michael was forced to wear a hat that wasn't his best fit. He should do well in his new role at McLaren.


Probably something to do with him having to fill ten job roles instead of one isn't it? McLaren would not recruit an underachiever, they know much that you and I do not know.


Great news. I felt sorry for him, given the position he was put in at Williams, and glad to see he has got a role that plays more to his strengths within a top team. Perhaps this might help resolve some of the questionable strategy calls that McLaren have made over recent seasons.


Agree with this sentiment, McLaren have needed a Dave Ryan type figure and have been found wanting over the last 2 years without him. Sam was never a technical director and this should help boost McLaren


I understand the sentiment, but can someone please tell engineers and team owners that they are not 'racers'!

Sure it's a team effort, but to my mind it's only the guy in the car, the one who's risking his neck and going wheel to wheel at 200mph, doing what I describe as racing.


Have to echo James and Wayne's comments - you can be a "racer" without ever setting foot in a racing car. It's about having a burning desire to make every process in your control as efficient and effective as it can possibly be, it's about being unwilling to accept anything short of perfection and most of all, it's about fighting tooth and nail for each and every little advantage you can get.

Strive for that and you're a racer, no matter what you do.


Fair comments to all above.

And my comments are not to denigrate the role of the engineers and mechanics, it's just that I find perhaps other nouns more fitting.

The definition of racer is someone who competes in a race, and in it's purest form that is the driver. The team itself may be many hundreds of people, all of whom contribute in some greater or lesser way, and all of whom may have that competitive spirit.

Would it be appropriate to call a team marketing guy or an accountant a 'racer'? - I wouldn't think so, but perhaps it's more fitting for the engineer and mechanic who are more intimately involved in the results on the track.


Could not disagree more. They all go racing as a team, therefore they are 'all' racers. To me 'racer' means someone with a passion for racing and who is activly involved in racing. The guy in the car is a 'race driver' which is different but to some extent the same. If the guy feels that he is a 'racer' and is involved enough to back that feeling up then he is.


Disagree. "Racer" is a mindset, not a job. Racing driver is a job, but not all racing drivers are "racers" and plenty of engineers and others in a team are "racers"


Brilliant news.. Sam Michael is a very talented and hard working chap, I wish him the very best of luck ay McLaren...


Fantastic news for both Sam Michael and McLaren.

I'm sure I will most likely echo a lot of people's opinions in saying that Michael deserves to be in a team that has the means to have a crack at the championship.

The last competitive season he had with Williams was in 2003. It must feel like a very very long time ago.


what did he achieve from 2003 to 2011 to "deserve" this chance?


Put it this way: there are lots of talented people everywhere, working in environments where their talent cannot be expressed.

We've all been there and it can be pretty much any company.

Talented people do not go unnoticed though and tend cement a reputation that follows them wherever they go, however successful they might be in the eyes of others.

Success and achievements can only be judged based on objectives set at the outset and resources available.

My opinion (I am not privy to Williams info) is that Sam Michael has done a very good job from 2000 to 2003, then from 2007-2010. 2004 and the walrus nose concept was probably one to forget and 2005 is difficult to judge based on BMW's lack of support.

Only 2006 and 2011 clearly stand out as way below par.


from 2003 - 2011 is an eternity in F1... and F1 is not your average slow moving career environment.

or you're good, or out.

at least williams in the end decided enough is enough.

but in the end i guess mclaren know best how to value him.


As always mate, a very rounded analysis.

Completely agree. I've always thought hes done a decent job in difficult circumstances to be honest. This year is particularly bad however and I can understand for Williams its important to react to that.

That said, good people do get noticed (just look at tech people "promotions" from smaller teams to bigger teams.


In these budget-limited times, do teams like McLaren have the budget for this? On the surface, it looks like a number of their senior roles encroach on other team members. Interesting.

Anyway, good on ya Sam. You have never been one of my favourite people in the sport, but nice work landing on your feet! 🙂


They will find the budget for anything. The resource restriction agreement is PR and little more in my opinion. It doesn't include drivers' salary or marketing. Want to employ someone but not have their salary count towards the restriction - give them a marketing job title. You can bet that McLaren spend a factopr of 10 what Virgin racing spend, restrcition or no.


Who will he replace and why ?


For anyone who does not understand Jo's comment (and sense of humour), please go read the first posts in the following article: http://jaonf1.wpengine.com/2011/09/lotus-f1-conflict-to-be-resolved-imminently" rel="nofollow">Lotus F1 conflict to be resolved imminently>.

PS: thanks Jo, you're a laugh mate.


Dave Ryan, as it says on the third row of the report, for the reasons it covers in the report.


As James says, it was the post held by Dave Ryan.


Dave Ryan who left in 2009


1st para, lie-gate


Errr... Dave Ryan, as it says in the story....? and it explains why... in the story....?


It says in the article! He's replacing Dave Ryan who was sacked/stepped down in '09.


Vacant role, it's in the article mate.


Good luck to him. When I first read this elsewhere I was a bit miffed about it as he has had something of a fall from grace in his Williams departure. The lack of success at Williams was a concern to, however when viewed in the light of his limited resources there, I'm not sure there was much more he could do. Hopefully he will help cement Mclaren back at the top and knobble those red bulls for a little while!


I like the signing of Sam Michael. McLaren have made way too many mistakes since they sacked Dave Ryan [over the issue with stewards - mod] in Melbourne. These mistakes have affected the results of Lewis greatly, rather than Jenson. This has cost him(Lewis) a chance of winning the World Championship. Rather than talking about a gripping fight for the title, we are talking about a championship which could be over at the next race. Many people out there have disregarded these obvious facts when judging the performance of Lewis and should think about the 'bigger' picture when it comes to this.


If it's affected Lewis more, it must be because Jenson thinks better on his feet (or rather, on his bum !) than Lewis does. Lewis still has some catching up to do in this area. But McL have made quite a few questionable judgement calls for both drivers - although perhaps less this year than last.

Armchairus Sarcasticus

Yeah, all those amateur mistakes Hamilton has been making during the race is directly related to McLaren not having a Sporting Director.


"Eh,care to make a list & post it re all those amateur mistakes,I'm struggling to remember personally.I've seen a few 50/50 incidents,& couple of amateur moves from the likes of Koboyashi.

M Schumacher said it all via radio transcripts re the blocking tactics he used at Monza-

"Ross: Michael, you have to leave Lewis room, if you collide-

Michael: He'll get the blame. He always gets the blame for everything. It won't be a problem".

Enough said.


James - Is this an admission of a weakness in their team? I would have thought they would have plenty of expertise in this area already. Or is is a way of giving some existing management a better work/life balance by not attending GPs?


Possibly, but I think it shows them realising that Red Bull has raised the bar in all areas, not just a fast car, but good operations and McLaren clearly felt that area needed refreshing. But as I say in the piece, the key thing is to build a fast car in the first place and this appointment is in a different area


I think the sheer advancement of Red Bull has confused the issue of the other teams simply by making them all look bad. If Red Bull hadn't emerged as such a dominant force, McLaren would be one of two leading teams. I don't think it's so much that their design/engineering/race-team are awful, they're clearly very, very good. It's just compared to how RBR have pulled everything together, they know they can't keep doing things the same way anymore. RBR are just changing the landscape. I guess a lot of people thought the 'fairy-tale' Brawn win in 2009 was shaking things up, but that turned out to be a confluence of events that wasn't going to repeat itself. It's only really the RBR money/Newey/structure/Vettel combination that has finally upended the whole process. The fact that we're even talking about a team with a fizzy drink sponsor as the total dominating force in F1 shows how much they've changed the scene. McLaren and Ferrari know they need to take risks and change not just driver line-ups and strategy but their whole structure needs a revamp.


I wonder if hiring Michael isn't a sign of weakness itself. When you're not winning, you try to shake up things because you run out of ideas or you kind of panic and you just can't keep relying on the same group of people and way of work without seeking any enhancement.

New blood is always good but I still can't see what will Michael bring to McLaren. On the other hand, Sam is kind of being put in a less important position which is not the most motivating challenge

Wait & see


Whilst they arent winning championships at present, they are consistently winning races.

They certainly havent pulled the trigger on their tech guys and are maintaining faith.

Just as redbull did, they're boosting an area they think its possible to improve on. Success is all about progression, and progressing quicker than the rest. Something Redbull as a team have done really well over the last 4 years.


Maybe this will free some of the team's other members to do thing that would make the car faster, no?


That, James, really is the crux of the matter at McLaren for me. The fact that McLaren continue to build 'slow' carsd to start the season is utterly inexcusable. Even this year the car was a couple of seconds of the pace until they copied RBR's exhaust system. Adrian Newey is incredible, his work speaks for itself but he alone cannot be that far ahead of the aero guys in other teams, it must be more than just Newey on his own.

McLaren's strength, it seems, is in evolving a good platform. They have a good car this year, hopefully they can evolve it to be competitive with RBR and Ferrari next year from the outset.

Honestly, I thought Newey's lead over the 'rest' was in revolution - as in major chnages in the rules. But it seems he is just as capable of evolving as 'revolving' 😉

I do not see SM's appointment as an admission of weakness at all. Every team is always on the look out for the best possible personnel and this feels no different.


"Honestly, I thought Newey’s lead over the ‘rest’ was in revolution – as in major chnages in the rules. But it seems he is just as capable of evolving as ‘revolving’"

I'd say its both. Since the new aero rules were brought in in 2009, Red Bull are the only team that havnt had to make a complete philosophy change to the design of the car. He got it right first time out with RB5 and 6 and 7 have just built on that. Every other team (at least those that were about in 09)have had to make at least 1 major overhaul in their design, and McLaren have done it twice, next year seems like it will be the first year they've carried over since 07/08.


I was looking forward to your thoughts on this, James. I was quite surprised when I saw this earlier, but a good surprised, it's a good move for both. Especially as the not-so-far-away pre-season is the toughest pre-season in quite some time.


The best choice for the very talented Sam Michael!


Regardless of what happened at Williams after Sam Michael was promoted to TD, or why, I find myself trusting the brass at McLaren. Good luck to him in his new role.


true is that mclaren have a fast car... fast drivers but the weekend does not tie up well together...

i only hope that he will work in service of the drivers and their needs... i always felt that michael comes across as i-am-smarter-than-you-and-i-know-better

maybe he will be that missing link for lewis in making the right calls. lewis (and both jenson) have experienced some team blunders in qualifying and racing.


I've always felt that Sam Michael was made the scapegoat for the woes at Williams, so this is certainly good news from my point of view, and strengthens McLaren in one of the key areas they've clearly been lacking in for the last 2 seasons.


I don't agree with part of your statement. Sure he can be made a scapegoat for lack of performance (and budget accounts for most of that I agree), but when you are the technical director, that's your job mate. The buck rests with you and is indeed why you are earning the big bucks. Don't you think?


I agree. Williams troubles have been developing year on year, with money problems and structural problems pretty deep-seated. From what we've read and seen Sam Michaels wasn't remotely happy with Williams any more than they were happy with him. I think McLaren taking him on says more about his cache in the paddock than the scapegoating Williams sometimes allowed.


Fantastic news. I am happy for Sam. He has done so much for Williams and I am sure he will do his best for McLaren too and the next season will be an exciting one.

If the rumours are true, there will be several ex-Ferrari personnel to join Mercedes which will make a fantastic 2012.

By the way James, will you be doing an article on the new Red Bull Renault partnership? Curious to know which team will be the actual works team going forward and how will this partnership affect other teams which will be using Renault engines and technology.


Mclaren have proven time in, time out that they can develop a car throughout the season. However the last time we hit the ground running with victories and a sustained push was 2007 and 2008 and Dave Ryan was the catalyst there, in testing and at the races. If Sam fills this role and can feed back to the design team at Woking any issues then OMG we could have a cracking season next year, and at least have a championship that goes the full distance.....

We shouldn't underestimate what Sam did at willaims they where on a slippery slope before BMW came in and he did a good job with what he had and if you imagine in one of the top teams there would have been 4 or 5 people doing his job.

Looking forward to next year now


Uh Oh! Unlike the current consensus that seems to be "poor old Sam didn't he do well to deal with the limited resources he had at Williams", my opinion is he was TD at a time when Williams had huge investment and support from BMW and squandered the chance. Since then he has repeatedly promised huge steps at the beginning of the season only to repeatedly disappoint.

I think he is one of the primary reasons that Williams has failed to return to their previous standing in F1 despite their facilities and some of the talented people who have been and gone under his tenure.

This is the new Mclaren under Martin Whitmarsh, all spin but lacking the fire and hard nosed, suffer no fools approach that Ron had. [mod]

Am I the only one who misses maverick geniuses like Ron Dennis and Patrick Head - abrasive, my way or the highway, competitive men who only cared about winning, [mod]


I'm afraid i'm with the "I don't understand this apointment" crowd.

Obviously a decision based on information not available to the viewing public because he's not had a stellar time at williams.


im sure mc claren will havve a close eye on him but im sure sam wasnt chosen just to fill a vacancy sam may have just become stale at williams mclaren maybe just what they both need for the extra edge sam may not realise he could bring to the team good luck as they say a change is as good as a holiday


be interesting what happens to willims will this affect them more? (i havent followed what there up to for many yrs)


Very happy with this news - I am a life long McLaren fan and I think Sam will fit in well.

I do also agree though James with your assertion that the car really needs to work from the outset next term. For several years now McLaren have started the season 10% behind the class of the field and have had to show outstanding skill and resilience to perform as well as they have been doing. On low fuel and prime compounds they are just about the fastest in the pack - this is an amazing achievement. Sadly it only equates to 1-third race distance. I really hope they are spending serious time and energy to bolster the technical and ceative design teams as well. I'd love to see them start the season out in front, or even on a genuine par with the best.


Presumably the parts of this technical director role have been covered by other people for the last two years, so what will this appointment mean for the existing senior team staff? Does it mean a less hands-on role for Martin Whitmarsh, for example?


Best of luck to Sam Michael - a really wise choice for him. He seems like a really nice guy, although noticeably very short on smiles! I'm sure he's had his eye on that job for a while now, since Williams unfortunately don't seem to be able to prevent their demise. From what I know, Michael is a brilliant engineer, spoken very highly of by the drivers he has worked with (Rubens most recently) but just massively overstretched at his current job. I really hope Williams will have something in store to cover his absence adequately. I'm sure they were very reluctant to let him go, and I agree with Wayne who says that he is worth '10 Adam Parrs'.


Agree. Doesn't speak well for Williams that they make him a scapegoat and a better team wants him. Gutsy of RB to have said he was not the problem as soon as his exit was announced.


Smart move by all concerned, in my opinion. Williams' technical direction had become increasingly poor as Patrick Head began to step away and Sam Michael took control. Leading the technical and design side of things clearly isn't Sam's forte but, as James points out, he has always been strong on the operational side.

That's the position McLaren needed to fill after Ryan's departure and I'm glad to see them bringing in someone from outside. McLaren as an organisation tend lean heavily towards promoting from within. This has benefits of instilling their corporate culture and commitment throughout the team, but the drawback is a tendency for people to think and work the same way. Sam Michael will come into a high level position with a fresh pair of eyes and will be ideally placed to question exactly why McLaren do things the way they do and push for new approaches where he feels they are needed. Michael's appointment could help McLaren become a slightly more rounded outfit and I can see the MP4-28 being quicker 'out of the box' as a result.

One other interesting thing, Frank Williams has been quick to praise Sam's contribution to his team and express his delight that Michael has found a new role within F1. It would be an understatement to say that Sir Frank is sparing with his praise and anyone doubting Sam Michael's abilities based on the past few years should be mindful of that.


happy for Sam Michael that he will continue to enjoy employment in the paddock. As a Ferrari fan, I hope he brings his racing "success" from the Williams team with him!


James - there's a rumour doing the rounds that Kimi Raikkonen was given a tour of the Williams factory last week by Adam Parr. Does this have any credibility? It makes sense in light of the restructuring and new engine deal, particularly if they are serious about getting "back to the top" as FW says. Any insights would be appreciated.


He has been effectively kicked out of the WRC so could be looking for something competitive to do next year. It might be good for publicity but not necessarily what Williams need to be doing to move them forwards. He has no experience with Pirelli tyres and the cars are quite different from the ones he last drove (he can always ask Nick how that might pan out).


IMO, Nick Heidfeld is no Kimi Raikkonen...


I had not heard that, but it's possible. Such things happen quite a bit. But that's not the same as him signing for Williams.


Weakness or they simply filled a vacant position...


This seems a reasonable move to me. McLaren is filling a gap that clearly impacts on its race performance with someone who has form in the area concerned.

For Michael, it appears to be a backwards move (I'm sure he would say sideways!), albeit up the grid, to a smaller area of responsibility but crucially the one in which he formerly excelled before appearing to fail, for whatever reason, at the higher level.

A good opportunity, I'd say, for both parties.


Might I add, I'm quite happy for Sam Michael and hope he does well at McLaren. There is a great interview of him by Peter Windsor and he was incredibly knowledgeable and forthcoming in detailing some hard to come by aspects of F1 technology and start procedures.

For those interested, the interview is on a web show called The Flying Lap. Episode 26 I think. Google it.


Well, well, well. Poor old Willams. Panic from McLaren. Useless Michael, brilliant Michael. How diverse! (From my memory, during the Williams 'glory years' Frank was hard on drivers, changing champions because of their demands and now, hearts bleed for them.) Why must it always be "someone" to blame? This culture achieves nothing and fails to actually acknowledge strengths. The fact is that McLaren have made some terrible strategy calls in the past, most noticable when Lewis failed to win the Championship in his first year. This appointment may stop this in the future. Regardless, Michael is one of the top players in F1.


Sam Michaels is one of the most experienced engineers in Formlua One. I'm not at all privvy to what goes on internally at Williams, so I think the reasons why Michael's services no longer being required are more than what we know. Frank Williams doesn't seem to be the type to scapegoat. Sometimes it takes a few years to find out that you're not suited for a particular job or company and to move on. I'm sure many who post here have left a position with little to show for your efforts, only to move somewhere else where you flourished. From Frank William's comments on Michaels' hiring there doesn't seem to be any ill will.

Bonne chance, Sam.


Could be related to the the GT teams. Whitmarsh isn't just head of F1 racing and I assume Micheal will take away some of his minor responsibilities.


Good move on Michaels part, he doesnt want to be seen with a Williams shirt on when Coughlan starts sharing technical data 😉


I thought this was a bit of a baffling move by the team because I did feel Sam Michael struggled after becoming technical director at Williams. But I did accept that it depended on what the Sporting Director at McLaren was expected to do and that they would probably define the role quite specifically, for Michael's benefit. Now that you've explained how the role will most probably be defined it seems like a pretty good move - a not illogical one certainly.


Good move from McLaren I'd say - Sam Michael has always been strong on the operations side as others have pointed out. His downfall at Williams was mostly down to the chronic decline in resources available and the tightening up of the grid in terms of laptimes, as well as being forced to wear goodness knows how many hats at the same time. Hopefully this marks the start of an upward trend for both Michael and Williams with their new structure, as both could certainly do with one.


James, I've been reading some rumours recently about Kimi Raikkonen visiting the Williams factory this month. It's one of those rumours that I just try my hardest to not get excited about, but dammit the idea of Kimi driving for our team next year, with Renault engines and all, is just too much to not mention!! Do you know if there is any truth to these rumours, and whether it is likely to spell a possible return for Kimi, to help build up our once great team and generally get F1 twice as exciting in the process?!


I will speak to Adam Parr about it in Singapore


You say that so casually... what a great job you have! Cheers James 🙂


Michael has done little to improve the once great Williams in fact has been a key player during the demise of the team.


Interesting reading 2 1/2 years later. Sam has not helped in anyway that I can see. Time for him to go.

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