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


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


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 🙂


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Weakness or they simply filled a vacant position…


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.


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!


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.


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.


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?


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.


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


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


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.


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]


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


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.


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.

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