Sauber has lost its technical director, James Key, just weeks before the start of the new F1 season. The Englishman made a similar unexpected move before, announcing in late February 2010 that he was leaving Force India to take up the position at Sauber.
When he started work there, after a short gardening leave, he helped to stabilise the Swiss team after a start to the season riddled with reliability and performance problems. Sauber was struggling to adjust from being a manufacturer backed team under BMW to being a privateer again.
In both the last two seasons Sauber scored 44 points, which put them eighth in 2010 and seventh last season. Key, like his mentor Mike Gascoyne, is good at getting plenty of “bang for a buck”, as the saying goes, getting good results on modest resources in other words.
“I’ve enjoyed the past two years working at the Sauber F1 Team,” said Key in a statement. “It has been a very intense and interesting time, in which we had to manage the transition from a much larger team to a smaller one, and everybody handled that very well.
“I think the team is now well set for the future and I wish it the very best. I have been offered a new role back in the UK, which I decided to accept.”
Team boss Peter Sauber said that Key had played an important role in the restructuring of the team. But one of the drivers Sergio Perez, showed his true feelings, lamenting the departure a few days before the new car is unveiled and testing begins.
The Mexican posted on Twitter: “James Key’s exit from the team comes at the worst moment, but we have a great team and we will push forward. There’s a great year ahead.”
Sauber will now move to a new structure where the heads of the aerodynamics, design, performance and operations divisions will take responsibility for managing the technical development of the new Sauber car.
Key speaks of a “new role” and it’s interesting that several technical directors have moved teams recently, taking up other roles within organisations: Aldo Costa left Ferrari to report to the technical director of Mercedes; Sam Michael quit Williams to become Sporting Director of McLaren.
Key’s destination is not clear at present but there are several contenders in the UK: Mercedes are taking a wider view and there may be a role there; he worked with Gascoyne at Jordan/Force India and Caterham has been hiring some big names lately, while Marussia Virgin has moved to new premises in Banbury and is building up its capabilities as a constructor, after the failed outsourcing experiment with Wirth Research. Williams is also restructuring its technical department with many new names coming in.