By general consensus this was an excellent weekend for the Ferrari team, only just coming up short of the race victory they felt might be possible and qualifying a tenth behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. It was a huge step forward and a boost to morale.
But in the background this weekend there have been strong indications from well placed sources suggesting that technical director James Allison is headed back to live in the UK after the tragic death of his wife Becky in March.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene had little choice at this point but to issue a denial and a strong one at that,
“It’s absolutely not true. James is our technical director. He went through a very difficult period that I would not wish on anyone to go through,” he said.
“We’re all around him and he with us. And this is the most important thing. Talking about him in the way I have read in the last few days, it shows a lack of respect, I am sorry to say so.”
Allison, 48, is an extremely strong man, but the sudden loss of his wife, mother of his three children, from meningitis was unbearable and most of his peers in the F1 paddock, especially those of the same generation, felt his agony.
He spent some time in the UK afterwards then returned to work in April and has been masterminding the development of the Ferrari car, which culminated in the performance step seen in Montreal this weekend.
Allison is regarded as one of the best engineering leaders in the sport. He was apprentice to Ross Brawn and has shuttled between Enstone under its guises of Benetton and later Renault and Ferrari, where he did his first spell under Brawn in the Michael Schumacher years.
Behind Adrian Newey and Paddy Lowe, his is probably the most valuable signature on an engineering contract in F1. James Key, who is currently at Toro Rosso, is in high demand, but Red Bull has made it clear that he will not be going anywhere.
If it turns out that Allison is headed back to the UK it will be a huge loss to Ferrari and he will be very hard to replace. He has strong chemistry with the two design leaders in chassis and engine, Simone Resta and Mattia Binotto and gets the best out of both. But Ferrari learned in the past with Aldo Costa, that a great designer doesn’t necessarily make a great technical director. It’s the job of a band leader, who knows where and how to deploy resources and Allison has taken on the Brawn mantle in that respect.
The team has Jock Clear in a chief operations role and he is beginning to make his presence felt after joining earlier this season following gardening leave from Mercedes. But operations is his game.
He knows Meredes’ operations better than anyone outside Brackley and the strategy moves in Canada bear the hallmarks of him and his strategy team feeling that an aggressive approach in the race was the only way to go; Ferrari couldn’t match Mercedes pace on the soft tyre so even though Vettel was leading in the first stint he was not likely to win by doing the same thing as Hamilton. The decision was to put Mercedes into a position where they needed to counter Ferrari’s move with a one-stop strategy, which was not the original plan.
For the second race in a row, Hamilton got the tyres to last and pulled off the win.
Allison has inevitably been linked with a move back to Enstone, which is close to the family home in south Oxford. The team has Fred Vasseur as team principal and Bob Bell in his customary technical overseeing role. There is certainly space to Allison there.
Time will tell, but there were enough people inside teams and the higher echelons of the sport at the weekend, who were talking openly of Allison returning to the UK to make it more than just media speculation.