The Toro Rosso Formula 1 team has suffered a blow on the eve of the US Grand Prix as chief race engineer Phil Charles is leaving the team, according to sources in Italy.
Charles was a pivotal figure in the senior engineering management, working under technical director James Key, whose own future has been the subject of much speculation with Red Bull Racing and Williams both rumoured to be battling over his services.
Charles, who was close to the end of a three-year stint as chief race engineer for the Faenza team, has not travelled to Austin for this weekend’s US Grand Prix. It is believed that his motive for leaving the team was due to his family not being happy in Italy, rather than any issues with the team.
Under Key and Charles, Toro Rosso has improved its competitiveness, although the second half of this season has been a struggle with a year old Ferrari engine. Next season the team is expected to move forward with the works Renault engine fitted to its 2017 chassis.
UK domiciled engineers working for Toro Rosso, Ferrari and Sauber in continental Europe tend to get only limited days per month in the UK, much less than top engineers at UK based teams manage. Charles has a young family and that appears to have taken priority in this situation.
The development comes as the F1 engineering market is beginning to move with some top engineers swapping places in the coming months.
McLaren’s chief engineer Ciaron Pilbeam is rumoured to be moving to Renault next season, with Fernando Alonso’s senior engineer Andrea Stella a likely candidate to take up the chief engineer role at the Woking outfit.
The key question remains the future destination of James Allison, who quit Ferrari earlier this season. Allison is understood to have now rejected moves to Renault and Williams. He is unlikely to go to Red Bull and has already rejected McLaren in the past. However, we believe that Ron Dennis may not continue his rule there beyond the end of his year and that change of culture may cause Allison to reconsider.
On the face of it, his most likely move, if he were to come back, would be Mercedes in place of Paddy Lowe. The Mercedes technical boss is negotiating his new contract at the moment and there has been speculation about his ongoing role there, although we have not seen anything that suggests he would not continue.
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