F1 Winter Break
Blow to Toro Rosso as top F1 engineer leaves – Engineering merry go round begins
Phil Charles
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Oct 2016   |  2:00 am GMT  |  30 comments

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.

Phil Charles

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.

Ciaron Pilbeam

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.

What do you make of the F1 engineering market? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Since James Key was at Sauber I thought he did some clever things, I like the ingenuity the has been seen and at times the bigger teams do end up snapping up this sort of talent.

Let’s hope 2017 brings new approaches to the cars.


Seems like almost everyone commenting to this point went nearly straight to the “news” about RD. Why do you suppose that is?

What are the real chances that Brawn will actually return to the Circus?


James Key to Ferrari; get it done!


Regarding the Mclaren issue its worth remembering Ron has created the dynamic that has made them a UK version of Ferrari with bells on thanks to all the other technology offshoots.
And on top of that they race in F1.
As Ron own’s 25% i guess if the rumour is true we can still see him around the team if they start doing well next year.


unrelated but it’s bugging me : the picture doesn’t seem to be austin start line but suzuka’s ??

Ron Dennis to leave McLaren ??????? that’s a shocker, or do I not understand correctly ” not continue his rule there beyond the end of his year” ?

I root for James Allsion to go to Mclaren…they need help….I would hate not see at least one more podium from ALO before he retires !!!


Empty your cache

We’ve been writing about Ron needing to come up with the money for a couple of years. Read the McLaren & Apple story https://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2016/09/insight-why-is-apple-being-linked-with-f1-takeovers-and-whats-up-at-mclaren/


I find it strange that an engineer can leave a team before the season ends. My feeling is that the arrival of John Boothe has led to a review and subsequent recommendations which showed certain weaknesses at TR leading to Charles’ departure. Maybe they should try and get Max’ former engineer Xevi Pujolar back. According to Max in the Dutch newspapers he was the best engineer they had.


Any update on the legal dispute between Mercedes and McLaren over Loic Serra? Heard he was set to move to McLaren, but Mercedes said he’s changed his mind…


Really a shame Allison rejected Williams. Obviously, they can’t compete with what Mercedes or McLaren would offer him so it’s no surprise but I’d love to see what he could do for them in terms of competitiveness. I read somewhere (maybe on here, I don’t remember) that Key could be a target for Williams too, so that’d be great for them as well. Unfortunately, I feel like they’ll always be stuck in an endless cycle of mediocrity as long as they keep taking pay drivers with more cash than talent. I haven’t read the best things about Stroll. Apparently the money he brings is his number 1 draw. At any rate, I’d hate to see Allison go to Mercedes. I have no hate for Mercedes as a team but I want to see McLaren back on pace and he’d certainly help them. Should be interesting to see where he winds up.


Customer team like Williams don’t win championships!! History says that!!!
Hence, any top personnel would rarely go to customer team!! So I see no surprise when Allison has rejected Williams.


so the 9 constructors championships that william’s have won count for nothing in your history of formula 1?


Unfortunately not any more.
The days of garagisti winning the championships are long gone.
Don’t like it, but it is, what it is.


During those years were they customer team or works team??

Currently Williams is a customer team.


I’ve done the job for you and looked up the history. Williams were constructors champions in 1980, 81, 86, 87, 92, 93, 94, 96 & 97. Drivers champions were 1980 Allan Jones, 1980 Keke Rosberg, 1987 Nelson Piquet, 1992 Nigel Mansell, 1993 Alain Prost, 1996 Damon Hill and 1997 Jaques Villeneuve. Over those years they have used Ford, Honda and Renault engines.


Little correction, Rosberg won in ’82 (With only one lucky win). 🙂


Williams were factory backed by both Honda & Renault. Check your facts


Williams have always been an independent team. Whether you call them a customer team or factory backed is just semantics. Any engine supplier to a customer will surely provide factory backing.


NO it doesn’t happen that way, which is the very reason why Mclaren shifted to Honda from 2015, even though it was quite clear that Mercedes engines (2014 onwards) were far superior to to its rivals.
Mclraren already were running with Mercedes engines in 2014…


@RichardDu – there is a considerable difference between an independent team that buys standard spec issued engines (or PU), to a factory supplied engine/ technical partnership that comes from being a factory backed F1 team. It’s not semantics, it’s a fact of F1 both today & in its history.


Check your history and count up the number of F1 championships won by Williams!


During those years were they customer team or works team??
Eg:- Red bull are works team of Renault even though they have their own team on the grid.
Currently Williams is customer team for Mercedes!


Anyone but Mike Gascoyne, please.

Old joke: James KEY can unlock the performance of any car xD

Paddy Lowe is an excellent engineer.
In his McLaren years the car used to be bad born, but Paddy always managed to correct it along the year.
Hope Paddy goes back to McLaren.

Haas should hire Allison to start developing his own car, instead of a Dallara outsourcing.
JA could speed up the development of wings and barge boards.


Why would paddy lowe consider leaving mercedes? Surely he is moderately wealthy by now and mercedes would need him desperately for next seasons car as i would expect he was instrumental in the conception of the new and improved ’17 version. Maybe allison sees himself running the mercedes show and paddy doesn’t like it. Despite no competition clauses i should think that he’d be on many lists of desirable hires!


I guess Aldo Costa (together with Andy Cowell) was more instrumental than Paddy in all of the Merc success in past 3 years.


Thanks for the article. I really do like to see more information about the key people involved in the design direction of these machines. Drivers are great and get the glamour, but it’s the engineers who make the driver feedback and regulations come together. It’s great to understand their personalities, backgrounds and strengths.


The ousting of Paddy Lowe.
I bet Brawn has a big grin on his face ‘eh at goes around comes around’.
Mclaren won’t have Paddy back.
If Ron Dennis is off on his merry way as he couldn’t get enough dosh and backers then Brawn with be a sure bet for Mclaren.
Allinson at Mercedes well who’d thought that would happen (if it does happen).
In that case Ron Dennis for Bernie or Todts job.
Most teams are based in England it’s the hub of F1. Most engineers and designers know it’s the best place to be for F1. Unless you are Sauber and Ferrari who are at best, ticking along on auto pilot in snoresville😴


If Ron is out, I don’t see any good prospects for McLaren Honda partnership. Although, it is under his reigns the F1 team has made me remember Minardi F1 season after season.


Same colours



And if Ron stays, you also don’t see good prospects for McLaren Honda. So tell us something new!


Ron didn’t do the Honda deal, Whitmarsh did.

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