McLaren F1 technical overhaul continues with capture of Toro Rosso star James Key
Posted By: Editor   |  26 Jul 2018   |  12:47 pm GMT  |  110 comments

James Key’s name has been linked with several moves in F1 over the past two years, as a key target in the technical director ‘transfer market.

But McLaren’s aggressive reorganisation of the team’s technical staff has proved the incentive he was looking for as he has signed up to join the Woking team.

McLaren need rebalancing after a torrid four years where they had a disaster with Honda, which they blamed on the Japanese manufacturer and then with a customer Renault engine faed little better and an awful lot worse than the two other teams using the same engine; Renault and Red Bull.

This season has fallen well below their expectations, achieving only two points finishes in the last six races, and this has prompted numerous staff changes in recent months, including the departures of team director Eric Boullier, chief technical officer (chassis) Tim Goss and engineering lead Matt Morris.

McLaren confirmed this morning that Key will become the latest McLaren technical director.

The acquisition of Key is a big win for McLaren, who need to get momentum back into their F1 challenge. Key made a name for himself with the Jordan team and then Force India, getting plenty of ‘bang for buck’ and he has continued to shine at Toro Rosso.

He was looking for a route back to the UK and has been linked with Red Bull, Williams and other potential moves. He is likely to bring in some trusted engineering lieutenants with him as he restructures the McLaren technical department. He has a strong history of working with Renault from his Toro Rosso experience.

Having used Honda power units from 2015-2017, McLaren’s switch to Renault caused optimism amongst fans, with the team previously suggesting that they have had one of the best chassis on the grid in recent years.

Giancarlo Fisichella en route to a first pole position for Force India in the James Key-designed VJM02 at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.

Key’s chance to break from the midfield

With his Formula One career beginning at the Jordan team in 1998, Key rose through the ranks as the team transitioned through its various guises – Midland, Spyker and finally Force India.

In the role of technical director at Force India, he oversaw the team climb from back-markers to podium challengers in 2009, before leaving for Sauber for 2010.

He helped change the fortunes at Sauber, too. Prior to leaving for Toro Rosso in 2012, the Swiss team were challenging for podiums and have failed to hit the same heights since.

At Toro Rosso, he’s been praised for continuing his form of creating good cars from a tight budget, with the team consistently finishing around seventh in the constructors’ championship.

A move to McLaren is the first time Key has worked for what could be described as a ‘big team’, and it will be intriguing to see how well he does with a bigger budget and more resources available to him.

By: James Allen & Luke Murphy

All images: Motorsport Images

What do you think of Key’s pending move to McLaren? Do you think it will be beneficial for both McLaren and Key? Leave your comments in the section below.

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When Adrian Newey asked for shares in the company, Ron should have said yes. (He’d still be there).


This should be a positive move For McLaren,. Probably for Key as well. He’s been in charge of producing fast , nimble cars for some years now. Trouble is, even with a genuinely good chassis, they’re going to find themselves in a midfield of good cars, but stuck with a Renault PU, so they’re never going to move higher than fourth/fifth best team. Key’s association this year with Honda initially gave me hope that he might be able to build bridges back to them, but, thinking further about it, I imagine that even the corporate might of Honda are likely to let RB call the shots, and Marko would happily stamp on any such scenario.


The issues with McLaren are not going to be solved with the arrival of a “bang for the buck” man. The problems lay elsewhere.

The mere fact that people still believe the misdirection Zac and others spewed about Honda is evident that the masses are in denial about McLaren’s true issues. ZAc has run out of people and organizations to blame – in fact Honda wanted out way before Zac got the message – he then went into damage control – something Honda couldn;t care less about as long as it got them out.

Next year Honda will show its might when paired with an equally mighty team of designers, engineers and racers.

McLaren needs to get rid of others before it can make any positive changes.


Hope he likes chocolate …


It’s a great and apparently aggressive move on mclaren’s part. Tost isn’t too pleased. James has a keen mind and has over the years developed unique aero concepts often copied. I wish him well.


STR can not be at all pleased with this development. Seems they may not be willing to let Key go without financial compensation, Lando Norris, or both. Time will tell but this may be a boost for McLaren or another false dawn.


Maybe they should start to set up new goals for themselves. To be a strong midfield team.


There is no reason they should be where they are. Except for wrong people at the wrong places. So much time and money wasted already, and no one left to blame outside the team. If they still have the money, they need to start changes on large scale, from management to drivers.


McLaren have no good idea about what they are doing it seems. There are talks about Indy, this or that no fokus at all, at least not on what should be their main, or probably only focus, getting their F1 team functional


McLaren have already announced that they will not participate in Indy next year. What else do they need to do to convince you?

They have made two moves so far – firing Eric and the hiring Key which is huge. Key may well have been successor and Marko isn’t happy – acting like a petulant child which in this case is understandable because Key’s departure will hurt them substantially. Not a Marko fan, it pleasures me to see him squirm:)

I think Zak Brown is backing up his words and more changes will come.

McLaren have to change things up and since they are so steeped in their ways, it won’t be overnight. Brown currently runs (or co-runs) a highly successful racing organization so it isn’t as if he doesn’t have a clue.

In any case, I fail to see how anyone that roots for McLaren would be anything less than ecstatic by this. If it doesn’t work out so be it. But to stay stagnant and hope for the best is not an option if success is to be achieved.


Looks real bad for McLaren. Can’t understand anything of what they have been doing for many years now, but they are good at throwing away money left and right. Where will this lead? Judging from previous years probably nowhere.


Dear Luke or Editor, or whoever,

Your term “Capture” in the story title, indicates your mindset. Like Key has no mind of his own. You are editorializing. Key to understanding this story!


@ gene herbert…. ‘Captured’ is certainly the wrong interpretation! The best term that i can come up with is ‘seduced’, either by swallowing a large dose of snake oil or a massive amount of financial inducement…or both! Nothing wrong with that except the possibility that if he fails it won’t look too special on the CV but if he succeeds then whoopty doo……


I have liked Key for a while now. I’m sad to see him dive into that dumpster fire.


I watched the Bruce McLaren documentary a couple of days ago – what a story.

I think the modern-day team needs more engineers and visionaries, and fewer marketeers and apologists.


Slightly off an a tangent, but doesn’t that Force India look weird now with its tall, narrow rear wing? Shows how quickly we get used to the changes in designs and regulations!


that high narrow rear wing and high nose, always, always looked weird.


It is quite a scoop!

I’d love to see Key at a top team.

However… he is not going to a top team.

He’s going to a team which is just a few years behind arriving at where Williams currently finds it self.

The problem at McLaren is still there!

After two to three years, when more wood is need for the fire, they’ll throw Key into the furnace to, yet again, deflect from where the real problem is.

McLaren will never turn it around with Brown ‘supposedly’, at the helm.

One could almost think he was brought in to purposely sink the team.


The definition of negative thinking.


There is a whole layer of management that needs to go. The freddo bars mentality sums it up for me. So wrong on so many levels.


While Brown is no technical genius he should be better at management. He has recently been put in sole charge of the f1 team and the board will give him a couple of years to turn things around. He may surprise us but as a renault customer he has his work cut out. I assume he hopes that Key can buuild them a clone of the red bull and that is probably their best hope under current regs!


I’m interested to know what you think the problems at McLaren are and what they need to do fix them? Brown can’t be the only problem within the team, the problems at McLaren started before Brown was put in charge. I’m not convinced by him either but I realise that it must be a lot more complicated than blaming it purely on him.


@ Ben…..Exactly that.

Anand Ramaswamy

agree with most comments here – McLaren is a shadow of the past post Ron era. It has become accustomed to being in the mid-field (tail end of it that too) and signing James Key who wouldnt be promoted to Red Bull is another case in point. GOne are the days of haggling with RBR (Newey, Promodoru, Honda engines), Mercedes (Lowe, Lewis etc.) and even long gone are the mighty battles with Ferrari (both on track and off it).

Whatever they do, get rid of Zak Brown – he is as clueless and I am sure impatient given his background is in media (fluff) and not running a racing team (technical).

Either bring back RON or poach a like of Toto Wolff or C Horner to run the team.


Ron was right about moving away from MB as they do not get equal engines,just that Honda and Renault not up to job.As long as there is this rubbish engine formula with two dominant engines nothing will change.


The guy that went to Williams had not so good an effect


But now Williams are getting Mercedes parts for next year Paddy may pull a rabbit out of the hat after all!


Brown is an idiot, he is a marketer not a leader or the type of guy that will inspire the best and brightest to work for you. He’s cost McLaren $100 million and works engine deal. Rather than find a way to make Honda relationship work, he essentially scapegoated them and now they’ve dug a hole so deep there is little hope of climbing back out. No engine manufacturer will want to work with McLaren now. Changing liveries and logos won’t win you championships Zak!


@ Racer416…That’s a heavy duty accusation there!!! I’d be interested to know what qualifications you have that enables you to level such criticisms at Zac Brown. No doubt you have both a superior intellect and an inside run on the way that McLaren F1 operate on a day to day basis and also their longer term strategies.


I’ve been a fan of James Key’s work for sometime, most of the time it looks right and as such works well.

If he’s given the time and trusted to do the job he should succeed, especially having worked with Honda over the last year.

BUT, is it too late to make a difference for 2019?


Was going to compare his move with Boullier’s, where someone expert at getting a lot from a small team and budget floundered in a ‘big team’, but McLaren these days simply aren’t a big grandee team any longer.

Hope he does well, but unfortunately I think the problem may well still be there… at the very top, and in the cockpit.


A good signing! If McLaren shareholders have the money to spare they should “raid” FIndia – some great people there and I’m surprised they are not in greater demand.




I don’t see much hope for Mclaren. To me they just seem to make mistake after mistake. They are poor in every area. A simple example is the last race, they asked Alonso to pit for inters despite him saying it was too early. It’s fine to take a risk but the thing is Leclerc who he was battling with did the same strategy so why mirror from behind? Even their pit stops are slow.

In my view their driver pairing of Button and Alonso was ideal for a clueless team that now still can’t even figure out what’s fundamentally wrong with their car. They’ve got a smaller budget and threw away Honda and 50 million for Renault. Renault who have been around all along unlike Honda, and so have no excuse for such a POS power unit. Was happy to see Deitrich from Red Bull recently call out the Renault PU as below average over the last few years. Mclaren.. just a formerly great team that now seem a bunch of clowns.


Oh crap.

I’m a bit of a McLaren fan.

I agree with every word you typed.

Crap again!


It’s not the technical team that is McLaren’s problem, it’s their arrogance, which historically has always been the case. I’m not sure Zak Brown is the right man for the top role.


If he doesn’t drown in the Mclaren factory he will do well.

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