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'Telephone number' pay offer swayed Lowe, says Neale

27 February 2013

McLaren's Managing Director Jonathan Neale has accused Mercedes of offering "telephone number salaries" in exchange for some short-term fixes to their internal problems at Brackley.

Neale blamed a sky-high pay offer from the rival team for Paddy Lowe's decision to leave the team where he had previously been McLaren's technical director. Lowe was reassigned on Monday and replaced in the position by Tim Goss, formerly the Director of Engineering at Woking.

"In the market place at the moment, if you've a team and you want to go out and buy some short-term know-how then you can pay telephone number salaries, if that's what your business model is," said Neale.

It's not yet been confirmed that Lowe will in fact join Mercedes at the end of the current season, but McLaren's announcement that he was being replaced as technical director all-but did the job and strongly suggested that Lowe will be on 'gardening leave' for the rest of 2013 in order to minimise the technical knowledge he's able to take with him to the rival Brackley squad.

"We will certainly miss Paddy, he has been with us a long period of time. He's been here 19 years, and I've personally worked with him for 12," said Neale. "He is a great guy and on a personal level I'm sorry to see him go and do something else."

It's understandable that McLaren are smarting over the latest loss of a member of their tea, to Mercedes, having already seen Lewis Hamilton exit at the end of last season to replace Michael Schumacher at the German marque. On that occasion - just as seems to be the case with Lowe - McLaren were simply unable to outbid their rivals when it came to sufficiently lucrative pay offers to retain their top talent.

"It's not unique to any one particular team," Neale admitted about Mercedes' current drive to buy-in talent from other teams on pit lane. "From time to time we have all done it."

"Paddy is an incredibly talented, boffin type of character," former world champion Damon Hill told Sky Sports News on Tuesday. "He will be a valuable asset for Mercedes and I would have thought that McLaren will be gutted to have lost him."

But Hill warned Mercedes that bringing in a rush of new talent could have negative repercussions down the line, and pointed to the current instability and uncertainty already perceived within the Mercedes senior management as an example.

"There was a little bit of a rattled cage from Ross Brawn when the news came out that Paddy might be going to Mercedes," said Hill. "I think there is still some manoeuvring around that will be done in the technical department."

With Nikki Lauda getting very hands-on with the F1 team and former Williams executive director Toto Wolff replacing Norbert Haug as Mercedes' head of motorsport over the winter, team principal Brawn has been in danger of looking squeezed out of the team that he originally founded out of the old Honda team, and led to a world championship with driver Jenson Button in 2009.

"There has been a lot of change," agreed Hill. "Nikki Lauda has moved in, Norbert Haug has left.

"There has to be some sort of change of order at Mercedes to make the assets that they are taking on board work properly and produce a winning combination, which after all is what Mercedes are investing an awful lot of money in doing."

Lauda continues to insist that Brawn's position at Mercedes is safe and that there have been no discussions about his leaving the squad.

However, Lauda and the Mercedes team were also clearly caught out by the timing of McLaren's announcement of Lowe's reassignment which all-but blows open the 'secret' that Lowe is moving to Mercedes at the end of the current season. Mercedes' lack of confirmation that this is the case also means that it's yet to be revealed what he will be doing at Mercedes - and whose job he will be taking.


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