Mercedes’ announcement of a major reshuffle of its Formula 1 technical department marks a changing of the guard moment ahead of the dawning of a new era in the sport. 

It comes less than a year after engine guru Andy Cowell’s departure and will take effect from 1 July, with technical director James Allison stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities to move into a new role as chief technical officer. 

Allison, who joined the team at the start of 2017, will take charge of longer-term strategic planning in the newly-created CTO position, while Mercedes’ technology director Mike Elliot will step into Allison’s current role. 

A planned ‘evolution’ 

Allison’s decision did not come as a shock for Mercedes, and it is a move that has been taken with an eye on the forthcoming era as the team looks to keep on winning.

While attempting to quell the threat to its superiority in F1 coming from a resurgent Red Bull this year, Mercedes must simultaneously focus its efforts on preparing for sweeping new technical and sporting regulations in 2022. 

The introduction of a brand new car and enforcement of a strict budget cap will present Mercedes with its biggest challenge to date if it is to continue its success into next year and beyond.  

As a result, it has been planning its long-term strategy to cope with the biggest overhaul to the rules in F1 since the V6 hybrid era (and its current spell of dominance) began in 2014. That included a period of transition and a succession plan for Allison.

Allison explained that he felt the timing was right to “pass on the baton” having considered the “shelf life” that senior team members have in F1, while team boss Toto Wolff spoke of his delight to retain Allison’s pivotal services. 

“Since joining Mercedes in 2017, James has been an exceptional technical leader for our team, and he has made an enormous contribution to our performance: he combines huge passion and determination with detailed expertise and exceptional moral character,” Wolff said. 

“We have known for a while that his time as technical director would be coming to an end this year and I am delighted that we have been able to shape this new role to keep him within our motorsport family.

"He will be an important sparring partner for me in the next years and I know that we still have much to achieve together.”

For Allison - one of the instrumental figures behind Mercedes run to seven consecutive world championship doubles - his new role will act as a fresh challenge and drive. 

Who is Allison's successor?

The man tasked with filling the very big shoes of Allison is Mike Elliot. 

Elliot has cemented himself as a key figure within Mercedes’ engineering team since his arrival in 2012, initially as head of aerodynamics, before he moved into his most recent position of technology director. 

The 47-year-old has primarily focused on aerodynamics during his years at Mercedes, spending three years on the race team and two years working on the effect of aerodynamics on vehicle handling, proving him a rounded understanding of car performance. 

That experience will prove invaluable heading into the position of technical director - which is the most influential role relating to outright car performance. Elliot started out in F1 as an aerodynamicist at McLaren, before he switched to Renault at the same time Allison was at the team, with the pair eventually being reunited at Mercedes. 

Elliot is highly thought of at Mercedes, with Allison describing him as an “exceptional engineer” who will bring “freshness” to the technical department. 

“It has been a great pleasure and privilege to work for James earlier in my career at Renault, and for the past four years at Mercedes,” Elliot said of his promotion. 

“His track record in the sport speaks for itself, and he has been a fantastic team-mate and leader for me during that time. They are big shoes to fill and I am delighted that we will be able to call on his expertise in his new role as CTO. 

"It is an incredible privilege to be part of this team and I know that the leadership strength at every level through the company will be vital to our future success. I can’t wait to get started and to tackle the many exciting technical challenges ahead of us in the next months and years.”

And what of the long-term future? 

There is also the picture bigger to consider regarding the senior management structure at Mercedes for the longer term.

After much speculation about his future, Wolff committed to Mercedes in December as part of a deal that has seen him take on equal co-ownership of the team. The Austrian has the freedom to step down as team principal at any moment and transition into an executive role such as CEO or Chairman of the Board. 

Prior to that agreement, Wolff had admitted earlier in the year that his time at the helm of Mercedes has taken its toll on him, and he also gave the firmest indication yet that he is on the lookout for a successor.

"We had a great handover of responsibilities, whilst keeping the know-how and the senior leadership in the company while also not creating a bottleneck for the young talent to come up, this is something which I find very interesting and I am looking forward into the next few years,” Wolff explained in October. 

“It would very much make me proud to see a team principal coming up, taking over from me, and doing a better job than I could have done at that time. This is a really interesting project for me but I don’t feel that I would let the team down. 

“I’m a shareholder and I will stay with the team - that is what we’ve agreed with Daimler - but maybe then in another function. Whether it is CEO or chairman we haven’t figured out, but Daimler has very much given me the choice. 

“But before I transition into a new role, I need to make sure that somebody else is doing the 23 races and I can enjoy myself in front of a Zoom screen.”

Retaining Allison in a senior leadership role could be viewed as part of a wider master plan to prepare him for the possibility of becoming team principal in the future when Wolff eventually decides the time is right to stand aside.

 

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