Mercedes technical director James Allison has opened up on his first experience joining the reigning Formula 1 world champions having felt it “intimidating” trying to play his part at the team while also battling grief after his wife passed away.

In an open discussion about his career and experiences in F1 in a Mercedes video interview, Allison reflected on moving to Mercedes at the start of the 2017 season as its new technical director following the departure of Paddy Lowe to Williams.

Allison, who left Ferrari midway through 2016 to be closer to his family after the death of his wife Rebecca due to meningitis, believes Mercedes would continue to charge to F1 world titles even if he didn’t join the team in 2017 and felt pressure to meet its high standards as three-time F1 world drivers’ and constructors’ champions.

“It was intimidating and I think anxious is the wrong word but I certainly knew that I needed to be performing well in order to have an impact on the place,” Allison said. “It was anxiety-making or intimidating in a couple of ways.

“The first is it was a team that had already dominated the sport for three years running and it was a team full of engineers of the highest calibre. It was a very settled team with professionals in every level of the team who absolutely knew their job. Arguably they didn’t need me!

“They would have gone on to great things without my arrival at all and I was conscious that when I walked through the door for the first time that I was walking into a team that I hoped I could play a part in but that team would definitely be blisteringly strong whether or not I showed up.”

Allison also spoke about balancing his grief at losing his wife and returning to the hectic world of an F1 team, with the technical director taking up the role at Mercedes in the hope of finding a sense of normality.

“I was something of a wreck at the time, I am still grieving today four years on, but then I was crying in the car on my way into work and crying on my way home,” he said. “I hoped that I would be useful at work and find my feet again to be able to carve out some sort out world for myself after Becca died but it was more in hope than certainty.

“One of the things I feel particularly grateful to Mercedes for is that in a part of my life when everything was turned on its head and where nothing felt normal, the most familiar part of it was my work because there the rhythm of the racing season, the pressure to get a car out, the pressure to develop it, the thrill of winning and the challenges the season throws your way. All those things felt familiar and they were about the only parts of my life that did.”

The British designer says he is in debt to Mercedes and team principal Toto Wolff for providing him with the chance to rediscover a normal life and feel he could do something positive.

Allison has overseen Mercedes’ continued F1 domination, with the team and Lewis Hamilton picking up every world title since he joined in 2017.

“I didn’t know what the right thing to do was, at the time most of me wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out again,” he said. “But Toto gave me this opportunity and I hoped that as time passed that I would start to feel like I would want to reengage with the world and by the time I was walking in the factory gates at Brackley I was feeling a little stronger and a little more useful.

“I was able to get a sense that despite the pain of losing Becca there was still some use in me. As the weeks rolled by and turned into months and years that gamble that Toto took on me I hope I have repaid by being useful.

“I was very, very fortunate to be granted a place in a team that is extraordinarily warm hearted and with a group of people who didn’t need me but nevertheless opened their arms to me. They made me feel welcome by providing me with a space to work and created an environment for me where I could be useful and where I could breath and recover while having the most enviable and brilliant job in the whole pitlane.”

 

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