James Allison says his decision to step away from the role of Mercedes Formula 1 technical director “arrived pretty clearly in my head during 2019”.
Mercedes announced a major reshuffle of its F1 technical department earlier this month, with technical director Allison to step away from day-to-day responsibilities and move into the newly created role of chief technical officer from 1 July.
With Allison changing his position to focus on longer-term strategic planning at Mercedes, he will be replaced as technical director by current technology director Mike Elliot.
Speaking about the role change publicly for the first time at this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Allison explained the thinking behind his decision.
“It was merely a question of organising the timing of that in a way that would allow it to be something where the company could grow in strength as a result of handing over to a really, really strong engineer in Mike Elliott,” Allison said.
“And to do so in a way that allowed the company to attack the championships without missing a step. It was a long time ago that I reached that in my own head, and then it takes a while to sort of get the building blocks in place to make it a reality.”
Allison cited his consideration of having a “shelf life” in F1 at the time of the announcement and went on to stress that he was keen not to “outstay my welcome”.
“I would much rather that that was done when I was still useful, than becoming an old sort of embarrassment,” he added.
“That was playing on my mind and also the period for which I was really comfortable and confident to commit for as technical director is what you’ve seen.
“And we have been collectively working to make sure that the transition from me to Mike would be a success and would give the company all the benefits that come from the vigour of a new set of hands in charge.
“It’s not just the opportunity for Mike that that produces, but there’s a sort of ripple effect through the company as a result. And it generally is a very healthy thing for a team.”
Allison revealed he thought he would have to leave the Mercedes entirely having reached his decision to step away as technical director, only for team boss Toto Wolff to come up with a new role for him.
“When I felt that this was the right thing for me and the best thing for the team to step away, I very much thought that I would be stepping away to my sofa to cheer the team from the sidelines as a punter,” he explained.
“I didn’t imagine that there would be a space for me in the team, having relinquished this brilliant job. Happily, Toto saw it a little differently. And between us we worked on the manner in which I could contribute to the team.”
Allison was hit by devastating personal tragedy when his wife, Rebecca, died suddenly from bacterial meningitis at the age of 47 in 2016, prompting him to quit his role at Ferrari.
Following some time away from the sport, Mercedes swooped in to secure the services of Allison in 2017. Allison acknowledged the tragedy of losing his wife has meant the “overall experience of being alive has had some difficulties attached to it in the last five years”.
Ultimately, Allison was left feeling convinced that the timing was right to take a step back at Mercedes.
“I know that it’s the right thing to do but a huge part of me is screaming at me, ‘What on earth are you doing?!’,” he added. “It’s a brilliant job.
“But it is definitely the right thing for me and it’s definitely the right thing for the team. And the second of those two is the more important.
“But I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to look back on this gilded period that I’ve been lucky enough to have late in my F1 career and just think how lucky I was to fall in with this group of people at this time, and be the technical director in what is arguably the most successful and amazing Formula 1 team that has ever been.”