What’s triggered F1’s team boss merry-go-round?

Formula 1

Just look at how Sebastian Vettel’s decision to retire before F1’s summer break set off a chain of events that ended up with Fernando Alonso at Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly at Alpine and Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri (and that’s ignoring the Oscar Piastri to McLaren shenanigans).

What is much rarer is for this kind of crazy merry-go-round to involve Formula 1 team principals to the extent it has this week.

While movement of top brass is not uncommon in F1 – as Otmar Szafnauer’s switch from Aston Martin to Alpine last winter showed – the fact that four teams are going to have new team bosses next season is pretty extreme.

In fact, it’s hard to recall a day as crazy as this, where Ferrari confirming a new team principal in Fred Vasseur was overshadowed by the shock of McLaren losing Andreas Seidl and promoting Andrea Stella to replace him.

While this week’s changes at Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, McLaren and Williams are all the consequence of slightly different circumstances, there is one common theme that unites them: it’s that in F1’s cost cap era, the buck stops at the team boss like never before.

There was a time, even as recent as a few years ago, when one of the key roles of the team principals was to go to the company board, or parent car manufacturer, and try to extract the funding needed to get the proper job done.

And, if the desire was to move up the grid, turn around a potential decline, or address getting a car concept wrong, then the best way to get things sorted was to ask for another cheque to be written so that a team could spend its way to better performance.

Press Conference Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Press Conference Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Those days are long gone now though. With the budget cap in place, F1 is no longer a spending competition where mistakes can be covered up with extra cash.

Instead what matters now is being efficient, being disciplined, having a proper plan in place and, above all else, being smart.

Finite budgets, which are equal up and down the grid, mean there is also no longer the means to hide behind the excuse that rivals are only doing better because they have got bigger budgets.

Everyone has now got the same. So mess it up, and it’s only your own fault.

In contemporary F1, team principals have more responsibility than ever for whether or not ambitions on track have been achieved.

In Jost Capito’s case, Williams had not delivered on the progress that owner Dorilton Capital had anticipated under F1’s new rules era, so the decision was taken not to continue with him and his tech signing FX Demaison.

For Mattia Binotto, his resignation came after Ferrari chairman John Elkann and CEO Benedetto Vigna lost faith in him because they believed that Maranello had not delivered all that it should have been capable of during the 2022 campaign.

The trend from Ferrari in going for Vasseur, and Sauber in luring Seidl as its new CEO, is in going for senior management figures who understand well what’s best needed with this cost cap mindset.

Performance these days does not come from bringing a front wing upgrade at every race, because the money is simply not there under the tight budget ceiling to allow that to happen.

Instead, progress is about doing better in areas where gains effectively must come for free.

You need to know where staffing levels and appointments should be best focused so that there is maximum bang for buck from every member of the organisation.

Andrea Stella, F1 Team Principal McLaren, Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing

Andrea Stella, F1 Team Principal McLaren, Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing

Photo by: McLaren

You need to fully understand the rule and exemptions to guarantee that any spending is 100% aimed at driving car performance and not being wasted.

You need to ensure you’ve got the best of everything at all levels – from the designer who comes up with car concepts on a computer screen to the pit crew changing wheels on the GP Sunday.

At every step of the way, each individual needs to pull their weight, because there is no longer any redundancy in the system to cover up weaknesses.

That is why team bosses also need to be motivators and help drive their troops forward. They need to ensure their workforce has total belief in what they are doing and the journey they are being taken on.

Key now also is the timing of upgrades to find the Goldilocks spot. You don’t want to go in too hot with your upgrades early in the season to then leave you without anything later on as the money runs out.

Equally, go in too cold and leave the developments for the latter stage of the season and you risk being left behind.

Instead, you need to get things just right.

All of these elements are something that only a canny and experienced team principal, who knows the system and has lived and breathed it, can be expected to get right straight away.

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, McLaren, in the team principals Press Conference

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, McLaren, in the team principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

It is probably not a coincidence that, at the end of last year, McLaren under Seidl opened up a recruitment drive because it knew there were areas of spending it could improve on now that it knew how things worked best under the cost cap.

As Seidl said at the Abu Dhabi GP: “That’s why we have put in a lot of hard work, also together with the financial department, knowing that we are working in a cost cap environment as well, to find synergies and efficiencies within the current way how we do F1.

“That has allowed us now to start, pretty much two months ago, quite a significant campaign of hiring more engineers to simply have more people available, in order to be able, in the future, to do things more in parallel.

It is this cost cap-enforced change of approach, the need for experienced, steady and smart hands who can deliver, that has put team principals under the spotlight like never before.

Such an added influence brings with it extra responsibility, which means extra glory when things go right, but means you are now right in the firing line when they don’t.



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