There comes a time in the life cycle of elite sports when a team
must reinvent itself to stay ahead of the competition and stay
fresh. Those who have guided you to unprecedented success take
their leave while the next generation step up to take their places,
but more often than not, suffer teething troubles. In turn, this
allows rivals who have been biding their time to take their place
at the head of the order as ‘their’ cycle and time at the top
begins. This is a situation Mercedes finds itself in at the moment.
Some of the architects of its great success between 2014 and 2021
have moved on, with the team trying to find its footing in the
ground-effects era as Red Bull sweep all before it. The so-called
‘brain-drain’ from Mercedes continued recently with the departure
of Chief Technical Officer and long-time stalwart Mike Elliott from
Brackley. Elliott will inextricably be linked to the doomed zero
sidepod concept of the W13, which the team doubled down on for the
launch of the W14. He swapped jobs with James Allison in the
spring, who resumed the technical director role, before formally
leaving on October 31st, of his own accord and was not forced out.
But Elliott’s departure is the latest in a string of departures
from Mercedes over recent times, as the team looks to bridge the
gap from one era to the next. Costa, Cowell and Vowles In 2018,
Aldo Costa quit as Engineering Director, stepping down for family
reasons, with Mercedes losing the single most successful designer
in F1 history. Costa has 12 Drivers’ and 14 Constructors’ titles on
his CV following a spell with Ferrari during the Michael Schumacher
heyday before joining Mercedes at the start of its before he went
onto join chassis constructor Dallara. Engine guru Andy Cowell
stepped down in mid-2020 from his role as managing director of
Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains for new challenges, being
succeeded by Hywel Thomas. Cowell was responsible for the creation
of the class-leading Mercedes power units of the early turbo-hybrid
era, an area Mercedes has since been arguably overhauled by
Honda/Red Bull Powertrains. The drain continued this year with the
departure of strategy chief James Vowles, who took up the Team
Principal role at Williams. Vowles had run Mercedes on the ground
at races Toto Wolff had skipped, and with a ceiling in place,
elected to leave Brackley having been there through its BAR, Honda,
and Brawn days. In addition, Allison stepped down as technical
director in late 2020 to be replaced by Elliiott. For any team to
lose its engineering director, managing director of powertrains,
and strategy director, have two technical directors and chief
technical officers in two years in a handful of years is not the
environment in which titles can be won. What next for Wolff and
Mercedes? “Mike was my number one employee for many, many years in
terms of how he performed. We’re going to miss one of the most
clever people in the industry,” Wolff reflected on the departure of
Elliott to Sky Sports. “It was just a hard toll on him over those
many years, and I find it very remarkable that someone can say:
‘You know what, I need to do something else,’ rather than holding
on to this. “Formula 1 anyway is an incestuous environment, if
somebody is strong and says: ‘I’m done with it for the time being,’
that’s good.” “[The development of the car is] never the decision
of a single person. I think, as a group, we’re trying to build the
quickest race car, and obviously we were so far down the route with
that concept of the car that we thought maybe we got on top of it.
“We didn’t, that’s why we changed it. We put lots of plasters on
the car in order to be more competitive like we see now, but that
hasn’t got any correlation. “It’s no single person’s fault if a car
doesn’t perform. “It’s also not only one single person that makes
the car faster, and I think we have such a strength in the
organisation that you can take one out and everybody else is going
to cover that, and the other way around, so I don’t think that’s
going to change anything for next year.”

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