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McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season



McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season

McLaren has recently announced a three-person technical management structure, with Peter Prodromou, Neil Houldey, and David Sanchez taking over from tech director James Key. This decision comes after McLaren’s disappointing start to the 2023 F1 season, where they are currently in last place in the constructors’ standings.

McLaren has opted to replace its tech director James Key and adopt a three-person technical management structure, as the team is currently struggling in last place in the constructors’ standings Following an unsatisfactory beginning to the 2023 Formula 1 season.

Despite the MCL60 showing potential in qualifying for both the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian races, with a significant upgrade package on the horizon that Key and his superiors had high hopes for, one might question whether the team should have given him more time to improve the situation. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether the new management structure led by Peter Prodromou, Neil Houldey, and David Sanchez, who is currently on gardening leave from Ferrari, is a sound decision.

McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season

McLaren faced fundamental design and engineering issues in the beginning of two consecutive seasons, and their disappointment in not being able to maintain their progress up until 2021 put James Key’s position as tech director in an insecure position.

If a candidate emerged in the market whom team principal Andrea Stella favored and was qualified for the role, it made Key’s position even more vulnerable. Although Key is a talented individual, the technical director’s position demands too much, and the team’s ambitions do not allow for any complacency.

Ironically, the improvements Key has introduced to rectify the car’s shortcomings might very well put McLaren on an upward trajectory. However, there is a concern that the fundamental issues may still persist even after replacing the technical boss.

Over the past year or so, McLaren has been relying heavily on future projects, such as the new windtunnel and simulator for 2025, or the upcoming Azerbaijan upgrade, which is crucial to improving its 2023 car.


However, this approach has resulted in too much emphasis on “wait for this really good thing that’s definitely coming in the future.” In fact, the team has become so future-focused that its goal of having no excuses by 2025 was starting to sound like a convenient excuse for its current shortcomings.

McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season

It is clear that McLaren cannot continue to postpone necessary changes. The team is taking action now to salvage its ambition of being a frontrunner in 2025, rather than delaying that target by a few years. Regardless of whether these changes are the correct ones, McLaren is taking responsibility for its underachievement in the new ground-effect era thus far. Only time will tell if the changes made will effectively address the team’s shortcomings.

McLaren cannot afford to do nothing, as it would put at risk the target it has been working towards since starting major infrastructure projects in 2019.

The team’s decision to take action puts more pressure on achieving its 2025 target. However, for a team as ambitious as McLaren, waiting indefinitely is not a viable option.

The decision by McLaren to split the technical leadership role into a three-person structure highlights the challenges that modern grand prix teams face. Ideally, a single individual with complete oversight and final authority would be the best option. However, this job may be too vast and complex for one person to handle, and this is where a multiple-person structure may be necessary.

Even with the cost-cap era in F1, teams are still enormous. Tasks that would have been handled by one person, possibly even as a small part of their job, are now carried out by larger teams.

For a technical director, managing various technical groups and sub-groups alone would probably be a full-time responsibility, and Key appeared to have been effective in that regard. The question now is, what capacity does splitting the role into a three-person structure leave beyond that?


The decision by McLaren to switch back to a multi-person technical leadership structure raises questions about whether it is change for change’s sake or the implementation of a flatter structure that has learned from past mistakes.

The critical factor will be how well the new structure is set up and how clearly the lines of responsibility are demarcated. The structure’s success will depend on whether it can instill a coherent technical vision in the team.

Although a flatter structure could offer more potential, it is harder to make it work well. However, if a team lacks an Adrian Newey type of figure, which McLaren once had but lost, it is understandable why this direction appeals.

Regardless, it is a significant move for McLaren, as time is running out for the team to re-emerge as a true frontrunner, a goal it realistically needs to achieve at the latest in the first year of the new regulations in 2026. Although 2026 may seem far off, the actions taken now and in the early months of the new structure will be critical in determining whether McLaren can achieve this goal.

When a significant figure in F1 is let go by their team, it can be tempting to draw comparisons to the world of football, where management changes occur frequently. Some of this football fan mindset does seem to bleed over into F1’s new world.

For example, on social media, some fans blame Mike Elliott for Mercedes’ recent disappointment, as if he wasn’t an essential part of the technical teams that delivered Lewis Hamilton’s championship-winning Silver Arrows under the old regulations.

Designing an F1 car is an incredibly complex and costly process, and it is never as simple as one person. Even with the new insights that Ferrari’s David Sanchez may bring, replacing James Key with Sanchez alone will not be enough to significantly improve McLaren’s position in the order.

McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season

While it is important to acknowledge James Key’s achievements in F1, the responsibility for the underwhelming 2022 McLaren and the struggling 2023 McLaren ultimately falls on his shoulders as the tech director. It is possible to feel sympathy for Key while recognizing that it is not a personal issue and not a matter of blame culture. As with any high-performance team, the buck has to stop somewhere, and in this case, it stops with the technical director.

Formula 1 is a cutting-edge sport, and teams must be constantly making decisions and changes to stay competitive. Last year, McLaren made the decision to replace a second driver who was not meeting expectations, and although it was not a personal decision, it was made to improve the team’s performance. This decision turned out to be a masterstroke, as seen in Oscar Piastri’s impressive qualifying performance in Jeddah.

While a replacement for a technical director may not have the same immediate impact as a driver replacement, it is a move made for similar reasons.

McLaren’s decision to replace James Key as the technical director is driven by the team’s underperformance, which is evident from their position in the constructors’ table. The move was made to improve the team’s prospects and ensure they remain competitive in the sport.

James Key was once considered a potential replacement for Adrian Newey, which shows how much the perception of him has changed in recent times. Despite this, he is still regarded as a very intelligent individual who has achieved significant accomplishments in his career.

Throughout his career, Key has always been interested in being part of a complete team that could design a complete car, rather than just assembling parts supplied by a sister team. This was one of the reasons why he moved from Toro Rosso to McLaren. However, this has now turned around to cause problems for him, as McLaren has struggled with their car design under his leadership.

McLaren has been openly critical of its windtunnel and simulation tools for over a year now, as they have not been updated for many years. This lack of modernization has led to a downward spiral in the team’s performance, as outdated tools cannot keep up with the evolving demands of the sport.

Although using the Toyota wind tunnel in Germany is a viable solution for McLaren, it is not as practical as having their own in-house facilities. Relying on external resources can be challenging, as it adds logistical and scheduling hurdles that must be overcome. Having their own facilities would give the team more control over the design process and allow them to work more efficiently.


There is a valid argument that McLaren should have given James Key more time to demonstrate his capabilities, especially considering the ongoing period of improving their facilities. If Key needed more manpower in the technical group, McLaren could have provided it, as it would strengthen the team in the long run.

Losing Key is a loss for McLaren, as he is an intelligent individual who has achieved notable accomplishments in his career. However, the team clearly felt that changes needed to be made to improve their competitiveness and meet their ambitious goals, and they made the difficult decision to part ways with Key.

While James Key’s departure from McLaren is undoubtedly a loss for the team, there are rumors that a certain Italian team that runs a red car may be looking to strengthen its technical group. It is no secret that Ferrari has been struggling in recent years, and they may be looking to recruit experienced personnel to help turn their fortunes around. Whether or not Key ends up with Ferrari remains to be seen, but it is clear that his expertise and knowledge of F1 design and engineering would be valuable to any team looking to improve.

When McLaren appointed James Key to lead their latest revival in mid-2018, it was a well-deserved reward for his career of overachievement at teams with limited resources. It was also a pragmatic move for McLaren, which was struggling during a low point in its F1 history. Rather than chasing a “glamorous” name, the team recognized that a competent technical head who had excelled in the midfield was the right choice for their situation.

During James Key’s tenure at McLaren, the team achieved a race win and showed promising signs of breaking out of the midfield and into the lead pack in the longer term.

This was a significant accomplishment, considering the team’s struggles in the past and the limited resources available to them. Key played an instrumental role in helping McLaren return to the front of the grid and cementing their status as a competitive team.

Although the design missteps of the last year and a half have understandably alarmed McLaren, it is important to note that James Key’s tenure at the team overall should not be considered a failure. Key played an instrumental role in helping McLaren return to the front of the grid and achieve a race win, which is a significant accomplishment for a team that had struggled in the past.


While changes have been made to the technical leadership structure, it is important to recognize Key’s contributions to the team’s success and acknowledge that his departure is not a reflection of his entire McLaren tenure.

Despite his departure from McLaren, James Key’s expertise and knowledge of F1 design and engineering make him a valuable asset for any team looking to improve.

Franz Tost, Key’s former boss at Toro Rosso, was highly critical of his technical team last week, which further highlights the value of someone with Key’s experience and expertise. It is possible that Key could find a good fit at AlphaTauri, which has been known to take chances on talented individuals with potential.

F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season F1 2023 McLaren replaces technical director James Key in bid to salvage season