Mercedes made probably the biggest change in personnel a Formula One team can make. Having secured seven consecutive drivers’ and team championships their technical director James Allison decided to step back from front line activity.
This was announced in April 2021 when the team were about to launch upon the design of their new era ground effect cars and the person to replace the successful Allison was Mike Elliot.
Elliot had big boots to fill as Allison had delivered consecutive driver and team titles since joining the team from Ferrari in 2017. Prior to this James had been a senior figure in both Benetton and Renault during their championship winning years.
At the time it appeared strange Allison was stepping back but he claimed, “I firmly believe that people have a shelf life in senior roles in this sport and I have chosen to step away from my role as Technical Director in order to pass on the baton at the right time for the organisation and myself.
“I have enjoyed four and a half wonderful years as Technical Director, and it has been a special privilege to lead the technical effort of the team in that time. It is a great pleasure to be succeeded by Mike, an exceptional engineer in a tremendously strong group of senior leaders in the team,” said Allison.
Elliot had previously been in charge of aerodynamics for Mercedes and was perceived as the right man for the job as the big rule changes for 2022 required a new approach to gaining downforce from the under side of the car.
However, Elliot became the man who oversaw the fall of the mighty silver arrows from the position of domination. His W13 car won just one race in 2022 and the Brackley based team trailed home in third behind Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton became vocal about the design concept of the car and lobbied in the media for his engineers to change their approach when designing the 2023 car. Yet Elliot was defensive of the engineers work and claimed the DNA of the car was good and would bear fruit.
Shortly after the launch of the 2023 W14 it became clear the car was not competitive and both team boss Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton castigated the Mercedes car design.
Speaking after qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix where George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were over six-tenths down on pole-sitter Max Verstappen’s time, Toto was highly critical of his engineers car concept.
“I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually,” he told assembled media. “We gave it our best go, also over the winter, and now we just need to all regroup and sit down with the engineers, who are totally not dogmatic about anything.”
Toto’s diplomacy was lost on Lewis Hamilton who claimed the Mercedes team designers had not listened to his feedback on the 2022 W13 car and appeared to call for hers to roll.
“Last year, there were things I told them. I said the issues that are with the car,” Hamilton told BBC Radio 5 Live’s “Chequered Flag” podcast.
“I’ve driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs. I know what a car doesn’t need. I think it’s really about accountability.”
“It’s about owning up and saying, ‘Yeah, you know what? We didn’t listen to you. It’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’.”
Weeks later Elliot was replaced by the returning James Allison and the Mercedes PR machine claimed Mike was to move on and fulfil a more global future direction strategic role.
Yet Elliot continued to command respect amongst his design engineers and rumours suggest Allison has struggled to force them into line. The prevailing attitude within the design team was that their concept would eventually be better than Red Bull, but needs more time to be developed
In Mexico, Lewis Hamilton issued a coded message to the engineering team when he was questioned about the current development of Mercedes 2024 F1 challenger.
“There are a lot of engineers, nobody wants to copy anybody, they want to find their own way. But I think we are progressing. But I’ve heard that Red Bull are progressing, as well,” said Hamilton in a somewhat convoluted remark.
Clearly there is a residual impact from Mike Elliots siege mentality which refused to accept the W13/14 needed to be more ‘Red Bull like.’
Today, Hamilton’s nemesis is gone from Mercedes. The team announced Mike Elliott, who had been with the team for 11 years and through their record eight successive constructors’ titles, had chosen to depart after developing a technical strategy for the future.
“Mike has been one of the pillars of the team’s achievements over the past decade,” said co-owner and principal Toto Wolff in a statement. “And it’s with truly mixed feelings that we say goodbye to him today.”
‘Mixed feelings’ is not – “total sadness” or “with great regret” and clearly indicates that Mercedes are not gutted that Elliot is going.
“Mike is a fiercely intelligent technical brain and a great team-player; he has made a strong contribution not just to winning racing cars but also to building the culture of our team.
“But on the other side, it’s clear that he’s ready for new adventures beyond Mercedes, so I know this is the right step for him to take, too,” Wolff concluded.
So with James Allison back at the helm surely Mercedes will be soon be returning to their former glory?
Well. Allison is returning to lead a fractured team which is lacking in confidence and being regularly beaten by their customer power unit outfit McLaren.
Further, when Allison took on the TD role for the first time, the team was on a winning streak of 3 drivers’ and team championships but now they have been consistently 30 seconds slower than Red Bull for two years in the Grand Prix events.
Hamilton for now may be happy he has contributed to the Mercedes reshuffle, but we should not forget during the team’s first 7 driver and team titles, Elliot was leading the aerodynamics team which delivered success along with the V6 hybrid power unit.