There are staffing changes afoot at Mercedes. It’s no secret, 2010 has been something less than banner season for the Brackley-based squad. Ross Brawn recently stated that their problems this year stem largely from downsizing that occurred in the wake of the management buyout of the team from Honda, at the end of 2008.
Brawn’s world-beating car of 2009 had been developed during 2008, when the team was fully staffed and funded by Honda. At one time, engineers were running three separate wind tunnels simultaneously. A combination of time, money and a willingness to take a novel approach to certain design elements (the 2008 Honda was such a dog, they had little to lose), enabled Brawn to steal a march on their competitors.
But when Brawn turned to the design of their 2010 car, they were embroiled in the 2009 title race, which tied up some of their resources. And those resources had been diminished. While Honda had bequeathed a considerable amount of funding to Brawn as a part of the buyout deal, the team was nevertheless forced to streamline staff and budget. It was partly for this reason that Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug was able to claim that acquiring the team would represent a savings in the long run, when compared to Merc’s outlay as a partner of McLaren.
Ross Brawn has said that the combination of budgetary constraints, and the fact that they were building on the foundation of a very successful chassis from 2009, led the team to take a more conservative approach for the 2010 car. The result has been an aesthetically pleasing car (it’s perhaps the best looking car on the grid) that is merely mediocre in terms of performance.
The team continues to operate on a smaller scale than it did during its peak Honda years. That isn’t necessarily a curse. Both Honda and Toyota, perhaps the largest and best-funded teams during the recent manufacturer’s era, proved that size and wealth are no guarantees of success. But if the team intends to be successful, clearly they will need to find new efficiencies.
Fortunately, wringing the best possible performance from an organization is one of Ross Brawn’s great talents. When he joined Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1997, he was largely credited for bringing order to chaos, and turning the team from a paddock joke into a juggernaut. He said, at the time, that he was bringing British methods to the Italian spirit. It’s largely because of the organizational structure that he put in place that Ferrari continues to be a formidable force on the grid.
As for Mercedes GP, Brawn still has his work cut out for him. While Mercedes brings new resources to the team, they have no plans to return to the budget and staffing levels enjoyed during the Honda years. So Brawn has gone back to the drawing board, determined to maximize the organization currently in place.
One of the rumored changes: Jock Clear, Nico Rosberg’s race engineer, will be promoted to director of engineering, and Tony Ross, Rosberg’s engineer at Williams, will be poached from Rosberg’s former team to join him at Merc. This would be a replay of an earlier talent theft from Williams. Jock Clear, it will be remembered, followed Jacques Villeneuve from Williams to the nascent Brackley-based team when it was first organized around the 1997 world champ, and known as BAR.
While no staffing changes at Mercedes have been confirmed, Rosberg recently told Autosport, “We must make changes because the way it has been now has not been good enough. The changes are mainly a lot of the things that have come from Ross – procedures that he has analyzed and asked people to improve. We have gone through all the areas where we need to do better, move personnel around, get new personnel and get the best out of communication. There are a lot of changes happening and there need to be because we are not the best yet.”
Rosberg was also quick to point out that the staffing changes wouldn’t create redundancies: “It is important that no one is going to get fired. It is just getting the best out of what we have.”