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McLaren technical director James Key leaves team

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James Key, McLaren's technical director, has left the team after the team went through a structure change.

His role has apparently been split into 3 technical director positions.

Technical director James Key has left McLaren after a difficult couple of seasons and been replaced by a new design-office structure at the team.

Key's role has been split into three separate technical director positions under team principal Andrea Stella.

David Sanchez joins from Ferrari to lead car concept and performance.

He is joined by two internal promotions - Peter Prodromou on aerodynamics and Neil Houldley on engineering and design.

All three will operate with the job title of technical director in charge of their own area of expertise. Sanchez will start work on 1 January 2024 after completing his "gardening leave" from Ferrari.

The changes, which the team emphasised had been worked on for months, come after McLaren slipped from fourth to fifth in the constructors' championship in 2022, and a dispiriting start to the new season.

The team admitted they had missed their targets over the winter, having failed to spot a development direction early enough, and are last in the constructors' championship after two races having suffered both below-par performance and poor reliability.

McLaren are hopeful upgrades scheduled to be introduced from the fourth race of the season will return them to a more competitive position.

Stella said: "Looking ahead, I am determined and fully focused on leading McLaren back to the front of the field.

"Since taking on the team principal role, I have been given the mandate to take a strategic approach to ensure the team is set on a long-term foundation, for us to build on over the years.

"This new structure provides clarity and effectiveness within the team's technical department and puts us in a strong position to maximise performance, including optimising the new infrastructure upgrades we have coming in 2023."

McLaren Racing chief executive officer Zak Brown said: "It has been clear to me for some time that our technical development has not moved at a quick enough pace to match our ambition of returning to the front of the grid.

"I'm pleased that, having completed a full review with Andrea, we are now able to implement the restructure required to set the wheels in motion to turn this around.

"These strategic changes ensure the long-term success of the team and are necessary to see McLaren get back to winning ways.

"We have everything coming into place now with our people and infrastructure and alongside an exciting driver line-up, I'm determined to see McLaren get back to where we should be."

Prodromou as technical director, aerodynamics, will be supported by Giuseppe Pesce, who has been promoted to director, aerodynamics and chief of staff.

Piers Thynne has been promoted from operations director to chief operating officer with the aim of supporting Stella in "innovating and elevating the standards at McLaren".

The restructure has been introduced shortly before key infrastructure projects at McLaren are due for completion.

These include the team's own wind tunnel, which is expected to be running by the summer. For more than a decade, McLaren have been using a third-party wind tunnel in Germany, creating both cost and logistical issues.

Analysis - Why has this happened?
The roots of this restructure at McLaren go back to last season, when bosses began to have concerns the team was not developing at the rate intended.

McLaren have ambitions of returning to the front of the grid. But after a positive 2021 season, in which the team won a race for the first time in nine years, progress stalled in 2022.

Last year, F1 introduced new regulations that were intended to close up the field and promote closer racing, but McLaren's lap-time deficit to the front doubled and the team dropped a place in the constructors' championship, losing out in the fight for fourth to Alpine.

That was partly because Daniel Ricciardo had a difficult season, scoring just over a quarter of the points of team-mate Lando Norris, leading to his contract being terminated a year early.

But Brown also began to feel he was not seeing the technical progress he had wanted or expected.

Brown recognised the success of the 2021 car was - because of the unique circumstances around the Covid-19 pandemic and teams using the same cars for two years - essentially a product of work done in 2019, when the technical leadership of the team was very different.

The 2019 season started with Pat Fry as McLaren's technical director, Stella as performance director, Prodromou as head of aerodynamics and former Indycar star Gil de Ferran, who left the team last year after a couple of seasons focusing on their US racing plans, still in place as sporting director.

Key joined just after the start of the 2019 season and Fry left for Alpine in the summer of that year.

Through 2020 and 2021, McLaren repeatedly expressed confidence in their technical leadership structure, but the results in 2022 led Brown to question whether things were going in the right direction.

Towards the end of last season, team principal Andreas Seidl, who joined in May 2019, was approached by both Ferrari and Audi, and chose to accept the offer from the German company to lead their F1 project when it starts in 2026.

Rather than force Seidl to stick to his contract and stay until the end of 2025, Brown decided to let him leave for Alfa Romeo/Sauber, where he is heading up the team's transition into Audi as chief executive officer, and take the opportunity to make major changes at McLaren.

The first of those was the promotion of Stella to team principal as a replacement for Seidl.

The restructure announced on Thursday centres on the capture from Ferrari of Sanchez, who has been at Maranello for a decade and was their head of vehicle concept. In that role, he was key in the team's effective response to major regulations changes for both the 2017 and 2022 seasons, both of which they started with a fully competitive car.

More recruitment is in the pipeline and McLaren believe they have course-corrected and are now back on target with their ambitions.
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