After years of dominance, some Mercedes engineers are said to be looking for a new challenge.
“If there’s an opportunity and someone wants to pay you a bit more money to go and do a similar job just down the road then it’s always going to be interesting to people, a new challenge,” says Huw Griffiths, who used to work at Mercedes HPP as a test engineer team leader but has since moved to CARNOT, a start-up developing ceramic technology and biofuels for long-haul transportation.
“If you’ve been at a company for 20 years as Ben [Hodgkinson] has, then it’s an opportunity to go and test what you know, not dissimilar to what I’ve chosen to do with CARNOT but in a different environment still in Formula 1.”
More than a dozen individuals may have already crossed the divide, but Griffiths expects that more are to come.
“I’m sure that list [of Mercedes employees leaving] will get longer as they [Red Bull] get through to wanting to pick up kind of all of the base level engineers and technicians and things like that for their test facilities.
“It’ll just get longer and people will probably move back and forth between the two because they’ll not like one thing and then the grass is a bit greener over there so you’ll go back over there or whatever. Motor sport is a fairly incestuous industry, people move around.”
But more worrying for a series that prides itself on being at the forefront of innovation is that some top engineers are no longer moving around in the sport, but leaving: they no longer see F1 as the pinnacle of their careers.
Lower budgets, development freezes and car manufacturers’ move away from internal combustion engines means that the pace of innovation can be faster out of the sport.
“As with any hardware where the rules don’t change very much, there’s always diminishing returns. I think with the changes for 2025, there won’t be much development for now,” says Griffiths.
Andy Cowell, the former head of Mercedes HPP said that the desire for a new challenge was behind his decision to resign at the beginning of 2020.
“Mercedes is a company that I’m hugely proud to have worked for,” he told F1’s On the Grid podcast. “The people here are an incredible group of people and I’ll miss them. [But] 16 years feels like a long period of time doing largely the same thing.
“I enjoy the ‘clean sheet of paper’ challenge of design. I think my personality likes the thrill of being dropped into something that’s challenging and scary.”
Tellingly, Cowell said that he was inspired by Project Pitlane, in which F1’s engineers focused on the rapid development of breathing aids as the Covid pandemic took hold. “Project Pitlane was a ‘go on, have a go at something different’ that lit the bonfire in my belly… that’s the challenge that I want going forward,” he said.
New technical regulations for next year have created a flurry of activity in design departments and a series of movements among designers and aerodynamicists.