Battle for brains in F1

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I was reading an interesting piece over at AUTOSPORT this morning about the continued saga of team employees and the poaching of said employees. It seems that Lotus F1’s James Allison was linked to a possible move to McLaren as Paddy Lowe is all but set to move to Mercedes in 2014.

Lotus boss Eric Boullier says that this current employee poaching war has laddered up the salaries and created a money war in F1. He isn’t happy about it either. He told AUTOSPORT that the focus should be on the team and not trying to find extra cash to keep employees.

The concept of hiring the very best and employees advancing their careers by moving to new teams is nothing new to Formula One. Each team boss got to their position by advancing through the system. We’ve asked a few F1 pundits about that very issue as we posed the question of where the next Adrian Newey is. The answers are usually along these lines:

Most teams keep their brightest minds away from the limelight and behind closed doors. Boullier eluded to the very fact that the publicity of F1 makes their employees easily within the line-of-sight of other teams and easy targets for poaching. Sequestering your designers and engineers is a hard thing to do in a high profile sport like F1.

Teams will find the best brake person, electrical system person or aero person regardless of how hard you try to hide them. that is the nature of the sport. There is no doubt in my mind that Allison moving to McLaren to potentially replace Paddy Lowe would be a great move for him (if the rumor is true).

The key is to continually develop young talent behind the legends. Boullier appears to suggest that Lotus have done that telling Messrs. Noble and Beer:

“James certainly is not the only employee. We have 150 employees and most of the ideas don’t come from James Allison.

“James obviously is a real asset for the company, but if tomorrow James was leaving, the company would survive. It’s not a drama.”

Former Renault team boss and Boullier predecessor, Flavio Briatore, had words about this issue when he said that stealing intellectual property is silly when you can just hire the person and the information comes with them. It’s a draconian world in F1 and the stakes are high. Teams will hire the very best they can afford and sometimes that means it will be at the expense of another team.

Williams F1 may have had the best shot recently when they picked up Mike Coughlan after his mandatory suspension from his involvement in Spygate. A tarnished reputation may have left some cool to the thought of hiring Coughlan but he’s a very sharp guy and good designer and Williams took the chance. We’ll see if it pays off in 2013.



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