–by Mark Cipolloni–
Technical Director James Key has taken the fall at McLaren F1 for their poor performance last year and the start of the current season.
At 51, Key is certainly not among the old guard in Formula 1, but he has solid experience.
Jordan: Data and race engineer at Jordan, he became the youngest technical director in Formula 1 in 2005 at 33 years old.
Toro Rosso: Key was labelled the new Newey, as he still managed to design a good car on a small budget. With Toro Rosso, he climbed from P9 in 2012 to P8 in 2013 and P7 in successively 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
McLaren: Key joined McLaren in 2019 at the side of team boss Andreas Seidl. For McLaren, Key designed the successful 2020 car that achieved P3 in the constructors’ championship, as well as three podiums. In 2021, McLaren dropped one place among constructors, but there was one win for Daniel Ricciardo in the Italian Grand Prix, the first victory in Key’s name. However, the disappointing McLaren results in the new ground effects era of 2022 and 2023 can be blamed on Key. Though one can argue that failure should fall on the lead Aerodynamicist – Peter Prodromou – because the new ground-effects cars are so aero dependent.
Since Key was let go with immediate effect, there is no gardening leave mandate, so where will he land?
Let’s examine the options:
Williams: The British team has still not appointed a technical director since the departure of François-Xavier Demaison.
Alpha Tauri: Would he return from where he came? Helmut Marko and Franz Tost are dissatisfied with the performance of the current technical team led by technical director Jody Egginton, and they are likely to do all they can to bring Key in. Tost publicly stated that he no longer trusted his engineers, throwing them under the bus.
One of the new proposed teams: Andretti Global has already hired Nick Chester for the TD role, however, Key could land at Craig Pollock’s Saudi backed EDI team, Hitech, or Panthera Asia – depending on which of those gets approved to be the 12th team.