James Key, Toro Rosso, 2018

McLaren open to “opportunities” to bring Key in earlier

2018 F1 season

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McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown says the team is open to “opportunities” to bring its new technical director James Key to the team from Toro Rosso as soon as possible.

The team revealed ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that Key will join the team. However Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost responded by pointing out they still have a long-term contract with.

Brown insisted Key’s eventual move to McLaren is not in doubt. “We have hired James Key, he will become our technical director,” he said.

“We do not yet have a start date. He does have a current agreement with Toro Rosso. Of course we respect contractual situations.”

“I think Toro Rosso and Red Bull are understandably upset that they’re losing a great talent like James Key,” he added. “I think he’s recognised as one of the best technical directors up and down pit lane. So we’re very excited to have him join us in due course.”

The team is looking to reach an arrangement with Toro Rosso to release Key early, Brown indicated.

“There’s always, in the world of Formula 1, ways and opportunities to change situations. That’s certainly something that we would potentially consider.”

Toro Rosso has previously indicated an interest in running McLaren test driver Lando Norris. It may be in need of a new driver if Red Bull promotes Pierre Gasly to Daniel Ricciardo’s vacant seat for the 2019 F1 season.

However Brown said the team signed Key in the full knowledge of how long it could take to bring him into the team.

“We have a plan,” he said. “We obviously knew his current employment situations and are completely comfortable working around that situation.”

Key’s arrival forms part of wider changes at the team. Former racing director Eric Boullier and designer Matt Morris have already left.

“We have done some restructuring, we’re doing some hiring, we’re not done yet, so we’re just head down operating according to the internal plan that we have,” said Brown.

“We have some other things we’re doing in the technical department. So I think that will become clear later in the year, what ultimately we’re going to do as far as give birth to the MCL34.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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25 comments on “McLaren open to “opportunities” to bring Key in earlier”

  1. I think Lando for next season on loan to Toro Rosso should do the trick.

    McLaren need a technical director to come in immediately though. This season has been a disaster for them, and they need to get Key onboard asap if they want to make his input felt on next year’s car.

    1. @todfod Everything I’ve read about new technical people joining teams this late in the season usually says they can only have a very limited effect on next season’s car. Key will be straight onto looking at 2020 as I can’t see him joining McLaren before October, even if a Norris loan deal is agreed.

    2. I don’t get why McLaren refused to loan Norris at first (except if they wanted to keep him as bargaining tool or are afraid to be beaten by Toro Rosso next year but that shouldn’t be in their mind if they aspire to get back to the top).

      Having Norris drive at Toro Rosso is making their driver academy even stronger and more attractive for young talents. See with us you can actually drive a F1 car! Even our competitors recognize that we have a better academy than their!

      Too bad that they have so many great drivers but no car worth of their talent.

      1. I agree. I remember how late Stoffel entered F1 because there wasn’t a McLaren seat free for him. McLaren don’t have a B team where they can keep their young talent before getting them to the parent team. I think they should actually give Norris a season with Toro Rosso, then evaluate his performance and decide whether he should take Vandoorne’s seat.

        1. McLaren don’t have a B team where they can keep their young talent before getting them to the parent team.

          Totally disagree, @todfod.
          What McLaren is missing is an A team :P

          1. @coldfly – you beat me to it, I was about to say “Today, McLaren are the B team”. :-)

          2. so what McLaren needs is a C team

          3. @johnmilk Problem is the c-team might start beating them

          4. that would be a D move @mrboerns

          5. Awww :( Thanks for rubbing salt into the wound. :)

      2. Maybe they were holding Noris back to use as leverage for Key.

  2. Nyck de Vries to Toro Rosso?

  3. Even on gardening leave, how hard will it be to monitor if Key picks up a blank sheet of A4 and starts doodling a 2020 F1 car design?

    He may be on gardening leave but they cant turn his brain off. Sure he cant show any doodling to McLaren but he can build up a portfolio of design work.

    These gardening leave seems shortsighted and unenforceable from a creative point of view.

    Does this gardening leave extend to all motorsport activities? Is he specifically barred from McLaren only or can he work freelance for say an Indy Car team?

    1. Mark Sinclair
      7th August 2018, 10:08

      This is what Adrian Newey did. He wrote this in his Autobiography.

      He was on gardening leave before joining either McLaren or Red Bull, I forget which. He sat in his home office for several months with no contact with his new employer drawing design after design of all car components and turned up on his first day at work with a bag stuffed full of drawings!

      1. I need to get that book

    2. Even on gardening leave, how hard will it be to monitor if Key picks up a blank sheet of A4 and starts doodling a 2020 F1 car design?

      I’ll come out eventually (e.g when an upset Alonso leaves the team) and the going rate is $100M.

      PS – gardening leave means that you’re still employed by your previous employer (and paid) but do not have to show up at work.
      What your talking about is the ‘non-compete clause’ (you’re not allowed to join a competitor within a certain period of time). Those clauses are widespread but hardy survive a court challenge.

      1. *you’re

    3. Gerrit, the point is not to prevent Key from using his brain in his home, but rather keeping him away from the latest technical development at TR so he can’t bring them to his new bosses. Usually F1 teams put departing members on less critical projects when they are still actively employed for the same reasons.

  4. With a redesign of aero required for 2019, I doubt that Key would really have any impact for Mclaren even if he started next week.

    Unfortunately for Mclaren fans, it seems that Bronwn’s “Plan” is pretty long term so if you’re a fan, hang on tight as it’s likely to be a pretty poor 2019 & I suspect 2020 before hopefully things turn around.

    It’s pretty sad in a way that a team needs so long to recover when things go sideways. I can’t recall when Williams & Mclaren were in such dire straits for so long with very little immediate hope on the horizon.

    1. I think it is fair to say mclaren has had some bad luck. Their last year’s car was much better than this year’s car (less drag, more downforce) but even then mclaren has improved this year compared to last year. Just imagine how massive the difference between honda and renault is if mclaren is 0.7 seconds faster this year compared to last year. And all that is the engine because the chassis makes less downforce and is also heavier because of halo. The engine alone must make a difference of something like 2 seconds if you compare last year’s honda to this year’s renault. It really highlights how poor mclaren’s current chassis is but also clearly tells just how totally awful last year’s honda engine was.

      If only mclaren had been able to build as good chassis as they had last year they’d be near red bull for sure. It is weird how mclaren totally lost itself so quickly. It is really bizarre how that kind of thing can happen. How can they make a chassis that is 1s slower than last year when there was no big tech regulation changes??

      1. Brown claimed the wind tunnel wasn’t giving accurate feedback (they are using Toyota’s old tunnel).
        Ferrari had the same issue for several years starting around 2010.
        I hope McLaren doesn’t take as long to figure it out!


    2. As a McLaren fan, I’ve been waiting for a race win since 2012.
      You be assured I’ll jump around like crazy the day they start winning again (while proudly wearing my rocket red shirt :D ).

  5. Thomas Bennett (@felipemassadobrasil)
    7th August 2018, 18:11

    I’d almost forgotten Key existed. I remember he used to be a journeyman, quickly moving around Sauber and FI but now he has settled down at STR. He does have decent experience of dragging meh midfield into good positions so that’s good, I guess.

  6. Peter Scandlyn
    7th August 2018, 20:19

    And with all change due in 2021…….??

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