New McLaren boss Andreas Seidl: ‘For our resources, we are under-performing’


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When you’ve led Porsche to a trio of trilogies in three years – double World Endurance Championship titles (drivers/manufacturers) in 2015-17 plus three-in-a-row Le Mans 24 Hour victories during the same period – there is little left to prove in sports car racing.

But as far as Formula 1 is concerned, that’s unfinished business for Andreas Seidl.

He was approached in June last year at Le Mans by McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, seeking a team principal to help in rebuilding the company’s F1 effort. Not only had the once-illustrious squad twice made Q3 in seven races (and thanks to Fernando Alonso’s superhuman efforts), but McLaren’s relationship with Racing Director Eric Boullier was broken. He left a month later.

Seidl, a 43-year-old Bavarian from Passau, spent almost ten years in F1 with BMW, initially as engineer during the 2000-05 Williams engine partnership. When the Munich company acquired Sauber he was appointed head of track operations – and tasted motorsport’s sweetest champagne in 2008 after Robert Kubica won in Canada.

Andreas Seidl, Porsche, 2018
Seidl masterminded Porsche’s WEC success
When BMW withdrew from F1 at end-2009, Seidl, at heart more a BMW man than a Sauber-er, switched to the DTM team, steering them to the 2012 title. The next step beckoned: Le Mans with Porsche’s nascent WEC team, facing massive diesel powered, in-house competition from sister brand Audi. The rest is, as they say, history: Porsche’s petrol V4 hybrid swept the major silverware.

Porsche announced its next challenge: Formula E, with Seidl earmarked for the top job before Brown invited him for a chat at Le Mans. At the time Porsche had just canned plans for a move into F1, leaving him with a choice between Formula E or Formula 1, with McLaren.

Andreas and I meet in McLaren’s hospitality in Montreal to discuss why he joined a struggling British team, albeit owned by a respected automotive engineering group, rather than facing the challenge of electric racing with one of Germany’s most pioneering companies. I open with the obvious: I know it’s been a long-time ambition of his to become a Formula 1 team boss.

“Yes.” Smile. “I would say that. Obviously it was always a target to lead big motorsport operations. I’m a competitive guy; I’m a racing guy, so it was always clear for me that I wanted to work in Formula 1.

“Obviously having the possibility to lead this great team, with all this history, is a unique opportunity for me.”

The word ‘great’ crops up often during the interview, but is said casually yet earnestly, without fake PR inferences. Indeed, Porsche’s period profile of Andreas made clear there’s nothing fake about him:

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber, Bahrain, 2008
He tasted F1 success with BMW Sauber in 2008
“As an engineer with a perfectionist streak, he’s responsible for the technical performance of the cars; as race manager, he’s responsible for the organisational aspects of a world championship race. To the squad of LMP1 drivers, he’s akin to a national coach; he heads up business relations as a manager and ambassador; and as chief of strategy he makes crucial decisions together with race engineers.”

Any wonder Brown approached him, having observed these qualities at first hand while campaigning his own United Autosports WEC squad? Back, though, to the matter in hand: Was the overall plan always to return to F1, even if Porsche had remained in WEC?

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He does not wish to discuss Porsche. “For me it was always the target to be back in Formula 1, with the right opportunity. I wasn’t desperate to go for whatever, but [it had to be] the right opportunity. Straight away after we had the first talks with Zak last year after he approached me – at Le Mans – it was immediately appealing for me to have the possibility to lead this great team.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Monaco, 2019
Sainz grabbed an excellent sixth in Monaco
“Then after further talks with the shareholders and seeing the commitment from their side, and how they want to further invest in the team, with the clear target to close this gap again to the top three teams, it was simply a chance I didn’t want to miss.”

I probe this point, for all too often promises made and reality delivered turn out to be miles apart: Does Andreas have the full support and authority to take decisions about what he thinks is best for the team?

“Yes, definitely. Full.” Pause for effect. “I think it was very important for me in the talks to get full responsibility. I’m not scared of responsibility. I want to be accountable. I think it’s the only way forward if you want to lead such a big operation: you need full support, and at the same time full freedom to execute.”

Thus, if the team wins, it’s collective victory, with the defeat buck stopping at his desk?

“Of course. I think the way Zak structured his organisation it’s clear I have the ultimate responsibility for the success of the Formula 1 team, which I also want to have, which means we get the glory as a team in the good days, but at the same time I am ultimately responsible for bad days.

“I think it’s important to have clear leadership, especially also looking at the situation that we are in at the moment. We need to work out a clear plan or clear vision how we want to approach the next years in order to have a clear path of how we want to get back towards the top teams. I think it’s an absolutely necessary requirement to have clear leadership there.”

A true racer, then, but where does this racing blood come from? His parents were in education, so what – excuse the pun – drives his passion?

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“I’m a Michael Schumacher kid, I have to say, from the Michael Schumacher generation. I really started to watch Formula 1 in detail from ‘92 onwards. With his rise in Germany I started watching every practice session from Friday to the race on Sunday.

“There I would say this desire, or target, [arose] to finish school and study mechanical engineering with a clear goal to be involved in motorsport, in Formula 1, as an engineer.

Nigel Mansell, Ricciardo Patrese, Michael Schumacher, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, 1992
Schumacher’s F1 success inspired Seidl’s passion
Interesting point, that, for team bosses are often frustrated drivers. Did he ever consider driving?

“Driving was never really the bit that interested me. I always loved team sports, I played soccer when I was young. The most interesting bit for me in my daily job is to work together with a team, because success here in motorsport, especially in big operations, is a big team effort.

“To feel this dynamic inside a team is something which I really like. In the end I think we have to approach whatever we do back [at base] and also out here like being a big sports team. I see every single member of the team as a kind of an athlete also, not just the two drivers.

“You need to create a certain spirit within the team, [create] this special spirit you need in sports teams to ensure they push each other day by day, keep going. That’s what drives me also.

“For me the biggest pleasure is to celebrate together with the team, success, in the garage or back home at the factory. To see everyone smiling after days and months of hard work, that’s the biggest pleasure I can have in this job.”

Andreas, a married father of two whose family still lives in Germany while he commutes to McLaren on a weekly basis, confesses to having zero interest in driving full-blooded race cars: “I know, compared to what these guys can do, I can’t do [it]. Just running around is not something that interests me. I have more pleasure seeing our drivers operating these machines at the limit.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2019
McLaren took no points in Canada
As many team bosses have discovered, not all ingredients for F1 success lie in their own hands. How does he see outside factors impinging on his plans?

He pauses before delivering a brutally honest answer: “To be honest, that is not my biggest worry at the moment, because I see that, as a team, with the budget that we have available at the moment, with the infrastructure, with the talent we have inside the team, we are under-performing.

“So my focus at the moment is to simply lift the performance again, inside the boundary conditions we have at the moment, because I see there’s a lot more potential compared to what we [are achieving] right now.

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“Of course I’m looking ahead; it’s important that these regulation changes are coming because they will obviously help, to a certain degree, to create a more level playing field again.”

“[But] top teams like Mercedes and Ferrari, they’re not just there because they have more money or more budget, it’s also because they simply do a great job. I mean, guys like Toto, what they do with their team, the spirit he has created inside the team, the know-how, the methodologies and so on, this is where performance comes from.

“Of course if you want to take the final step and you want to compete with these guys, you need the resources also. But, again, at the moment I think our main focus must be to get more out of the current situation where we are in. That’s my focus. It’s also important to not get distracted by regulations or excuses…”

We turn to McLaren, and more specifically this season: Is it currently a top-five team on merit, or does fourth in the championship at the one-third point flatter to deceive?

“The important thing is for me to see that there is already a good step compared to last year. I mean, we shouldn’t forget where we have been at the end of last year. There’s no magic in Formula 1. It takes time.

James Key, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Key joined Seidl in McLaren’s new structure
“A lot of changes that were initiated last year by Zak are paying off already. I think the full effect of all the changes that have been put in place now, plus James Key [technical director] coming in, plus me coming in, it takes time.

“The most important thing is that we have a positive trend, positive momentum, because this is what keeps morale up inside the team. It was great for me to see when I started that there’s a lot of positive energy now and positive momentum, which in the end you need inside a team if you want to move forward and push on. It’s a tough business, it’s a tough job.

Seidl isn’t thinking in terms of immediate objectives for the team.

“At the moment we’re P4 in the championship, but it’s a long way to go. It’s an unbelievably intense battle in this midfield, and at the moment we see on some tracks we are more competitive than other tracks, so we know about some weak points that we still have in the car, and so on. We keep bringing updates, race by race, but the competition is doing exactly the same…

“I’m not really focussed on certain positions at the moment. For me it’s simply important that we have a positive trend, that we see the methods we are applying, correlation, which is important, that the basics are in place again in order to have again a better starting base for next year’s car, and again a starting base for the year thereafter.”

One of McLaren’s biggest issues was the unwieldiness of its matrix management structure, which left the team less exposed when key employees departed, but meant responsibility was shared and thus failure difficult to apportion. One of Brown’s first tasks was to install more traditional ‘family tree’ structures. Is the matrix system completely dead, I ask, or have elements survived?

“No, considering where we are right now as a team, and also with the history the team went through in the last years, my approach is to keep it simple. I want a straightforward organisation, which is easy to understand for everyone, with clear reporting lines, clear leadership of different divisions. These are things I will implement as soon as I have a good overview of the team.”

It couldn’t be simpler: James Key, technical director, reports to Andreas, as do Paul James (team manager), and, currently, COO Jonathan Neale, who is temporarily covering in the role of production director vacated by Simon Roberts. The balance of over 700 employees report to one of the three.

As an ex-Porsche man, Seidl has seen at first hand the advantages of in-house engine supplies. Could Renault customers McLaren achieve world champion status again without some sort of ‘works’ engine arrangement?

“That depends on the regulations of the future,” he says thoughtfully. “We’ve seen in the past that it’s possible to win world championships with non-works engines. Red Bull has shown they can win races with [outside] engine deals in the past, [but]… my focus is not on world championships at present.

“My focus is to get the maximum out of the team as it is right now, that’s our full focus. When I look for example to the partnership with Renault we are having, this is very, very positive, a very open relationship that we are having. Renault made a huge step in terms of performance compared to last year, and I would say this is not something which is holding us back at the moment.”


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12 comments on “New McLaren boss Andreas Seidl: ‘For our resources, we are under-performing’”

  1. Eric Rocheteau
    19th June 2019, 12:42

    Thank you for the article. A few questions:
    Is it known why Simon Roberts has left?
    You do not mention Mark Waller, I assume he reports to Zak Brown directly?
    Seems an impressive Commerical structure has been built?
    Zak recently mentioned a partnership with NYSE, but no announcement, do you know anything about this?
    What is the interaction between Andreas Seidl and Gil de Ferran?
    Last year’s interview with Jonathan Neale was very revealing and interesting, will there be a repeat?
    Thanks and regards

  2. Interesting that German national would say soccer instead of football…or perhaps fußbal.

    1. “Association football” would be too cumbersome, and “football” would confuse us Americans.

      1. Never mind then that Americans are confusing the rest of the world by calling the sport where all players except one are prohibited to touch with a ‘foot’ this thing that is not really a ‘ball’ ;)

  3. Great article Dieter. I wouldn’t wan’t to be in his shoes. Here’s hoping either Renault or Mc Laren bridge the gap eventually to the top 3.

  4. I have to admit I didn’t know a huge amount about Seidl when the news came out that McLaren were looking to bring him on board, but he does seem to have his head screwed on and has a track record of success. He seems to have a clear view on what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t at McLaren at the moment and seems to have a plan to sort that all out. He seems like the sort of chap who will let the results do the talking, which is what McLaren need at the moment.

    1. George May (@grandmasterorge)
      19th June 2019, 16:34

      @geemac – on that last point, it’s quite refreshing this year that not only are McLaren doing not so badly as before but they’re doing it *quietly*, which is a world apart from previous recent years.

      1. they’re doing it *quietly*

        @grandmasterorge – Vandoorne sure was a noisy fella ;)

        Seriously though, yes, it’s the other thing I appreciate about McLaren this year, quietly picking up the points. And in the midfield, I think battle lines are slowly being drawn between the two Renault-powered teams, so that’ll add to the excitement for us.

  5. I think generally it would be interesting to see the F1 press delve more into the management processes of the teams. This would appear to be the third element of F1 success, along with driving the car and designing the car. I would be interested to know whether this or that team employs lean six sigma, TQM, Kaizen or whatever. Some of this came to the fore in the McLaren documentary, where we got to look behind the curtain and compare the Honda and McLaren approaches (neither came out looking great).

  6. Nice. I’ve been hoping for an introduction of Seidl.

    I wonder how much back thought there is to his appointment for getting a connection to Porsche in the hope they should finally decide to provide engines.

  7. There finally seems to be some upward momentum after Seidl came in. Long may it continue as the sport needs a strong McLaren.

  8. When in doubt, hire a German! haha.

    Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Great stuff. Siedl comes across a no nonsense type guy, which after years nothing but nonsense, is exactly what Mclaren need.

    Start putting bets on Alonso to return to F1 next year! Be it in orange or red!

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