The recent weeks have been busy as the F1 teams are going through a phase of nicking one another’s best people.
This happens all the time, but there has been a big push in recent months as the team prepare for the big changes that are coming in 2014, with new engine regulations.
What generally happens is that teams that have been doing better than they should be are pillaged for talent by the bigger operations, although it is often difficult to know exactly who to hire!
Ferrari has been struggling with its aerodynamics in recent years and the arrival of Lotus’s James Allison this summer resulted in the team making a bid to get hold of the Lotus chief aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer.
At the same time (oddly) Lotus was busy recruiting Ferrari’s head of aerodynamics France’s Nicolas Hennel de Beaupreau, who started out with the Enstone team before having stints at McLaren and Ferrari.
The switch was particularly interesting as the two teams found themselves in what they call a “hostage situation”, with both teams not wanting to let go of their man without him serving his six months of gardening leave, in order to lessen the amount of technical knowledge he could take with him.
At the same time both wanted their new hirings as quickly as possible and so they agreed to forget about the gardening leave and both men have already started working in their new jobs.
Red Bull Racing says that it is not going to be as helpful and is arguing that it will be holding its chief aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou to his contract, which runs until the end of 2015, so as to stop him joining McLaren.
This is largely bravado, and legally Red Bull is on difficult ground because the six month period of “gardening leave” has been pretty standard in F1 circles for the last 18 years thanks to a deal that was struck in April 1997 that allowed Adrian Newey to leave Williams and join McLaren, despite having a contract until the end of 1999.
The two parties went to court in February 1997 with Williams insisting that Newey should not work for two years. That did not happen and it was decided in April that Newey would be allowed to start work at McLaren in August, as long as McLaren paid Williams compensation. The difficulty is to quantify what is loss when an aerodynamicist decides to leave a team.
The word is that another Red Bull Racing engineer is also on the move to McLaren. At the moment the rumours say that it is Prodromou’s number two. This could be Shaun Whitehead, who left his position as Red Bull’s Aerodynamics Departmental Manager in June, after seven years in the role.
He had been with the team since it was Stewart Grand Prix in 1999 but since his departure has been working as a consultant to Wirth Research and projects outside F1.
Engineers are allowed to do this if the work is outside the F1 realm and James Key, now the technical head at Scuderia Toro Rosso, spent his gardening leave after quitting Sauber, designing a sport car.
The latest man on the move is David Wheater, the deputy head of aerodynamics at Lotus F1 Team for the last seven years. The word is that he will be turning up in six months time at Williams