McLaren takes action as key figure sacked after poor start to F1 season

Having gone backwards so far this F1 season, McLaren have made some major changes for Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

·4-min read
McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have struggled to start the F1 season after the team admitted to missing key development targets. Pictures: Getty Images

McLaren have made a major move after their disastrous start to the 2023 F1 season, sacking technical director James Key just two races into the campaign. Having entered the season with ambitions of competing with the top F1 teams, McLaren have thus far gone backwards.

The poor start to the season, which has been put down to the team missing key development targets over the off-season, has seen Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finish well down in the points in the first two races - if they even finish at all. It has also put the team in an awkward position after moving on Daniel Ricciardo last year, after the Aussie struggled to come to grips with the car in two seasons with the team.

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Technical director Key, and F1 veteran of 25 years between various teams over the years, will have his position split into three different positions, each covering a major area of development. Each of the three new roles will report to team principal Andrea Stella.

McLaren are one of two teams yet to score a point this season, with perennial backmarkers Williams the only other team to have not recorded a top 10 finish so far this season. McLaren will get another opportunity at the upcoming Australia Grand Prix on April 2.

With a major upgrade coming later in April aimed at addressing several of the McLaren's key weaknesses, team CEO Zak Brown said it had become increasingly clear there was a need for change. Key departs the team after arriving in 2019.

“It has been clear to me for some time that our technical development has not moved at a quick enough pace to match our ambition of returning to the front of the grid,” Brown said in a statement. “I’m pleased that, having completed a full review with Andrea, we are now able to implement the restructure required to set the wheels in motion to turn this around.

“It’s important now that we ensure we have a solid foundation as the next phase of our journey. These strategic changes ensure the long-term success of the team and are necessary to see McLaren get back to winning ways.

“We have everything coming into place now with our people and infrastructure, and alongside an exciting driver line-up I’m determined to see McLaren get back to where we should be.”

McLaren's big moves come ahead of major F1 upgrades

The changes at McLaren come as the team prepares to open new wind tunnel, simulator and manufacturing facilities later this year. For years, the England-based the team has had to lease Toyota's wind tunnel in Germany, a facility that has become outdated with other teams opening their own dedicated facilities.

McLaren's simulator set-up is also among the oldest on the F1 grid, having first been built roughly 20 years ago. The changes in personnel, combined with significantly upgraded facilities, presented a significant opportunity for the team according to Stella.

“This new structure provides clarity and effectiveness within the team’s technical department and puts us in a strong position to maximise performance, including optimising the new infrastructure upgrades we have coming in 2023,” the team principal said.

“Since taking on the team principal role I have been given the mandate to take a strategic approach to ensure the team is set on a long-term foundation, for us to build on over the years. Looking ahead, I am determined and fully focused on leading McLaren back to the front of the field.”

Zak Brown speaks at an F1 press conference.
Team CEO Zak Brown has announced McLaren have sacked technical director James Key. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

McLaren were well off the pace in the Bahrain season opener, with Australian rookie Piastri retiring due to electrical issues and Norris finishing last, only completing the race to make up for missed time during testing. It was a similar story in Saudi Arabia, despite Piastri qualifying eighth.

Peter Prodromou takes on the role of technical director, aerodynamics while David Sanchez rejoins the team from Ferrari as technical director, car concept and performance. Neil Houldey will fill the new role of technical director, engineering and design. McLaren said Sanchez would not start work with the team until January 1, 2024.

McLaren finished last season fifth overall, after fourth in 2021, and have made a dismal start to 2023 with Piastri and Norris last in the standings going into next week's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Their best finish so far was Piastri's 15th place in Saudi Arabia last Sunday.

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