Laurent Mekies – a highly respected engineer within the paddock – has been Ferrari’s sporting director since 2018. Almost from the moment that his boss Mattia Binotto resigned last year, he has wanted out. But his contract obliged him to stay.
Given that AlphaTauri has issued a press release confirming Mekies will replace the retiring Franz Tost as team principal next year, it can be assumed that Red Bull has smoothed away the Ferrari impasse. Curiously, Ferrari had not, at the time of writing, issued any statement confirming that its existing sporting director – who will be working in that role, as usual, this weekend in Baku – is leaving.
As someone who was previously the Red Bull junior team’s chief engineer before then working for three years with the FIA prior to his recruitment by Binotto at Ferrari, he is a perfect fit for AlphaTauri. Widely experienced, politically adept, an agreeable personality and with the perfect skillset to have the overview necessary for a team principal. Knowing the structure and personality of the team already he’s likely to make a very smooth transition.
So what does it say that someone so adept and highly thought of should want to leave the mighty Ferrari? If we consider that in the wake of the resignations of Binotto and engineering chief David Sanchez (who will join McLaren next year after serving his gardening leave), three of Ferrari’s most senior personnel have announced their departures in the past four months. It begins to look like an exodus of talent.
It can be seen as a continuation of the senior management’s decision to ease Binotto out of his role last year. Binotto had presided over a period of technical creativity and had banished the climate of fear which had run through the team for too long. Mekies was a crucial part in that much-improved working atmosphere within the factory.
But together they’d made less progress with the team’s even-more entrenched track operational problems. Conventional racing wisdom would have sought to bolster their positions with whatever support was needed.
Instead, chairman John Elkann and CEO Benedetto Vigna chose the premiership football template of (effectively) firing the man who had made progress but not enough for their demands. Demands made without a full working knowledge of the F1 environment.
Sanchez and Mekies – both highly respectful of Binotto – are clearly not convinced about the direction of the Scuderia. That’s not a reflection upon Binotto’s replacement Frederic Vasseur, but more about the environment senior management has created with its choices. If the management had imagined there would be no turbulence from the departure of Binotto, that the talent within would behave just like automated employees rather than ambitious, creative, independently thinking people, it was naïve.
Talent needs a good environment in which to flourish and in which to be creative. Formula 1 success demands a unity of purpose and shared vision. You don’t achieve that by forcing out a highly-respected leader.
Vasseur’s first order of business is now to steady the ship and halt the exodus of talent. To do that he probably needs to convince his bosses to leave him to it.