until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Verdict: What change of technical director means for Mercedes

by Matt Beer
8 min read

Hot on the heels of declaring it was abandoning its current Formula 1 car design concept, there’s another drastic change at Mercedes with James Allison returning to the technical director role in place of his successor Mike Elliott.

The change, revealed by Autosport on Friday morning, is reported to be due to Elliott concluding he is not suited to the role, though he stays with the team as chief technical officer.

Allison’s return happens with Mercedes deep into work on the first round of upgrades it’s bringing to its troubled 2023 car at next month’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but looking a long way from championship-challenging form even despite a more encouraging race in Australia.

Here are our writers’ initial takes on what it means for Mercedes and its efforts to get back to the front of F1.


Scott Mitchell-Malm

Mike Elliott put in a valiant effort as the vocal proponent and then defender of the car designs that have proven so flawed in this new ruleset.
But how he viewed the situation, and the hope he had for its potential, played out different in reality.

He was never undermined by Mercedes or set up for a fall, but as technical director, Elliott became inexorably linked with the nebulous and often inaccurately portrayed ‘car concept’.

Elliott was well versed in dealing with questions about the concept and the sidepod design that came to represent it. He was publicly sticking up for his team’s choices for a long time, as was team boss Toto Wolff and even the drivers.

That continued until 24 hours before the first qualifying session of the season in Bahrain – one that prompted team boss Toto Wolff to quickly and emphatically (and probably a bit too emotionally!) denounce the car concept as wrong.

Then more comments gradually emerged about other design directions already being explored for a while. Which is understood to reflect the true reality, so Bahrain just helped validate an existing alternative direction.

If it felt as though Elliott was increasingly in the minority in believing in the concept Mercedes is abandoning, it was only because he was the one who had to speak publicly about it so often.

But the reality is he had the authority and backing from the team to persevere until it became clear it was definitely the wrong direction. And when Mercedes decided weeks back to change its design approach Elliott would have fed into that process.

So, he’s not buried his head in the sand permanently and insisted he is right, and his will be done. His failings, if it’s fair to call them that, are more about a broader incompatibility with the role than one specific design choice.

His technical leadership had one more chance with the W14 to prove this design direction had the necessary potential. Then the 2023 season immediately provided enough evidence to the contrary.


Edd Straw


There will be those who assume that Elliott’s perceived failure as technical director is evidence he was a passenger in the success of Mercedes. That would be both incorrect and unfair, but it does illustrate the challenge of succession planning.

Elliott joined Mercedes as head of aerodynamics in July 2012, holding vital technical roles throughout the team’s era of unprecedented dominance. That made him the logical successor when Allison decided to step off the F1 coalface. After all, Elliott had earned it.

But different roles require different skillsets. Elliott has a vast amount to offer, or Mercedes wouldn’t have put him into the technical director role in the first place. It also wouldn’t be willing to make him chief technical officer of the company now. That’s still a vital position, but not one where he is the day-to-day technical lead of F1 car projects.

It’s about horses for courses, taking hugely accomplished people and ensuring they are in the roles that best match their exact qualities. And Elliott’s abilities will now be directed at the bigger picture, which includes the F1 team.

A fascinating, unanswerable, question is whether success made it more difficult for Mercedes to plan its succession in this case? Effectively, the team was locked into giving Elliott his chance because everything had worked so well before with him as part of it, the paradox being that a less successful environment might have meant this mistake – if it’s even fair to call it that – have been avoided?

Maybe, maybe not – but it illustrates how difficult it is for organisations to implement succession plans, given something that seemed so logical on paper has proved not to work as hoped. And it shows that, sometimes, both the wider organisation and the individuals involved can do everything right but still fail to deliver.


Glenn Freeman

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

There are strong mid-2010s Red Bull vibes here.

We used to hear a lot about how Adrian Newey wanted to scale back his F1 involvement and explore other projects. Then Red Bull would find itself in trouble with its car, and we’d start hearing how Newey had been drafted back in to take a more hands-on role to fix things.

Granted, what’s happening at Mercedes is much more formalised: Allison was given a new job title, and an official change back to how it was before is now taking place. At Red Bull it was usually a bit less formal than that.

But the similarities are obvious. A great team tries to usher in a new era of technical leadership, falls on hard times, and has to go back to the guy who led the run of successful cars in the past.

Fall from dominance is the ultimate stress test

Ben Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Practice Day Melbourne, Australia

This feels like Mercedes living through a proper stress test of the kind of management culture the team worked hard to foster during its dominant seasons.

It’s not the first time Mercedes has had to dig deep since it became a proper F1-winning machine. There was plenty of creaking in 2017-19, a fair bit in 2021 too – but making such a stuttering start to F1’s new ground effect era has created a sense this could be the first real test Mercedes might be in danger of actually failing.

Toto Wolff talks about how you “cannot freeze a successful organisation” – that it’s vital to remain fluid and allow people to move about. Equally, he is rightly proud that so many key Mercedes figures – Mike Elliott included – have remained involved in the organisation for ages. Indeed, some remain who were around even before the team became Mercedes!

But it’s a tricky balance to strike – between keeping the work fresh and interesting for people so they don’t feel the need to seek alternative employment, while also making sure everyone is doing the job they’re best suited to. The way Mercedes dovetailed John Owen and Aldo Costa on car design during the 2010s, for example, seemed to work really well.

More recently it’s felt like Mercedes has found the process more challenging. Wolff has wanted to do fewer races as hands-on team principal, but James Vowles has left for Williams rather than progressing into that role. James Allison tried subbing for Toto (in Brazil 2019), then recently moved upstairs on the technical side of the organisation, but now is coming back because the team is clearly feeling the loss of his day-to-day technical leadership. On the engine side, Brixworth has felt like a slightly waning F1 force without Andy Cowell there to lead the charge since mid-2020.

It’s to Mercedes’ credit that it has now found a way to amicably swap Allison and Elliott around for the betterment of the team, rather than requiring a Ferrari-style sacrifice, but Allison’s ‘return’ again shows how dependent F1 teams are on key individuals. If Allison, Rory Byrne and Adrian Newey decided en masse to follow Cowell out of F1 completely, it still feels like no amount of clever restructuring and dynamic working culture could easily fill that void.


Josh Suttill

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying Day Suzuka, Japan

In this age of trigger-happy football manager-style sackings in F1, it’s nice to see a technical director – whose tenure will probably be (rightly) chalked down as a ‘failure’ – not being completely cast aside.

By his own admission it seems, Elliott is not the right man for the job of technical director at Mercedes right now, but he’s still got a valuable contribution to make to the team.

Mercedes has clearly recognised that and rather than showing him the door it’s simply reassigned him somewhere he can demonstrate the value he’s previously shown.

It’s refreshing amid constant team boss and technical directors sackings, adding weight to Mercedes’ claims of a no-blame culture – and it probably also helps Mercedes not lose a knowledgeable and effective operator to a rival too.


Gary Anderson

F1 Grand Prix Of Saudi Arabia

If it wasn’t for the cost cap both Allison and Elliott would have worked together to get themselves out of the mess that they have got themselves into. That said, I don’t think they are in as big a mess as they keep telling themselves and indeed everyone else.

Since the rule change at the start of 2022 Red Bull has simply come of age – in fact 2021 should have been an eye-opener for Mercedes but instead it seemingly put its drivers’ championship loss entirely to that one last event of the season.

I don’t think Mike Elliot needs to hang his head in shame and I don’t think James Allison will be the magic bullet, Formula 1 has just got tougher and the days of having that half-second cushion as Mercedes had for many seasons have gone. Now it’s all a bit closer and every weekend it will be nip and tuck between at least the top four, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin, and hopefully there will also be the odd intruder.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks