In the lead up to last weekend’s British Grand Prix, it was announced that Mark Smith would be joining Sauber as a Technical Director, as part of a technical reshuffle. While the team intends to maintain its ‘design-by-committee’ approach, Smith is the first Technical Director to be appointed by Sauber since James Key’s departure in 2012, and judging by how the team have struggled in the 2015 development race to date, a refinement to the technical team seems a smart move.
At least, this was how Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr assessed Smith’s arrival. “I feel bringing in a new technical director to overview the bigger picture of our car and direct the team on which areas we have to work on in the short, medium and the long term is the beginning of the solution,” he stated. “It was a smart move from the team but we need to give time for these things to work.”
Within F1 teams, control over technical matters is seemingly being dispersed more than ever. As such, the absence of a Technical Director at Sauber since 2012 had somewhat passed under the radar, with a committee of engineers working on car design and development. While this has the benefit of allowing more ideas to be sounded, development direction can often be lost given the absence of a technical boss.
Perhaps this is why Sauber have endured a tough spell since 2012 – a season in which they secured four podium finishes and proved competitive from the curtain-raiser in Australia to the season finale in Brazil. The team’s fortunes took a turn for the worst in 2014, where they failed to score a single point for the entire year.
2015, however, started in fine fashion, with a double points finish in Melbourne seeing the team capitalise in what became a race of attrition. However, they have fallen foul of the rapid rate of development exhibited by their rivals and subsequently descended down the constructors championship. Now, the Swiss outfit sit seventh and just two points clear of Toro Rosso’s young chargers.
Smith’s over-arching role has the potential to allow the various heads of departments within the committee to conduct their necessary work, while being orchestrated into fulfilling the shared technical aims by Smith. As Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn indicated, “This [appointment] will allow for capacity to be released from different heads of this committee and they can focus more on what they’re specialised in.”
Given the number of staff working at the team’s Hinwil base, the efficiency of the individual cogs within the Sauber machine is pivotal to achieving success. As with all underdogs in the sport, extracting the maximum from every employee is key. While it seems that Smith will not revolutionise practices at Sauber, it appears that he adds the strength in depth which can help to allow his colleagues to formulate the best ideas and execute them in the best possible fashion.
A very smart appointment indeed.
Image Credit: "Barcelona Test 3 Day 1" By Rachel Clarke (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]