McLaren Formula 1 Poaches James Key from Toro Rosso-Honda

The former Toro Rosso engineer has always been good at making a mountain of a car from a molehill budget. What can he accomplish on McLaren’s budget?

byJames Gilboy|
McLaren Formula 1 Poaches James Key from Toro Rosso-Honda

The technical director of Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, James Key, will depart the team to take up an identical position at McLaren after his "gardening leave" technical probationary period expires, as announced Thursday.

Key's history with Toro Rosso began in 2012, when the team announced he would become its technical director for 2013 and onward. Since then, the Red Bull junior team has finished below seventh in the Constructors' Championship only once, despite a low budget, minimal in-season development, uncompetitive engines, and having an unstable driver lineup. Part of the team's success can be attributed to car designs better than the team's budget would accord, allowing four fourth-place Grand Prix finishes since 2015. Pierre Gasly's result at this season's Bahrain Grand Prix in the Key-designed STR13 is also the best race finish of a Honda-powered car of the V6 era.

He is one of several major personnel changes to occur at McLaren over the last few months, which include a farewell to trackside operations manager Eric Boullier, Chief Technical Officer Tim Goss, and recently, Engineering Director Matt Morris, according to a report by BBC. CART champion Gil de Ferran has taken on the role of sporting director, in which he will be expected to manage on-track ops to keep McLaren competitive, and Key will do the same from the drawing board.

These changes are part of a total management restructuring, the likes of which former McLaren engineer John Barnard believes to be necessary for the team.

"I think the problem is, that by getting people in with the all-round experience that we had—people like myself and Patrick Head at Lola—evolving to become a bigger F1 team automatically required a sort of pyramid management structure that we were right on top of," explained Barnard to Motorsport Magazine.

"I was told recently that Mercedes started out with this kind of typical big company matrix management structure but has changed to a pyramid setup," continued Barnard. "McLaren, when Martin Whitmarsh came in, changed to that kind of matrix system that Mercedes started out with, and well, you know, they're in trouble now. In my opinion, McLaren should change that system back to a pyramid structure, because that’s what F1 requires."