JANUARY 12, 2024

F1 takes the football approach to lack of results

Mike Krack is now the third longest serving Formula 1 Team Principal! Now, that’s a sentence that makes you go back and read again, but you read it right, the Aston Martin man has now moved into that position following the sensational departure of Gunther Steiner from the role he fulfilled at Haas F1 Team since its creation.

Mike Krack, Abu Dhabi GP 2022
© Aston Martin Racing

But as you well know, the Luxembourgian hasn’t yet been Aston Martin’s Team Principal for two years – he reaches that mark next Sunday, January 14th! – and that means that from the start of 2022 until now, eight of the Formula 1 teams have changed Team Principal in what is an unprecedented phenomenon that indicates the team’s shareholders are now more inclined to take what has long been the football approach – sack the coach is you’re not happy with the results.

Last winter there was a remarkable turnaround in the Team Principal’s market, dictated by Ferrari’s decision to sack Mattia Binotto and replace him with Frédéric Vasseur, who was still under contract with Sauber. When the deal was done, Audi, who had just purchased the Swiss team, was able to release Andreas Seidl from McLaren a couple of years ahead of schedule and the German was promtly replaced by Andrea Stella, so, in one go, three teams changed main man. Then came the unexpected departure of Jost Capito from Williams, with James Vowles being called as his replacement, so 40 per cent of the Formula 1 teams started the 2023 under a leadership that was different from the one they had ended the 2022 season with.

During the 2023 championship, Alpine also made big changes, with Otmar Szafnauer being one of three high profile departures from Enstone and Bruno Famin accumulating the role of Team Principal with his other positions inside the Alpine Group. And now, at the start of 2024, Laurent Mekies has finally started his new job as Team Principal of Racing Bulls and Ayao Komatsu has replaced Gunther Steiner as the man in charge of running the team on behalf – and following the guidelines of – Gene Haas.

This means that apart from Christian Horner, who going into his 20th season as Red Bull’s Team Principal, and Toto Wolff, who started to run Mercedes’ Formula 1 effort at the start of 2012, all other eight Team Principals have been less than 24 months in their jobs and this level if instability shows how much more trigger happy the new owners of Formula 1 teams are, demanding instant results without considering making bigger investments or changing their company’s business models.

It's also true that in some cases – notably at McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams, but also at Ferrari – the 2023 results point to the decisions being correct, even if in Stroll’s team the main change was the investment and the hiring of Fernando Alonso, who came with the kind of motivation Sebastian Vettel could no longer find in himself.

Nevertheless, the eight “new” guys in the job know they’re under immediate pressure to perform, won’t be given time to settle in and make the profound changes they may believe are necessary and, therefore, may not be as effective as they could be if they knew they had time on their hands to get it all to their liking.

It's a new reality, that moves Formula 1 completely away from the days when teams were run by their owners and they would put their own money and neck on the line in their bid to be successful.