Mercedes tech­ni­cal boss Paddy Lowe and Peter Wind­sor go way back – back to when they both worked to­gether at Wil­liams in the late 1980s. Here Peter re­flects on a ca­reer de­voted to a fas­ci­na­tion with cre­ative en­gi­neer­ing


Al­ti­tude, iron­i­cally, was on his side: he was used to run­ning around at 6,000ft. He’d been do­ing it all his life in the Kenyan high­lands. Hockey. Foot­ball. Out into the bush with his brother, Mike (pic­tured with Paddy, above left), bi­cy­cles pushed to the limit, their only di­rec­tive to be home be­fore dark. He loved the cars, too. Ev­ery year they’d blast past his house, rais­ing dust and scat­ter­ing birds. The East African Sa­fari Rally. Noth­ing big­ger. The whole school stood still as the rally thrashed its way across the land; and then, in the months that fol­lowed, plans would be drawn for the school’s own ver­sion.

Here he was, then: 12 years of age and at the start of the Great Ad­ven­ture. The course seemed to stretch for miles – rst through the grounds of the col­lege, then out into the bush and back in a big, dusty loop to the foot­ball pitch. He’d tested as much as pos­si­ble, check­ing that the Dinky was more adapt­able than the Corgi. And he’d made his se­lec­tion. It had to be some­thing ex­otic and it had to be low and wide.

The Dinky DeTo­maso Man­gusta – but it wasn’t just any old Man­gusta. He’d never liked the bob­bing ef­fect cre­ated by the “real” sus­pen­sion high­lighted on the pack­ag­ing. And so, del­i­cately and with pa­tience, he had re­moved the front springs and set up the car to run al­most at to the road. Then it was a sim­ple mat­ter of con­nect­ing the two elas­ti­cated wires to the nose of the Man­gusta and mak­ing sure that ev­ery­thing was set at the right height and length.

The event was self-reg­u­lat­ing. Hun­dreds of boys ran the course, pulling and di­rect­ing their lit­tle cars while the rest of the school cheered and acted as mar­shals. It would be de­cided by time ver­sus points de­ducted for the car ip­ping over or in some other way hav­ing to be res­cued.

He nished sec­ond. He should have won it – could have won it – but he crashed the Man­gusta once too of­ten. The sus­pen­sion, though, was per­fect. His mod soon be­came the East African norm.

Shortly af­ter­wards, Patrick Lowe’s par­ents re­ceived no­tice from the Church of Ire­land that their mis­sion in Kenya had come to an end. The fam­ily would re­turn to a new par­ish in Sevenoaks, Kent. Patrick would bring with him his in­de­pen­dence, a burn­ing de­sire to win… and an urge to cre­ate the things that could fa­cil­i­tate that in­de­pen­dence and de­sire.

When you were born a Lowe, you had the choice of be­ing ei­ther an en­gi­neer or a vicar, al­though one of Patrick’s un­cles had nicely taken a mid­dle road by de­sign­ing and cre­at­ing church pipe or­gans. Patrick – Paddy, as he was known at Cam­bridge Univer­sity, where he stud­ied at Sid­ney Sus­sex Col­lege – denitely felt there was more to life than what we see or touch; he knew, though, that a pre­scribed re­li­gious doc­trine was not for him: he was drawn to en­gi­neer­ing like a mag­net. He earned his place at Cam­bridge through his blaz­ing re­sults at Sevenoaks School – A grades in maths, fur­ther maths, physics and chem­istry – and at univer­sity he went on smoothly to re­ceive his MA in En­gi­neer­ing.

What next? So many en­gi­neers – so many people out there, all want­ing to be a part of F1. In or­der to earn a liv­ing, he ap­plied to a tech com­pany in Grove, Oxfordshire (Metal Box – close to the cur­rent Wil­liams fac­tory) and was quickly hired. He worked there for six years, es­tab­lish­ing him­self as a rst-rate sys­tems en­gi­neer. His condence grow­ing, he then wrote to ev­ery F1 team, en­quir­ing about open­ings. The only per­son to re­ply was Wil­liams’ Frank Dernie. It was late 1986, and Wil­liams were de­vel­op­ing a new ac­tive-ride car for the 1987 sea­son. They were win­ning races with Honda; tech­nol­ogy was mov­ing quickly. With­out even hav­ing to switch homes, Paddy slot­ted in seam­lessly.

These were golden times. The Wil­liams ac­tive-ride depart­ment was ba­si­cally three people – Paddy, Steve Wise and Philip Far­rand. “Look­ing back,” says Paddy to­day, “we were right at the be­gin­ning of it all, al­though of course, even by then, we were us­ing com­puter mem­ory far in ex­cess of any­thing they’d seen on, say, the Apollo mis­sions.”

In other words, cre­ative en­gi­neers will al­ways cre­ate, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances.

Paddy’s out­put (rst at Wil­liams, and then, from mid-1993, at McLaren) was there­after spec­tac­u­lar. The Wil­liams FW14B was a mas­ter­piece that com­bined Patrick Head’s over­all en­gi­neer­ing man­age­ment with Adrian Newey’s aero­dy­nam­ics and Paddy’s ac­tive-ride and trac­tion con­trol. We’ll never see its like again.

That suc­cess, though, had a fur­ther im­pact. As much as Paddy en­joyed cre­at­ing and con­tribut­ing he also liked man­ag­ing his lit­tle team within a team – he liked the prob­lem-solv­ing, liked mo­ti­vat­ing the people around him, steer­ing the team through the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of the com­pany and

the ex­ter­nal forces of the sport. Paddy wanted more of this. He wanted greater re­spon­si­bil­ity. Clearly, that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen at Wil­liams.

I re­mem­ber chat­ting to Ron Den­nis about Paddy late in 1992. Ron was vaguely aware of him but un­sure. I said some­thing about Paddy be­ing a salt-of-the-earth kind of en­gi­neer who was ca­pa­ble of much more than mere de­sign. “Is that so?” replied Ron…

By this stage I knew Paddy well. We had joined Wil­liams at about the same time and quickly be­came wa­ter-cooler close, bonded, I think, by Paddy’s to­tal re­spect for Nigel Mansell. Paddy, to me, was also very dif­fer­ent from the en­gi­neer­ing norm: he was a per­son with whom you could talk rather than an en­gi­neer you were obliged to try to un­der­stand. We came back once from a pub lunch and as we climbed from my car I looked up at the big cool­ing tow­ers of the Did­cot Power Sta­tion and said, “Do you think all that steam is harm­ful in the medium-term?”

“Not re­ally,” said Paddy. “Be­sides, I like those tow­ers. People are al­ways moan­ing about them, but did you know that Did­cot Power Sta­tion is one of the most efcient coal-to-elec­tric­ity units in the coun­try? I think it’s quite in­spir­ing to have it right by our fac­tory…” And so Paddy joined McLaren, head­ing up the R&D depart­ment there. Ob­vi­ously Ron’s plan was to de­velop the best pos­si­ble ac­tive-ride sys­tem in the short­est pos­si­ble time… but then ac­tive ride was sud­denly banned by the FIA. Paddy, at this point, could have dis­ap­peared into en­gi­neer­ing ob­scu­rity, hav­ing made the wrong move at de­cid­edly the wrong time.

In­stead, he cre­ated. In­dus­tri­ously. First there was a power brakes project. Then elec­tronic power steer­ing. Then an ac­tive dif­fer­en­tial. Then the fa­mous brake-steer de­vice that Mika Häkki­nen used so well. Then var­i­ous on­go­ing sim­u­la­tor pro­grammes. Then me­chan­i­cal power steer­ing. Then the ‘elec­tronic-shift’ power shift. Then the ‘F-duct’. Along the way, Paddy was also of course at the cut­ting-edge of elec­tronic pro­gram­ming and de­vel­op­ment, which meant his work laid the foun­da­tion for to­day’s stan­dard ECU. Equally, he was the en­gi­neer who de­vel­oped the code base for its soft­ware, us­ing high-level graphic tools that at the time were con­sid­ered too risky for the es­tab­lish­ment.

By the end of it all – the end of 2012 – Paddy had climbed to the po­si­tion of tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at McLaren. Races and ti­tles had been won. And the feel­ings were fa­mil­iar: if he could run a 200-strong en­gi­neer­ing depart­ment at McLaren, and could feel that per­haps he would have made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion here (so far as driver choice goes) or an­other move there (so far as an FIA rul­ing went), then denitely he should be push­ing him­self harder. Easy to say; more difcult to enun­ci­ate. What was re­ally hap­pen­ing was that by 2012, Paddy was as much about people – car­ing about them, think­ing about them – as he was about high-level code. He fa­mously came up against Max Mosley in the ‘Spy­gate’ hear­ings in Paris in 2007, yet came away not chas­tened but full of re­spect. “Max Mosley is one of the clever­est people I’ve ever met,” he said at the time. “I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve al­ways tried to learn from people like him – to look at the things they’ve done well and to won­der if I would have done things dif­fer­ently.”

How, though, to take that next, mas­sive step? He cer­tainly felt ready to run a com­plete F1 team but the jump from en­gi­neer­ing to the other side of the For­mula 1 spec­trum still seemed dis­cour­ag­ingly vast. “I’m sure you feel this way at ev­ery level at which you grow in your ca­reer,” he says. “It took me a num­ber of years to arm-wres­tle McLaren into giv­ing me a ti­tle that reected my po­si­tion there, even though I ef­fec­tively took the re­spon­si­bil­ity of tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor when Adrian [Newey] left. As time goes on, your hori­zons ex­pand. In my last two years at McLaren I had a sufciently good team around me to en­able me to look at some of the de­ci­sions be­ing taken above me and to be­gin won­der­ing if I would have done things that way or not. For me this was a good sign. It was a sign that it was time for me to try some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“And in the con­text of what I’ve just said, I don’t mean any dis­credit to Martin Whit­marsh. I learned a lot from him in the 20 years I worked for him and if, in the end, I needed to grow be­yond that, it’s a sign, I think, that he was a good teacher.”

As if by magic – but in re­al­ity be­cause of con­nected events – Paddy was ap­proached by Toto Wolff. Toto, by then, was at Wil­liams, work­ing around his mi­nor­ity share­hold­ing. Toto saw in Paddy a qual­ity that prob­a­bly no other per­son of F1 inuence had seen or would al­low them­selves to see.

The Wil­liams talks went a fair way; then, in the late sum­mer of 2012, Toto re­ceived his Mercedes of­fer. His con­sid­ered re­sponse was that Paddy should be a non-ne­go­tiable part of the new pack­age. To his credit, Niki Lauda was quickly con­vinced.

And so we have it: this amaz­ing combo. Team or­ders on the pit­wall? Paddy’s call (but it’ll be a log­i­cal call, you can be sure, based on all those years of hard work and a feel for what is right for the cars, the team and the driv­ers). Team struc­ture and fac­tory or­gan­i­sa­tion? Paddy again.

Over a cup of tea a cou­ple of weeks ago, Paddy was telling me that he had just spent the morn­ing get­ting to know the most re­cent nine em­ploy­ees to join the team; none of them were in en­gi­neer­ing. All of them wel­comed the chance to sit and chat with the man who makes de­ci­sions. Few are the

mid­dle-man­age­ment lay­ers – or in­ter­minable, lead­er­less meet­ings – at to­day’s Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Paddy lives a quiet life. A new apart­ment in Ox­ford. A drive along the M40 through the trafc for an 8.30am start. A Hitch­cock movie or two and a beer when there’s time for that in the evenings. A trip to Ed­in­burgh to see his daugh­ter on stage. Chats with his brother, who is an en­gi­neer at Im­pe­rial Col­lege, Lon­don. Meet­ings with Toto at least three times a week. Less time, per­haps, for in­no­va­tive tech­ni­cal think­ing, but more time for en­sur­ing he has the right people with him and thus the right en­vi­ron­ment for the prop­a­ga­tion of cre­ativ­ity.

You talk to Paddy about the new en­gine regs, the fuel-ow me­ters, the en­gine note, the world TV feed, and you come away think­ing this: ‘I love his F1. I love the tech­nol­ogy. Now I un­der­stand this. I un­der­stand the en­ergy stor­age stuff. I ap­pre­ci­ate fuel-ow. Lewis ver­sus Nico. Nico ver­sus Lewis. I un­der­stand Nico’s en­gi­neer­ing team. I un­der­stand Lewis’s en­gi­neer­ing team.’

I asked him, over that cup of tea, what the clos­ing mo­ments of this year’s Aus­tralian Grand Prix in Mel­bourne were like. How were his nails, in other words? “Ac­tu­ally it wasn’t too bad,” he said with his fa­mil­iar sparkle. “We just came up with lots of de­vices to dis­tract us from think­ing about all the things that could go wrong. First we all had a laugh about how we had to avoid the Chris­tian Horner foot-tap­ping mo­ments. Then I had the plea­sure of call­ing Andy Cow­ell (who we’ll hear from on page 84) to say that he should be ready for the podium. That took a bit of time, so that was an­other cou­ple of laps gone. Then we had a laugh about some­thing else and then Nico crossed the line. It was only when he was half-way round his slow- down lap that I re­mem­bered I had to get on the ra­dio to con­grat­u­late him…” He could have been talk­ing about a Dinky DeTo­maso Man­gusta and the way you im­prove its per­for­mance by re­mov­ing the front sus­pen­sion. He could have been dis­cussing the way con­tem­po­rary vac­uum sys­tems ac­tu­ally make it harder to cut the grass evenly.

Such is life for Paddy Lowe: de­tail. Per­sis­tence. And al­ways a bal­ance be­tween en­gi­neer­ing it and putting it into play.

Lowe’s cre­ative ge­nius at work in the 2014 Mercedes W05 (above left); the 2005 McLaren MP4-20 (above right) and the 1992 Wil­liams FW14B (be­low)

People-per­son Paddy with new team-mates: Lewis Hamil­ton, Toto Wolff, and Nico Ros­berg

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