In the pad­dock: Edd Straw

The Mclaren sport­ing di­rec­tor’s oth­er­wise hugely im­pres­sive CV doesn’t in­clude suc­cess in Formula 1. Will he be able to rec­tify that?

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - EDD STRAW


Few get three shots at Formula 1; the sur­prise about Daniil Kvyat get­ting a third stint at Toro Rosso in 2019 is ev­i­dence of that. But there’s an­other, sur­pris­ingly low-pro­file, fig­ure who has made it a hat-trick of op­por­tu­ni­ties with a comeback of his own this sea­son – and he’s among the most suc­cess­ful drivers in the grand prix pad­dock.

What’s more, he’s got a big chal­lenge on his hands.“solv­ing a puz­zle”is how this some­time Wil­liams and Foot­work test driver de­scribes the chal­lenge he faces. And it’s not a straight­for­ward one – it’s one of the most complicated in F1.

But this France-born Brazil­ian knows how to achieve mo­tor­sport suc­cess bet­ter than most. Both as a rac­ing driver – he won two Indycar ti­tles and the In­di­anapo­lis 500 – and as a team owner in sportscars, Gil de Ferran is used to win­ning.

Since be­ing appointed Mclaren’s sport­ing di­rec­tor two months ago, the 50-year-old has kept a de­lib­er­ately low pro­file as part of the team’s pol­icy of keep­ing its head down. This is a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion to its bom­bast turn­ing to bust when the 2018 sea­son got un­der way and its Re­nault re­birth was ex­posed as a false dawn. That’s fine by de Ferran, an eru­dite, in­tel­li­gent man not known for self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment. His first‘chance’in F1 came with the afore­men­tioned test out­ings dur­ing his fi­nal sea­sons in Europe. The se­cond was a stint as sport­ing di­rec­tor at the works Honda team from 2005-07. The Brack­ley-based squad, which went on to be­come to­day’s Mercedes squad via a year as Brawn, was not an easy place to work at. From April ’05 to June ’07, de Ferran was just one of a num­ber who strug­gled dur­ing a pe­riod char­ac­terised by some in­volved as a quag­mire of in­ter­nal pol­i­tics in the pre-ross Brawn days. He walked away, but on good terms.

Does that mean things will go the same way at Mclaren, es­pe­cially given there are still mut­ter­ings of dis­gruntle­ment in the ranks about the lead­er­ship? It’s only fair to judge him and his man­age­ment-team co­horts by whether or not Mclaren makes good on its prom­ises to re­build. One thing we can’t ac­cuse Mclaren of is fail­ing to ac­cept that there are se­ri­ous weaknesses that have been laid bare by the Re­nault en­gine panacea prov­ing to be noth­ing of the sort. De Ferran should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. He’s char­ac­terised very much as Zak Brown’s man, and it’s true that the duo had a pre-ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship. De Ferran’s ini­tial in­volve­ment with Mclaren was at last year’s In­di­anapo­lis 500 as Fer­nando Alonso’s driver coach, be­fore grow­ing to a con­sul­tancy role and then his cur­rent job. He forms one of the key tri­umvi­rate at the cen­tre of Mclaren along with Brown and Si­mon Roberts, who has over­all tech­ni­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the car.

“Be­tween Zak, Si­mon and my­self, with great in­put from Jonathan Neale [Mclaren Group chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer], we’re work­ing through this puz­zle to­gether,”says de Ferran.

“It’s a com­plete cliche, but it’s about peo­ple and process, and a great deal about cul­ture as well. It’s about how you bring the peo­ple to­gether, com­mu­ni­cate with clar­ity, how you en­sure the pro­cesses be­tween all of these peo­ple work.”

Mclaren se­nior per­son­nel fre­quently talk up the tal­ent within the team, and jus­ti­fi­ably so. The ques­tion is how you har­ness that, and how you elim­i­nate the bar­ri­ers to do­ing so. Cul­ture is the key­word, and in re­cent years mur­mur­ings sug­gest that part of the prob­lem at Mclaren is that self-in­ter­est has trumped self-anal­y­sis when it comes to tack­ling – or not, as it may be – prob­lems. Per­haps this is what de Ferran is al­lud­ing to?

De Ferran is just part of what is go­ing to be a long process of re­cov­ery, but he’s noth­ing if not prag­matic and recog­nises the scale of the chal­lenge. He showed that when, af­ter that first brush with F1, his at­ten­tion turned to Indy­cars rather than miss­ing that chance to chase the grand prix dream.

Given that F1 shunned him, you can for­give de Ferran for en­joy­ing an­other op­por­tu­nity to make an im­pact in grand prix rac­ing. But it’s not about right­ing past wrongs.

“I was quite busy out­side of mo­tor­sports, but when an op­por­tu­nity like this comes up, it touches some­thing deep in­side your heart that I’m very pas­sion­ate about,”he says.

“Is it the same thing [as driv­ing]? Com­pletely dif­fer­ent!

The thrill that I had as a driver, that was then and this is now, it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent feel­ing. There are some sim­i­lar­i­ties, the feel­ing of com­pe­ti­tion, the feel of try­ing to bring everyone to­gether and meeting the chal­lenge head on. But the thrill of driv­ing is unique, of slid­ing a car at 200mph, 230mph or even higher. That was a great part of my youth; I’m now an old man.”

How de Ferran fares with Mclaren in his – in rac­ing-driver years – ‘old age’will de­fine how he’s seen in F1. Mclaren makes much of its leg­end, play­ing on the fact that it is more than a rac­ing team. What it needs to do now is live up to it. If de Ferran can be part of this, he will jus­tify his place in the leg­end. If not, he’ll just end up as an­other ca­su­alty of Mclaren’s strug­gles.

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