4 July 2018
McLaren has announced that Eric Boullier has resigned as its Racing Director after four years in the role. Whether this will help or hinder the team's progress remains to be seen. The resignation is entirely believable because Boullier has been frustrated for some time at not being allowed to get on and run the team as he wanted to, rather than having to answer to different directors and shareholders.
Racing teams run best when it is clear who the boss is and McLaren has suffered from the "matrix management" concept - in organisational and technical terms. This system was introduced by the previous management, with everyone apparently reporting to everyone else. It also helps if there is a clear "no compromise" racing mentality rather than a bureaucratic decision-making process which means that everything gets lost in committees and politics. Dictators are more effective than democracy.
When Ron Dennis was still around everyone knew who the boss was - even if the system existed in that era - but after he disappeared the matrix management seemed to take on a life of its own and to fall over itself. The team has been highly political in recent months. Boullier was a racer and just wanted to get on with the job but was not given the power to do so.
There are other changes as a result of the news with Simon Roberts, who is a very safe pair of hands, taking over the production, engineering and logistics of the team, while Andrea Stella has been appointed Performance Director, responsible for trackside operations. Former Indycar racer and occasional F1 manager Gil de Ferran will take up the new role of Sporting Director. It will be interesting to see if this combination can make a difference.
I am also hearing that the plans for an Indycar team for 2019 - which were not Boullier's idea - have now been axed, which is good news as it would have taken away from the team's focus on F1, which is essential if McLaren is to get out of its current mess. This was largely a marketing exercise, but as the core business is F1 it is much more important to get that working before diverting energy and attention elsewhere.
“I am very proud to have worked with such a brilliant team over the past four years, but I recognise now is the right time for me to step down," Boullier said. "I want to wish everyone at McLaren the best for the remainder of the season and for the future.”
It will be interesting to see what happens next with the Frenchman, who came up through racing in the old school way, rather than running things by committee. He enjoyed success at DAMS and at Lotus F1 before moving to McLaren.
The management of F1 teams is increasingly complicated these days because of the size of the teams. Several of the old style teams have suffered because they cannot find the right balance between corporate management and the need to be racers, while newer organisations such as Red Bull and Mercedes have been able to adapt more easily.