Explained: What McLaren’s cold press release reveals after surprise big-name exit

Sam Cooper
David Sanchez

David Sanches has left McLaren after just three months.

David Sanchez described it as “the role we envisioned and had agreed to was not aligned with the reality of the position I found.”

Team principal Andrea Stella said it was a “further step in the evolution of the structure of the technical department.” McLaren called it a “relentless quest to establish the highest technical standards.”

Whatever way you want to cut it, it is hard to see how anything other than a falling out has caused this early shock departure.

In March 2023, McLaren opted for the bold decision of taking the job of technical director James Key and splitting it into three parts, a formula Alpine have since adopted.

Key departed, blamed for the underwhelming MCL60 that launched, and a number of high profile signings were confirmed.

Rob Marshall, a man who played a crucial role in Red Bull’s success, was one through the door but the other big name was Ferrari’s chief engineer of vehicle concept, David Sanchez.

The hiring of the French engineer was quite the coup. McLaren, at the time, were one of the worst teams on the grid while Ferrari looked to be on an upwards trajectory under the new leadership of Fred Vasseur.

A few months earlier, Andreas Seidl had left to join Sauber, meaning Stella was promoted to a role he had no experience of. They also had the unknown quantity of a rookie Oscar Piastri in one of their cars.

So to make the move was quite the leap of faith from Sanchez, regardless of how much Stella and Zak Brown sold him the dream.

It was also a sacrifice for the 44-year-old. A career in F1 is never certain and to make the move from Ferrari to McLaren, Sanchez had to serve nine months of gardening leave.

Which makes his departure now all the more surprising. Early departures are not unheard of but after three months is an incredibly short time, suggesting there were unresolvable problems behind the strong MTC facade.

In his role, Sanchez was one of the senior figures of a team that only has intentions of moving up and has arguably assembled one of the best technical outfits on the grid.

The nature of design and building an F1 car also means it is unlikely we have seen any of Sanchez’s contributions so far this season. What will he think if a part or upgrade he designed goes on to be a game-changer?

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This is a possibility that no doubt Sanchez will have considered and even still, he chose to walk away. It is not even like he has been poached as the press release made it clear he does not already have another opportunity lined up.

For McLaren, it is a rare misstep from a team that seemed to be doing everything right in the last 10 months.

Their aggressive move to a three-pronged approach will not have accounted for such a sudden departure and if they are hoping to entice another rival’s staff member away, that will be another lengthy gardening leave to serve.

In the meantime, Stella must now juggle the roles of team principal and head of technical performance and while he is no doubt equipped for the skill-side of the role, he may find himself spinning too many plates as the season goes on.

These kinds of affairs rarely get aired in public, let alone in the immediate aftermath, and it is likely we will have to wait a good few years to find out what really happened but, reading between the lines, you can only come to the conclusion that Sanchez’s relationship with McLaren was beyond saving.

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