Laurent Mekies on leaving Ferrari, Red Bull’s glass ceiling and the future of RB

Sam Cooper

Laurent Mekies bites into his cookie. It is a rare chance to eat something on a hectic day during the Monaco GP weekend.

While the world’s rich and famous party outside, the team principal of RB is sat in a back room of Red Bull’s hospitality unit, away from the spotlight.

Red Bull’s self-dubbed Energy Station is the biggest of all the team’s units in Monaco and the only one that floats on the water while a dirt biker jumps over cars on the deck.

Stepping aboard the Energy Station at this particular location is a reminder of the ethos behind the Red Bull brand – we do it because we can. F1’s disrupters arrived in the early 2000s and have since gone from noisy neighbours to the dominant force in the sport.

But their sister team has gone through a journey of its own. Starting out very much as a proving ground for Red Bull’s young talents, it morphed into a team of its own in 2021 to varying degrees of success but now it finds itself somewhere in between.

Visa Cash App RB Formula One team, VCARB, Toro Rosso, RB, Racing Bulls – whatever you want to call it, the goals behind the team are clear: continue to foster the next generation of drivers but become a force of their own.

With the retirement of Franz Tost, the only man to have held the team principal position at the team up until this season, the Faenza-based outfit underwent a transformation.

In came experienced CEO Peter Bayer, a man who spent time at the FIA as secretary general, but in the role of team principal, Red Bull managed to entice Laurent Mekies out of Ferrari.

“It’s always going to be very difficult for a Formula 1 fan or car fan to leave Ferrari because of what it represents as a fan,” he exclusively told PlanetF1.com.

“But the reality is that it’s completely unique to be given the possibility to be associated with a project that effectively we look at as if it was a new team. From a shareholder perspective, we look at it as if it was a new team and equally that team has an extraordinary base.

“It was a unique opportunity and this is why I decided to make the jump.”

Moving the 100km from Maranello to Faenza brought Mekies back to some familiar surroundings. When Red Bull first purchased the team from Minardi at the end of 2005, Mekies joined as the chief engineer. He returned as one of the most experienced members of the paddock.

A stint at the FIA from 2014 to 2018 was brought to an end by a move to Ferrari and the job of sporting director. As the years went by, he rose further up the ranks until he held his last posting of deputy team principal and racing director, one of the most senior roles within the set-up.

But while a promotion to the top job may have been on the cards in the future, RB represented a new opportunity and one the 47-year-old was keen to grab.

“It feels like an honour to be part of this group,” he continued. “That’s how I feel every day. There is a huge amount of talent in finance and in business and we are all lucky this new start is about being more competitive and being more ambitious.

“We are being given the means to try and build a team that does that.

“If we simply look at the grid, when somebody tells you we need to build a team to be on top of the midfield, you say ‘well wait two seconds, there are six car manufacturers plus Red Bull Racing’ so it’s almost like seven top teams.

“So if you don’t want to be P8, P9, P10, you are going to need to be quite a serious organisation and luckily, that’s our target.

“We are still significantly smaller in terms of team size compared to all these guys. We are nearly 600 people between Faenza and Bicester but it is still a significant step smaller compared to what these guys are doing.

“Yes, the budget gap has helped pull things together but there are still a lot of things that needs to be done on the outside to be ready for that gap.

Laurent Mekies in the pit lane
Laurent Mekies spent four years at the FIA before moving to Ferrari in 2018.

“And therefore, you have a delta in terms of resource available, in terms of team size, in terms of infrastructures, in terms of tools, in terms of process, in terms of hardware. So that’s the gap analysis that we’re doing right now with the team to see what we are missing to go on.

You would only have to hear James Vowles speak to understand the time required to resurrect a team’s fortunes. The Williams boss revealed that up until very recently, the team were using Microsoft Excel to keep track of parts rather than more sophisticated software.

RB may not be that far behind but the challenges are still huge.

“I can’t comment on James’ situation but what I can say basically is that it’s 360. It’s hardware. It’s software. It’s at all levels.

“This is what makes the adventure fantastic because you can go on and shape it in a way that it goes and challenges these guys but it is I think it’s equally true that we are not going to beat them by being bigger than them, because we won’t be bigger than them.

“So it’s also challenging us in terms of how we go about it because we need to put something else on the table. We need to have the fundamentals and then we need to put something else on the table in terms of beating somebody that will probably still be bigger than you.”

You ask every midfield team principal and they would probably wish for the same but F1 is a cut-throat business and one where you are only ever judged on your last result. Balancing that, Mekies says, is a key part of his job.

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“It’s two extremes. One that looks at the long term and tries to build stronger foundations and in the meantime, you have the reality of the grand prix every two weeks. You have the fight that has started already.

“You have a lot of short term gains, mid-term gains that are there to be picked. We have injected a lot of skills and experience within the team from hiring many senior people and so we try to bring these two flows in parallel and see where it takes us.

“We have [to have] the discipline, the patience to do that. If we are not conscious that there are substantial gaps between where we are now and where we want to go, if we don’t accept to lose a little bit in the short term to build that, then it means we’ll simply have no chance to achieve our objective.”

McLaren have shown the modern blueprint of how to rise up the grid but RB is not a normal Formula 1 team in the sense that a good day for the owners would see another team on the top step.

Asked if there is a Red Bull-imposed glass ceiling, Mekies denied its existence and said that if there was one, that would show the team have achieved their objectives.

“The glass ceiling doesn’t come from Red Bull Racing,” the 47-year-old said. “I would be happy if it was the case as it would mean that we have resolved quite a few of our performance limitations.

“I think it means P6, maybe P5 if you start to have the capability to beat some manufacturers. That’s what I think long term success means.”

RB, sitting in P6 currently, are ahead of their plan Mekies said – but there is no doubt that their ambitions are far greater than that.

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