James Allison ‘up to my neck in it’ after shock Mercedes return

Sam Cooper
James Allison, Mercedes, in the F1 paddock. Montreal, June 2022.

James Allison, Mercedes, arrives for the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal, June 2022.

James Allison said he is “up to my neck in it” following his return to the Mercedes garage but remarked that it was a pleasure to be doing so.

Having departed his chief technical officer role in 2021, Allison made a surprise return to the Mercedes F1 garage recently when he swapped places with Mike Elliott.

The move was initiated by Elliott who felt his talents were best suited to the chief technical officer role at Mercedes AMG that Allison had previously occupied and one which sees the Silver Arrows regain the services of a staff member who was crucial to their F1 dominance.

It was a surprising move, not least because Allison had previously suggested everyone had a shelf life in a certain role, but also because last time out in Melbourne, the W14 showed some performance that it had previously not done.

Allison, though, said the decision was not dependent on a race result on any particular weekend and was a “sober assessment” of what he and Elliott were best suited to.

“I don’t think that this decision is particularly dependent on the fortunes of the car at a given race weekend,” he told the F1 Nation podcast. “It was based on a sober assessment of what the pair of us are best suited to and we think that the overall fighting strength of this team is maximised by this role swap.

“Let’s hope that Melbourne is just the first step in a general pickup and recovery that allows us to get more competitive by the weekend [in Baku] but Mike and I are convinced that with the jobs that we’re setting out to do, that we’ll be playing our best part in that recovery in the time ahead of us.”

Allison’s initial decision to move from Ferrari to Mercedes was a desire to be based in the UK following the death of his wife Rebecca to meningitis. Allison has since met a new partner and explained that a move away from the all-consuming life of F1 was a desire to spend more time with her.

Now though, with the couple settled in England, Allison feels comfortable returning to a more hands-on role and said it was “a pleasure to be back up to my neck in it.”

“I was much less involved than I had been as a technical director,” Allison said of his now former role. “I was more manoeuvring around in the sort of 2026 space than in the here and now of the current car.

“It certainly is a fair old chunk of effort to get up to speed with everything, not merely the regulations but the full engine of the factory and the race team and all the things that are currently in play in the championship fight. But it’s exciting and fun and interesting and a pleasure to be back up to my neck in it.”

Allison’s focus is now on how to improve the team’s immediate fortunes with Mercedes one of several constructors hoping new upgrades will push them back into contention. The 55-year-old said the W14 was constantly evolving but refused to state what the team’s target was.

“The flow of new parts has already happened,” he said. “You pretty much have a different car every weekend you take it racing.

“Sometimes it’s a few more parts, sometimes a few fewer. But we’ve had new things for each of the races [and] Baku won’t be any exception.

“You are constrained by cost caps and stuff eventually but we’re at a stage of the season where there’s still plenty of firepower there to keep putting lap time on the car weekend by weekend.

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“I try not to think really in those terms [of the competitors], just concentrating on what are the areas of opportunity on the car? How quickly can we fill those opportunities with hardware or different approaches with the expectation that it will improve our chances at any given weekend?

“The sooner we can do that and on the steepest slope possible, the better our chances will be in any given weekend and up against any given team and in the championship.

“But we’re completely realistic about the significant performance of the Red Bull and particularly Max [Verstappen]. They’re going to be extremely worthy opposition to hunt down and in due course overtake.”

As for where Mercedes are targeting to be strong this year, Allison suggested it is still too early to know the full strengths and weaknesses of their 2023 car.

“It’s quite early in the season to be diagnosing what your car is great at and what it isn’t great at because the car’s not a fixed thing. It’s a platform that develops all the way through the year.

“If I had to pluck something out of the air now. I’d say that we tend to be a little stronger at the front limited circuits, rather than the ones that are heavily rear limited.

“So Bahrain, a tight track, is all about how well a car will look after its rear tires. Melbourne was a bit more on the front limited end of the spectrum. Other front limited tracks…Barcelona is one, Silverstone another.

“But honestly, it feels too early to be predicting that because these are young rules. This is a young car, and there’s plenty to give to it.”