James Allison has admitted that his work on the new Mercedes W15 F1 2024 car has left him with less time to spend on Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup assault.
Allison was brought back as Mercedes’ technical director following the team’s poor start to the F1 2023 season, with the former Ferrari and Lotus man leading the design of the new W15 for 2024.
His return to a senior position came after Allison became Mercedes’ chief technical officer in 2021, balancing his F1 duties with an identical role with the INEOS Team UK Britannia’s America’s Cup team, acting as the technical lead with input from Mercedes’ Applied Science division.
Mercedes W15 boss draws America’s Cup comparison to F1
Mercedes announced on Thursday that Allison had signed a new long-term contract extension with the team. The 37th America’s Cup due to take place in Barcelona, home of F1’s Spanish Grand Prix, later this year.
Appearing on the Performance People podcast with Ainslie’s wife Georgie, the former Sky F1 presenter, Allison expressed his regret that his return to a senior role at Mercedes has left him with less time to work on the sailing project.
And while admitting that Ainslie’s squad are not favourites for America’s Cup success, he is hopeful that the team will be in with “a shot” of glory.
He said: “I hope we have collectively put in enough work that we have bought ourselves a shot at that.
“I feel slightly fraudulent talking about it as if I cam lay claim to any significant role in it, because switching back to being technical director in F1 has left me with far less time than I did have previously to work with Ben on that.
“But I see every week the extraordinary amount of effort that has been put in by that team, of experienced marine engineers and a cohort of people who’ve previously spent their lives in motor-racing engineering.
“I think collectively we’ve done some stuff of which we can be very rightly proud; built some foundations that have I think moved things forward since the last America’s Cup.
“We’re definitely not favourites. It’s quite a nice underdog position to be in because there’s some good work being done there and I think we may have bought ourselves the opportunity – if the next several months of work can be executed cleanly – to surprise a few people.
“I fervently hope that to be the case, because I think of no more a deserving group of people – who’ve given an enormous amount of their lives over the last couple of years, and your husband far, far longer, to it – to enjoy the success that effort richly deserves.”
Asked to identify the key differences between the America’s Cup and F1, Allison pointed to the commitment required over a number of years – with F1 offering a more consistent barometer of a team’s progress.
He explained: “It’s not like F1 isn’t hard and there’s aspects of F1 that are just ludicrously difficult to cope with alongside all the pleasure.
“But there is a large slab of America’s Cup that people that undertake it – and do so willingly – take on a level of sacrifice and an endurance challenge that Formula 1 folk do not have in the same measure.
“The distance between the competitions is much longer. In Formula 1, it’s only 90 days [of a winter break] and we’re back out there again, and then every other week for a large chunk of the season, you’re racing.
“So you have this continuous feedback loop of where you stand, where your weaknesses are and therefore a goad to how to fix it.
“In America’s Cup, you’ve got the knowledge that this cup is going to be in a number of years from now, it’s one shot and therefore unbelievably high stakes.
“Although it’s a number of years and therefore, in human terms, that is a commitment of saying: ‘This is a significant slab of the amount of time I’m going to be on the planet and I’m going to devote it to a thing that is going to take a very large chunk of me off the table for that number of years.’
“It’s simultaneously both a long time, in terms of the span of your adult life, and it is the blink of an eye because the moment the starting gun fires, the deadlines come at you at a dizzying rate.
“You are behind the schedule all the way through it and the pressure of that on people, for a significant number of years, takes quite a strong constitution to be able to deal with that.
“It’s a layer of psychological and physical challenge that is not faced in the same measure by Formula 1 folk.
“It is also the case that, on the whole, the last three decades in Formula 1 has seen the industry transform from quite a cottagey industry to quite an industrialised, detailed, process-driven world where people are quite pigeonholed, but the whole machinery of that meshes together really well.
“The organisations that do it are quite mature, they’ve been blooded by Championship after Championship after Championship that lets them tune themselves to do that.
“But as a result, they are quite compartmentalised compared with an America’s Cup team where a very small number of people do a very, very big task.
“Those people need to be more of a jack of all trades and they can cover a ridiculous amount of ground individually compared with their F1 counterparts, who are asked to do a much smaller thing in a much greater level of detail.
“That has been an interesting experience, seeing how much ground a marine-background person is able to cover.
“The breadth of their knowledge may be less profound knowledge in any given area, but over a broader swathe of the vehicle that they operate on, which is a boat, not a car.
“Culturally, that’s been interesting for someone who’s been in the mechanised part of F1 for the last few decades to see how a different world works.”