Why Rob Marshall’s arrival forced a demotion in McLaren technical ranks

Michelle Foster
McLaren racing director Andrea Stella. Mogyorod, Hungary, July 2022.

McLaren's Andrea Stella at the pit wall. Mogyorod, Hungary, July 2022.

Signing Rob Marshall as the McLaren technical director of engineer and design for 2024, Andrea Stella has revealed making space for the former Red Bull man has necessitated a demotion of sorts for Neil Houldey.

McLaren announced earlier this week they’d signed Marshall, who previously spent 17 years with Red Bull where his most recent role was as chief engineering officer, as their new technidal director, engineering and design.

He’ll join the team in 2024 with his arrival just the latest move in McLaren’s technical restructuring which saw James Key depart from his role as technical director, the Briton replaced by a three-prong structure.

Marshall’s arrival means Houldey, who currently heads up the engineering and design team, will be the next to take a step back and become Marshall’s deputy, but Stella insists he was always in the know when it came to the team’s plans.

“So Neil has always been a part of the process,” said the new team boss. “He’s been in the conversation.

“He has actually played as a team player in this process. And when we told Neil that we had this opportunity, which was quite unmissable, we elaborated together the solution.

“There’s so much to do in terms of engineering and design to create the right standards to design the fastest car in Formula 1, that actually we thought this is a very powerful combination, with Rob, the more of the technical authority, and Neil running more of the day-to-day activities within the department.

“So definitely Neil was in the process, very constructive process.”

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While Lando Norris has welcomed Marshall as one of the “the best minds within Formula 1”, Red Bull issued a very complimentary press release in which they wished the Briton well.

Asked about that, Stella said: “Well, I can say what I know. Certainly Rob was very keen to join McLaren. He understood perfectly our journey, our ambition.

“I think he understood that he could be a fundamental player in trying to make something important like bringing McLaren to the victory, so strong motivation from his side.

“I think at Red Bull they know very well the role that Rob played over time, and I think this invokes respect for people. From what I could judge from outside, I saw this level of respect from Red Bull to Rob which, observing, was good to see.

“And then when it came to the press release, that was obviously agreed between the teams, that’s why it was coordinated.”

Six races into this season McLaren are sixth in the Constructors’ Championship on 17 points, 18 behind fifth-placed Alpine.

Max Verstappen meanwhile downplayed Marshall’s departure saying: “He was already more focused on future projects. So I find it difficult to estimate how much of a difference it will make. Everyone who is involved in this generation of cars is still here.”

Following on from Helmut Marko’s claims rivals are offering Red Bull personnel double wages to jump ship, the reigning World Champion added; “You know, if someone receives such an offer, I naturally understand why they would switch.

“I think he’s already in his 50s, so earning well for a few years, I definitely understand that.”