James Allison thought he would have to leave the Mercedes Formula 1 team entirely when stepping away as technical director, a decision he reached back in 2019.
Allison will assume the position of Mercedes chief technical officer from July 1, a role created for him once the team learned he did not want to continue in his current position.
When that restructure was announced earlier this month, Allison said his choice not to continue as technical director was motivated by a belief that people in that role have a “shelf life”.
Allison has been technical director since joining Mercedes in 2017 and with no higher technical position in the team’s structure, Allison believed he would be stepping away until Toto Wolff sought to create a new role for him to move into.
“When I felt that this was the right thing for me and the best thing for the team to step away, I very much thought that I would be stepping away to my sofa to cheer the team from the sidelines as a punter,” Allison said ahead of this weekend’s Imola round. “I didn’t imagine that there would be a space for me in the team, having relinquished this brilliant job.
“Happily, Toto saw it a little differently. And between us we worked on the manner in which I could contribute to the team.”
Those discussions were held with the “absolute backstop” that any new role for Allison could not interfere or detract from the technical director position, which will be assumed by Mike Elliott.
Allison and Elliot have been working closely in recent months and Allison will aid the transition into the new structure for the summer.
Allison said that, having made the decision “pretty clearly in my head during 2019”, there has been a lot of dedication to ensuring that his exit from the role does not cause any disruption to Mercedes.
“It was merely a question of organising the timing of that in a way that would allow it to be something where the company could grow in strength as a result of handing over to a really strong engineer in Mike Elliott,” said Allison. “And to do so in a way that allowed the company to attack the championships without missing a step.
“It was a long time ago that I reached that in my own head, and then it takes a while to sort of get the building blocks in place to make it a reality.”
Allison described making that decision in 2019 as a consequence of reaching a contract renewal point and having to face up to his future.
He said he wanted to find a balance that meant the rest of his tenure as technical director would get the best out of him, so he did not “outstay my welcome” and instead knew “when the right time to step away was”.
“I would much rather that that was done when I was still useful, than becoming an old sort of embarrassment,” he added.
“The period for which I was really comfortable and confident to commit for as technical director is what you’ve seen, and we have been collectively working to make sure that the transition from me to Mike would be a success and would give the company all the benefits that come from the vigour of a new set of hands in charge.
“It’s not just the opportunity for Mike that that produces, but there’s a sort of ripple effect through the company as a result. And it generally is a very healthy thing for a team.”
Allison said he will miss the “entire experience” of being Mercedes’ technical director because of the team’s “extraordinary, warm-hearted, good-natured, fun culture”.
He described it as “head and shoulders more fun than anything else that’s happened to me” professionally, adding that personally the loss of his wife prior to joining Mercedes means the “overall experience of being alive has had some difficulties attached to it in the last five years”.
“I know that it’s the right thing to do,” he said of leaving his role. “But a huge part of me is screaming at me, ‘What on earth are you doing?!’.
“It’s a brilliant job. But it is definitely the right thing for me. And it’s definitely the right thing for the team. And the second of those two is the more important.
“But I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to look back on this gilded period that I’ve been lucky enough to have late in my F1 career and just think how lucky I was to fall in with this group of people at this time, and be the technical director in what is arguably the most successful and amazing Formula 1 team that has ever been.”