Red Bull’s warning that it has no intention of allowing Dan Fallows to take up his new role as Aston Martin technical director before his current contract expires, which team principal Christian Horner said “certainly won’t be within the next couple of years”, has echoes of how hard it pushed to retain the highly-rated aerodynamicist’s services last time he signed for a rival team.
Aston Martin was taken by surprise by Red Bull announcing Fallows’s move, having intended to make the deal public itself, with team principal Otmar Szafnauer saying it was planned to be revealed “in due course”. This is potentially part of Red Bull playing hardball over the timing of Fallow’s departure.
However, it is understood that the team has no problem with Red Bull jumping the gun, especially as it serves to underline the scope of its ambition and will make it an even more appealing destination for future technical recruits. Fallows is certainly highly-regarded, even though this will be his first job at technical director level – although he has been in demand by rival teams before.
Back in September 2013, McLaren signed a deal with Fallows with a view to starting work in April the following year. Red Bull subsequently announced that Fallows would be staying on in the new role of head of aero, having offered him both a promotion and a pay rise.
This led to McLaren launching legal action on the basis it had a legally-binding contract with Fallows. This action was dropped in June 2014 with no money changing hands, but as part of the settlement Red Bull did agree to let Peter Prodromou (below), who had also signed a deal to join McLaren at the end of the previous year, start work in mid-September 2014 rather than at the beginning of 2015.
That Red Bull was willing to put so much effort into keeping hold of Fallows and was prepared to use the terms of Prodromou’s switch as a bargaining tool shows the value it placed on him. This was at a time when chief technical officer Adrian Newey was stepping away from the F1 team, making the strength of the rest of its aerodynamic department even more essential than usual.
The decision to take the unusual step of announcing Fallows’ move to Aston Martin – and his role as technical director – indicates his departure at the end of his current deal has had an impact on Red Bull. But there is no suggestion there could be a repeat of what happened in 2014, with Fallows certain to make the move. The only question is exactly when he can start work.
“It is 100% signed, sealed, delivered,” said Szafnauer in response to a question from The Race. “Dan is coming, it’s just a matter of the timing.”
When asked why Red Bull had announced the deal, with Aston Martin originally revealing only that it planned to recruit a technical director but not naming them, Szafanuer did not give an explicit answer. But he did express his appreciation for Red Bull making the announcement.
“We announced yesterday the restructuring and we were going to announce Dan in due course,” said Szafnauer.
“But we don’t control what Red Bull do and are grateful that they announced Dan.
“He’s a great addition to our team, he’s a like-minded individual, he’s a high-performer, he’s won world championships, he knows Seb [Vettel]. So we look forward to him joining. The start time, we’re still working on that.”
F1 recruitment, particularly when it comes to top-level personnel, can be a time-consuming process given the contracts designed to protect teams in situations when individuals move between teams.
But while Aston Martin potentially faces a long wait before Fallows takes up his new role, Szafnauer believes the priority is securing high-quality personnel over speed of recruitment.
“It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint so I think the important thing is that we get the right people,” said Szafnauer when asked by The Race about the challenge of recruitment.
“You’d rather have the right people in your team as opposed to getting somebody very quickly, but that doesn’t work out.
“So the process is to identify like-minded individuals that are high-performing, and get them into the team. But if we have to wait a little bit, that’s the process.”
Szafanuer also confirmed there are plans for further recruitment, although the top end of the technical structure is now set with chief technical officer Andrew Green sitting above Fallows, performance director Tom McCullough and engineering director Luca Furbatto.
What’s clear is that Aston Martin luring one of Red Bull’s key aerodynamic personnel shows how big a player it is becoming in the F1 employment market – and just how strong a team is being assembled to build on the existing strengths of the Silverstone-based team.
And the fact Red Bull wants to ensure Fallows’s move is delayed as long as possible, as well as seemingly being willing to play games with the announcement, is also telling in terms of how seriously Aston Martin is perceived as a rival.