James Allison will become Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff’s “technical twin brother” in his new role as chief technical officer.
Allison has been Mercedes’ technical director since joining the team in 2017 but will step away from the position on July 1 to take up the newly-created CTO role.
Wolff helped fashion the new position to keep Allison on board after Allison decided in 2019 he would not continue as technical director long-term and informed Wolff he did not want to be considered for the team principal position either.
With Mike Elliott assuming the technical director role and day-to-day responsibility for the F1 team’s technical operations, Allison’s position will have a much broader perspective, encompassing non-F1 projects and positioning him as an even closer ally for Wolff in making bigger decisions for the company as a whole.
Wolff even described Allison as a “sparring partner”, a description previously only reserved for the late Niki Lauda when he was Mercedes’ non-executive director until his death in 2019.
“James obviously is a huge asset to the team, not only as a brilliant engineer but also as a leader, and he has a good understanding and overview of what is happening in Formula 1 beyond the technical space,” Wolff said when asked by The Race at Imola about Allison’s potential exit from the team prior to creating the CTO role.
“He is a sparring partner of mine when it comes down to strategic discussions, political discussions and he is getting more involved also with the other departments and racing programmes that we have.
“It was almost a logical step to make him my technical twin brother.
“I’m also the head of Mercedes[-AMG] Motorsport. And so it makes sense to have a technical director for all motorsports programmes.
“I’m the CEO and he’s the CTO. He enjoyed the idea so we’ve worked on that for a year.”
Allison said the “absolute backstop” of any agreement to keep him at Mercedes had to be that his new position “could not in any way undermine” the technical director position.
That means leaving Elliott full responsibility “for the assets and technical challenge beneath him”, although Allison will aid the transition to July 1 and be available to advise Elliot as requested.
Allison stressed it was necessary to ensure the CTO position was “not in the front line, not part of the day to day, not part of the current car, or indeed, next year’s car” – which means this separation of duties is different to Mercedes’ 2014 project, when the conceptual stage of the car built to new rules was split from the day-to-day technical work early.
“It had to be a role where I could focus on longer-wavelength stuff than that, on looking at what challenges the entire company might face,” Allison said. “And how could we best equip ourselves technically, to make sure that we’re well set to face them.
“But it really is what it is described as, it is not an operational role. That is the preserve of a technical director, the correct preserve of a technical director.”
Allison said he was hopeful of engaging in non-F1 activities – the company has Formula E and hypercar projects alongside the grand prix team, plus other technological pursuits – but also of “putting my shoulder to the wheel to help the team be set fair with its technical resources on a longer-term basis”.
He said that would be “for the sort of things that may arrive with us three, five, 10 years from now, stuff, which is always in the back of your mind when you’re conducting a championship assault or preparing for the following year”.
“But which is nearly always displaced by the urgency of the sort of events that tend to fill your inbox, as the days roll on,” he added.
Allison had once been earmarked as Wolff’s successor and even took control of the team trackside at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Though he said at the time it was not too different to his usual duties and that he found the experience enjoyable, Allison apparently told Wolff that the top job did not interest him.
“He would absolutely be capable to be the team principal and also he has so much respect within the organisation,” said Wolff. “But it is very easy- he said, ‘never, ever I would do this’. The team principal requires different skills so he said, ‘no, thank you’.
“James and I speak multiple times every single day, and we’re totally coordinated on the strategic direction of Mercedes Motorsport and Mercedes Grand Prix.
“Much earlier than before we decided the CTO role, it must have been a year or two ago, we discussed the future of the team principal role in Mercedes and he made it very clear that that was not for him.
“Since then, obviously I’m thinking and I’m looking and I’m observing what is happening out there and who’s doing a good job so finally I can step back from this madness.”