What do you do when you’re haemorrhaging talent? The case of Force India

June 2, 2010

Is Force India's talent exodus a sign of on-track success or managerial failings?

The news that Force India’s Technical Director – Mark Smith is leaving to go to Lotus, suggests that all is not well at the Silverstone based firm. This comes very quickly after Mark’s predecessor James Key had left to go to Sauber, there are also a number of other Force India staff leaving to join their previous Technical Director – Mike Gascoyne at Lotus. If you add to this the fact that F1’s most experienced Commerical Director, Ian Philips, also left Force India after a rather public disagreement with Vijay Mallay over who talked to the press, it seems like Force India is experiencing a bit of talent exodus.

So why could this be? Well typically in F1 a good time to move is when your team is doing well and you can reap the benefit from being associated with a successful team, although Force India are certainly not a front runner they have, over the last couple of years, produced a few surprises with their car and are currently well ahead of Williams in the midfield battle. However such a mass exodus of technical people is unusual and suggests that all may not be well in the management side of things. Talented technical people are motivated by working with other good technical people and being given the freedom to test out theories and ideas. They also look to work with and be managed by those who have a strong technical reputation and thereby benefit in terms of professional kudos. The benefit to Red Bull in hiring Adrian Newey was not just in getting the skills and capabilities of Newey, but the fact that he was there was a powerful signal that said the team plan to invest in technology, furthermore if you come to Red Bull you will be working with one of the all time greats, suddenly Red Bull Racing’s attractiveness to talented technical people went up exponentially, and we are now seeing the results.

Ron Dennis was a past master of recruiting the top technical brains (e.g. John Barnard, Gordon Murray, Adrian Newey) and often managing to keep hold of them by allowing them to work on other interesting projects such as Murray’s work on the road car – this way the talent is not lost to the competition. One of the great strengths of Flavio Briatore (and as we know there were also weaknesses) was that he let his technical people do their thing. He gave them the space and resources to get on with the job. He allowed Benetton and then Renault to build up its technical capability and also brought through some great talents, Mike Gascoyne and Mark Smith among them. Let’s hope that Force India haven’t lost the plot regarding retaining and developing their technical talent.

One Response to “What do you do when you’re haemorrhaging talent? The case of Force India”

  1. Such exoduses are rare – except when Mike Gascoyne leaves a team. He took about 20 people with him when he left Jordan, half-a-dozen when he left Renault, a handful when he left Toyota (plus one or two from Renault who hadn’t transferred to Toyota). So if Mike only manages to take three people off Force India it’s actually fared pretty well. It helps that there’s a bunch of Toyota people who worked with Mike and are now pretty much unemployed, but Lotus needs more building-up of its technical department than any other team Mike has worked at before.

    The James Key matter is more interesting and I do think Force India could have handled Ian Phillips’ indiscretion better. The questions about management are interesting ones. However, the Lotus exodus is fairly predictable and something that could have been predicted ever since Mallya noticed that Gascoyne and Kolles could not work together (it is hardly a coincidence that the two are now in rival rookie teams).

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