Feature F1 Unlocked
ANALYSIS: Why Andreas Seidl chose to reunite with James Key as Sauber prepare for Audi transition
Andreas Seidl has so far succeeded in his goal of keeping a low profile since he joined Sauber Motorsport as their CEO.
The former McLaren chief came onboard at the start of January and has been tasked with readying the Swiss team (currently racing under the Alfa Romeo F1 Team brand) to become Audi’s works operation in 2026.
He has still attended races but made a point of staying in the shadows and observing. His public comments have been very limited.
His first big move was to appoint Alessandro Alunni Bravi to the role of Team Representative, which roughly translates as the public face of the squad. This is an interim position that affords Seidl more time to decide on the right person to take on the Team Principal role in the future – but also to identify key hires in other senior positions.
When James Key left his position at McLaren in March, following a significant shake-up of the technical office and amid the British team’s worst start to a F1 campaign since 2017, messages and calls were very quickly exchanged between Seidl and Key.
The duo worked together for four years at McLaren, and Seidl saw up close how Key operated and the skills he brought to the team. They shared common goals, backed each other, and believed the McLaren project would succeed eventually, even if it would take some time.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown and new Team Principal Andrea Stella had a different view when they conducted a review following Seidl’s departure. And they deemed that the current structure didn’t work, instead choosing to replace it with a three-pronged technical committee that did not have space for Key moving forward.
It is true that the cars that Key had a hand in from birth – principally the 2022 and 2023 machines – were disappointing. It’s also true that McLaren were slow to react when issues occurred – the brake problems they turned up with in Bahrain dogged them for most of the first half of the campaign.
But while Key was ultimately responsible for that, you could argue he was limited in what he could do by the tools at his disposal. Seidl initiated a swathe of new infrastructure projects, including a new wind tunnel and simulator, as he made the most of fresh investment – but these would take years to be built and longer still to be calibrated and impact on track performance. The completion dates were further pushed back courtesy of Covid-19.
Seidl will know what Key was facing. That he has drafted him in – having agreed terms very quickly – proves that he still backs Key’s technical abilities.
Outgoing Technical Director Jan Monchaux has delivered some very tidy cars of late, most notably the 2022 machine that was strong enough to secure sixth in the constructors’ championship – their best finish for a decade.
However, there were a string of reliability issues last year – and while this year’s car is in the mix in the midfield, it perhaps hasn’t taken the step the team had hoped for. With Key available, Seidl wasted no time in changing things up.
Key has a big job on his hands, but he has the backing from his new boss and brings with him significant F1 experience, dating back to 1998 when he joined the sport with Jordan. He stayed on when they became Midland – stepping up to Technical Director – and continued under the Spyker and Force India banners before joining Sauber in 2012.
It was only a short stint – around two years – as he was snapped up by Toro Rosso, but it’ll still help as he looks to quickly integrate himself into the team when he starts in September.
While at Toro Rosso, he was renowned for his strong leadership heading the technical team and was efficient in making the most of a limited budget. Stepping up to a bigger project like McLaren in 2019 came at the right time in his career.
Obviously, it didn’t work out – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good Technical Director. We see it all the time in sport, when a highly-rated manager or coach moves to clubs or teams, doesn’t meet the owners’ expectations and leaves only to then have success elsewhere.
Sometimes, a project doesn’t gel. Daniel Ricciardo is a good example of that in terms of drivers. He was rated as a future world champion at Red Bull but never got to grips with the McLaren for reasons both he and the team struggled to understand.
In coming to Sauber, Key will have a streamlined and smaller technical restructure than McLaren now have. He’ll also have access to a world-class wind tunnel and simulator and will know that significant backing is on the cards with Audi’s impending arrival. They will have big expectations of him, as they will want to hit the ground running in 2026.
But his appointment this early in the project – he will have a little under two-and-a-half years – will in theory give him the time to assemble his team, set in motion new processes and define the 2026 car – which will include the integration of a power unit built to all-new regulations including the introduction of 100% sustainable fuel and a bigger focus on electrical power.
It’s also the first time in his career he’ll have everything (chassis and power unit) in-house – which in theory will allow for more harmonious integration between every component and more efficient development. After years of using customer engines – and while at Toro Rosso changing supplier from season to season – this will be joy for Key and allow for better long-term evolution.
It’s the dream scenario for a technical lead. Now it’s time to deliver.