Sam Michael

Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the first year that McLaren has had pit stop troubles of this magnitude.  If I remember correctly (and I may not) last year saw consistent pit stops of the average variety.

Seeing as there has been such a dramatic turn at the team for the worse, you have to ask what has changed between now and then that may have caused these issues.  Unfortunately for the man whose name graces the title space, he finds himself in the position of being that difference.

Now it is absolutely true that for all their woes, McLaren did set, at Valencia, the fastest pit stop in F1 history with the car stationary in the pit box for only 2.6 seconds.  Impressive stuff to be sure.  Most other teams seem to be hanging around the 3.5 second range with Ferrari on the lower end of that.  That being said, I am sure Hamilton and Button would prefer 10 3.5 second stops to five 2.6 second stops and five 10 second stops which seems to be what they are getting.

This has to put immense pressure on the shoulders of Sam Michael, the man in charge of these things.  More than that, there has been a curious shift in the past couple of days as to how the team deals with the stories concerning pit stops.

First things first, a quick bio on Sam Michael.  After an apprenticeship in the lower rungs of F1, mainly under Gary Anderson (the same man who now does the BBC technical analysis) Frank Williams took him on as “senior operations officer” in 2001 and he moved up to technical head in 2004.  His tenure at Williams ended last year after the worst season in William’s history.

His tenure at Williams was marked by continually declining performance which really started after Adrian Newey left in 1996.  Recall Williams BMW which broke apart and the failed Toyota and Cosworth engine hook ups.  By the time Michaels was chief technical officer there were serious doubts about the team’s ability to win races, aka, Williams was firmly in the mid field.

That being said, the team always drew good drivers including Montoya, Rosberg, Webber, and Hulkenberg to name a few.  I do not know how involved Michaels was in this process.

Be that as it may, Adam Parr fires Michaels mid season (before he gets himself fired for arguing with Bernie over Concorde Agreement negotiations, see Joe Saward’s blog).  McLaren snap Michaels up as their sporting director or more relevantly, the man in charge of pit stops.

Now the shift I mentioned.  If you go back to other races with pit stop calamities for McLaren, you see that Martin Whitmarsh is the man fending off ferocious press.  Martin promises improvements and investigations and apologizes to his drivers, yada yada yada.

Now, however, we see Sam Michaels back in the spot light.  All of a sudden he is getting interviewed by Formula1.com and answering questions concerning the 14 second stop at Valencia.

I have a feeling that McLaren is hanging him out to dry.  By placing the pit stops firmly at Michael’s door in a very public manner, they ensure that it is Michael’s head who rolls if the issues should continue.

Is it fair?  I have no idea.  Other than the stops, McLaren has been operationally solid.  Their strategies are no better or worse than other teams on average.  They are lacking a little in creative thinking when they could not believe that Vettel and Alonso would try only one stop at Canada, but thats really not so bad and by sticking to their guns their man won.

Their pace deficiency is not really Michael’s problem nor is Button’s calamitous season (if you ignore Australia).  We’ll see what happens but look for Michael’s head to roll if he doesn’t get these stops worked out.

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