Paddy Lowe guests on F1: Beyond the Grid, discussing a myriad of topics including time with Williams, McLaren & Mercedes plus Lewis Hamilton and more.
To open the F1 Beyond The Grid podcast episode, Lowe shared his thoughts on F1 in 2021, reluctant to make predictions on how the championship may unfold but nonetheless expressing excitement for the racing to come. Host Tom Clarkson chimed in, saying that he is eager to see how Mercedes responds to a highly competitive Red Bull team this year.
Clarkson inquired about how a team operates when slugging it out with a competitor, but Lowe was unable to provide insight into how Mercedes may be operating at this time. The Brit did, however, explain that the team’s star, Lewis Hamilton, is likely to gain from his own battle with Max Verstappen – one which, he says, will motivate the 36-year-old.
Lowe, who worked with Hamilton at McLaren and Mercedes, praised the seven-time champion for his success in his rookie season, and noted his exceptional work ethic. The 59-year-old then told of the 2016 Abu Dhabi GP, when Hamilton was reluctant to pick up his own pace as he sought to keep teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg at risk of being overtaken.
Lowe explained that, however understandable, Hamilton’s actions still required a slap on the wrist as Mercedes looked to make clear that they were a F1 team, in spite of bitter intra-team rivalry.
The former Williams F1 engineer criticized Patrick Head’s famous assertion that drivers were expendable, saying his famous comparison between drivers and lightbulbs – both easily replaced, he argued – did a “massive” disservice to conveying the importance of good drivers.
Asked who among the legends he has worked with is the best, Lowe was, perhaps unsurprisingly, unable to answer. However, he named Hamilton as one driver he is particularly proud to have worked with, alongside the likes of Nigel Mansell.
With a similar question, he was subsequently asked the most exciting era of F1 that he worked in. Lowe said the answer was complicated, but that his first year in 1987 was particularly special given the fact that the rule book remained imprecise and some ideas were spawned by conversations in bars.
Offering more stories about his early years in F1, Lowe explained that he began his career at Williams working on active suspension – a key part of their success later on in the early 1990s. Though he says it was only a few years post his graduation from Cambridge that he entered F1, Lowe denies that he studied engineering there with the intent to enter the sport.
After explaining how active suspension functioned in its early form, Lowe said it had improved “dramatically” come 1993 when compared to the system when it was first used in 1987. The Brit largely dismissed comments from drivers who called cars fitted with active suspension “numb” and in some cases restrictive.
Lowe continued to share stories from Williams in this era, before discussing his time at McLaren – where they developed active suspension of their own in a “more professional” environment, when he considered the team “closed-minded.”
Although he appreciated the engineering-first attitude at Williams, Lowe did give credit to Ron Dennis for forming such a successful model as the one employed by McLaren. He also explained that moving into the McLaren Technology Center was in some ways overwhelming when McLaren moved headquarters halfway through his time there.
Lowe went on to dispel the notion that McLaren was a no-fun work environment, insisting that, although walls were gray, the factory and people within it enjoyed working together. He admits, though, that some at in McLaren were “distressed” about their poor performances starting in 1995.
Upon leaving, Lowe also says he was confused as to why it had taken him so long to go to Mercedes in 2013 after a difficult final few years at Woking. The Brit admitted that, although the team knew their 2014 engine was promising, few in the team knew just how dominant the power unit would be. That changed, however, after a Bahrain test at which they bolted on a new upgrade.
Lowe revealed that the team sandbagged their engines for much of 2014, fearing a display of utter dominance in one specific area would prompt a rules change to peg Mercedes back. After this, Lowe touched on his time as Chief Technical Officer at Williams and why it didn’t work out.
Lowe hinted that there may have been a lack of patience from Williams, stressing that he “can’t work miracles” as he emphasized that it is usually a matter of years before someone like himself can produce a winning team environment and attract F1’s top talent. The 59-year-old goes on to say he was relieved when the team was sold, hoping they can enter a period of financial stability.
After highlighting his time at Mercedes as his best in F1, Lowe spoke on his founding of company Zero Petroleum – a synthetic petroleum project aiming to help address environmental issues with crude oil. This would be the final topic of the episode.
Here’s where you can listen the podcast (FOM has blocked from embedding): https://audioboom.com/posts/7854000-paddy-lowe-on-leaving-williams-winning-with-mercedes-and-working-with-hamilton
The topic of Mercedes under-playing in 2014 was rubbished by Toto Wolff, though: “I think Paddy must have been in a different place that I was. There is no such situation that you turn back an engine just to have regulations tweaked in your direction. We were very competitive in 2014 and I think everybody could see that. It was the start of a regulatory environment that wouldn’t have been changed anyway. So, yeah, maybe Paddy had that impression.”
Here’s last F1 Beyond The Grid podcast with Jost Capito