McLaren’s Andreas Seidl: From badgering BMW to Le Mans glory and beyond
By Mat Coch
Sunday 26th June, 2022 - 12:52pm
From a kid growing up in Germany watching the exploits of Michael Schumacher, Andreas Seidl has become one of Formula 1’s leading figures in his own right.
Team principal at McLaren, it’s the latest in a long line of jobs in the sport that have all enjoyed their own success.
He was in charge of Porsche’s bid to win Le Mans, a key figure in luring Mark Webber from Red Bull into the World Endurance Championship.
He worked with Aussie Jeromy Moore on the Porsche 919, one of the most fearsome racing cars to have ever been made.
And it all started because, as a kid, he was drawn to the sport on television.
“I’m clearly a Michael Schumacher kid,” Seidl told Speedcafe.com.
“I started watching Formula 1 during school, from ’92 onwards.
“That’s where I got this introduction to Formula 1. I really got to watching every practice session, analysing the timesheets and so on, even Friday and Saturday.
“That’s where this goal developed somehow, becoming an engineer.
“Formula 1, I always had this dream of being on the grid once as an engineer in Monaco, I always had that in mind; that’s why I started on mechanical engineering, the clear goal ending up in Formula 1.”
Seidl studied at the Technical University in Munich, achieving his diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
Qualifications alone weren’t enough though, and a combination of luck and belligerence secured him a role with BMW.
“I would say I was quite lucky,” he admitted.
“At the same time, I knew what I wanted, and I was pushing for it.
“So, when I read about BMW entering Formula 1 in ’98/99, I was looking to do a traineeship in motorsports, or Formula 1.
“I tried a lot of different teams in Europe, but obviously it’s very difficult to get into this Formula 1, because of the confidentiality and everything.
“Then when I read the BMW is entering, I just rang up Mario Theissen at the time, in the beginning of ’99.
“At this time, it was still possible to get through to his PA straightaway, and even got connected to him on the phone.
“I just said ‘look, I want to do a traineeship, I want to show you that I can actually contribute’.
“He declined two or three times, I think, but just kept going and calling, and at some point he said ‘I’ve had enough, just come by’.
“I got the chance for an interview, and that was it. I got the chance to do an internship and I never left the place again.”
It was the start of what would be a career in the fast lane, quickly rising through the ranks.
Many of the lessons he learned are reflected in his management style today, where he adopts a measured, analytical approach that places people at the centre of his decision making.
He has an eye for detail, and tends to delve well beyond the surface level in pursuit of answers.
A company man in many respects, he understands the human aspect of the sport and is careful to protect those he works with.
That was evident over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix. When the world seemed to have turned against Daniel Ricciardo, Seidl was almost a lone bastion of support for the Australian.
“I had bosses throughout my entire career, and especially at the beginning as well, that actually they’re teaching me a lot but at the same time always empower me and trusted me, so that I was able to show that I can contribute, which was very motivating,” the 46-year-old explained.
“That’s how I was able to make the other steps.
“I guess it’s a mix,” he adds of his management style, whether it was learned or a reflection of his natural personality.
“I played football a lot when I was younger, so I always enjoyed behind part of a sports team, and that’s why I enjoy also being part of a Formula 1 team.
“In the end, it’s big business, it’s very technical, but in the end, it’s a human sport with a team size of not just 11 people like a football team, but 700-800.
“I simply love being part of a team, and of course it’s important to set clear direction, being in charge of it.
“But at the same time, it’s important that you empower your people, you trust them, and create the same environment that I always found in my entire career, which is maximum support from my bosses.”
When BMW withdrew from Formula 1, Seidl headed to the DTM where he was involved in the Werkes touring car project.
It was a valuable opportunity, one where he was able to apply the lessons gleaned from his past experience in building up the programme.
“But then obviously when the chance came to be team principal of the Porsche LMP team, being there also really from the first hour of the project, was just very appealing,” he admitted.
“To go with a brand like Porsche, which is an iconic brand, to such an iconic race [Le Mans], being able to fight for the overall win was obviously very, very appealing.
“I still get goosebumps when I think about this project and the car, because it was a unique chapter.
“It was a mega team, putting it up from scratch, with a mega fascinating car as well which was at least as complex as the Formula 1 cars here.
“Then to be able to actually fight for the overall win, and win the race, and do this three times in a row, was unique.”
A key early piece of the puzzle was the arrival of Mark Webber, with whom Seidl was already familiar with following their time together at Williams.
“We had a lot of trust, first and foremost, in his speed,” Seidl said of his, and Porsche upper management’s, belief in Webber.
“He already knew what endurance racing means, which is definitely different to being a Formula 1 driver.
“He simply had the right mix of ingredients that we thought he’s the right guy to take onboard.
“And of course, a big positive side effect was also to take him from Formula 1 over to sports car racing, which made him simply a great ambassador for Porsche in endurance racing.
“Of course these different categories, they’re all different, but at the same time it’s all about the same thing.
“You simply need to break down then what he had learned in Formula 1, which is the ultimate pinnacle of motor racing, to what is needed for different categories, to smaller teams with different budgets but, again, trying to achieve the same.
“That’s what we needed, for example, on the Porsche side, which I saw was not far away from a Formula 1 team set up.”
Fast forward to the end of the Porsche project and another opportunity came knocking, this time a return to Formula 1.
It’s a move Seidl had always hoped to make at some point, having spent 10 years in the early part of his career in the circus.
No longer in the role of an engineer, he was drafted in by McLaren to spearhead the squad’s return to, it hoped, championship glory.
It’s a path the team still finds itself on, with Seidl and CEO Zak Brown credited with turning the operation around after a number of lean years over the last decade.
“I wanted to get back to Formula 1 because one thing I definitely miss is a world championship,” Seidl explained.
“I had the pleasure to be in Formula 1 for 10 years at BMW, we had everything in place that was required in order to fight for championships, which we did to a certain degree in 2003 for example, or 2008.
“We never managed to do it. That’s still something that hurts me every day I wake up in the morning to be honest, and that’s why I always had this clear goal to go back to Formula 1 for the right opportunity.
“Then the opportunity came up to go back to Formula 1 in that role with McLaren.
“It was obviously very appealing to me, seeing also the commitment from the shareholder side, to put all the investment in in order to get the team back up to a level playing field with the current top teams in this sport.
“Having the possibility also to bring in my style with the support I had from talking from the shareholders, I simply wanted to be part of this generation of McLaren that hopefully brings this team back up in Formula 1.”
Now in a management position rather than a technical role, Seidl admits he doesn’t miss working as an engineer.
“What I simply like is seeing when everything comes together, after all the preparation, anticipation you do as a team, see the execution and seeing it all work out in the end. That gives me pleasure,” he explained.
“I have a very strong team. There’s a strong leadership team as well with Andrea [Stella], James [Key]. They have a lot of trust, and they’re fully empowered to lead their specific areas, and it’s just a pleasure to see how that comes together.”
That’s what now keeps him motivated, not just the quest for an elusive world championship, but the desire of those he works with to achieve the same goal.
“I like being part of the sport because it’s a people sport, it’s a team sport, and developing a culture within a race team, that it is a sports team with this racing spirit, and then seeing how people are similar after a good result out here at the track, or then also afterwards back home in the factory, that gives me the energy to simply keep going,” he reasoned.
“Personally, I’m learning every day from my people.
“I have very strong people working for me that can do things a lot better than I could do, and that’s what I like.
“In terms of next career step, I’m absolutely happy where I am.
“The dream we’re all having is being part of the generation at McLaren who hopefully manages to get this team back to a position where they regularly fight for races and hopefully also world championships in the future.
“That’s all I have in mind at the moment.”