Ferrari built a car for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to fight for race wins for the first time since 2019 after a difficult spell for the Scuderia, which was partly turned around by deputy team principal and racing director Laurent Mekies.
Mekies has been involved in Formula 1 since 2001, working with numerous teams including Arrows, Red Bull and now Ferrari. He also worked for a period with the FIA alongside Charlie Whiting.
“Laurent is perfectly matching the strengths that are requested as a sporting director and that is why he is going to take this role next year,” said then Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene in 2018.
Mekies appointment was controversial because he came from the FIA after nearly four years at the governing body.
He is a senior figure in the F1 paddock and has certainly helped Ferrari in their rapid rise back up the grid after a dismal 2020.
But who is Laurent Mekies? Find out more about Ferrari’s deputy team principal and racing director here.
Early life and education of Laurent Mekies
Born in Tours, France in 1977, Mekies graduated in mechanical engineering from the ESTACA School in Paris.
He spent his final year at Loughborough University in the UK where he obtained a master’s degree and soon found himself involved in racing.
The Frenchman started his career at Formula 3 team Asiatech, a company founded in 2000 and soon found himself in the F1 paddock at Arrows.
Asiatech supplied Arrows with V10 engines for the 2001 season for free although they only scored one point that year courtesy of Jos Verstappen at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Mekies helped Minardi as a race engineer from 2002 before the team were acquired by Red Bull to become Toro Rosso.
During the change of ownership, Mekies was appointed chief engineer so was responsible for all trackside operations, from the construction of the car at the factory to the race team at the track.
He went on to become the head of vehicle performance, managing six departments to develop the car.
Mekies saw Sebastian Vettel win Toro Rosso‘s only F1 race at the 2008 Italian GP on a wet weekend at Monza.
Vettel also took pole position on the previous day which remains one of the most memorable weekends in F1 history.
During his eight seasons at Toro Rosso, Mekies worked with several other drivers including Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo.
Joining the FIA and Ferrari controversy
At the start of the F1 turbo-hybrid era in 2014, Mekies joined the FIA to become their safety director.
He was in charge of all safety an medical matters, not just for F1, but all FIA championships such as Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula E and the World Endurance Championship.
In 2017, he was appointed as deputy race director, working with Charlie Whiting, who he was viewed as a potential successor to.
The following year saw controversy brew around Mekies as Ferrari appointed him to join their technical team on the eve of the 2018 season.
“Until his departure from the FIA at the end of June, Mekies will continue to act as the FIA safety director,” said an FIA statement.
“However he will immediately cease all F1 duties and will no longer be involved in any F1 matter, stepping down from his role as a deputy F1 race director with immediate effect.”
Mekies officially joined Ferrari as sporting director in September 2018 but only appeared at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi in November.
His signing reignited a row between the teams over the recruitment of FIA personnel.
In 2017, Renault hired Marcin Budkowski who was the FIA‘s technical chief so would have had access to key data and car designs from all teams which was seen as an advantage.
It was a similar case for Mekies as his time at the FIA would have provided him insight into every team which could be used to benefit Ferrari.
During Mekies‘ first 12 months at Maranello, claims were made that Ferrari were doing something with their power unit which was against the rules.
From the middle of 2018 until the end of 2019, Ferrari suddenly had the best straight line speed due to their powerful power unit.
A private settlement was made between the FIA and Ferrari ahead of the original start to the 2020 season, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, which coincided with a drop in performance.
“The whole thing has left quite a sour taste,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Obviously you can draw your own conclusions from Ferrari’s current performance.
“There are races that we should have won last year arguably if they had run with an engine that seems to be quite different to what performance that they had last year.
“It’s obviously very tough for them, but I think their focus has obviously been in the wrong areas in previous years, which is why they’re obviously seem to be struggling a little with whatever was in that agreement.”
What is Laurent Mekies role at Ferrari?
Since the beginning of 2021, Mekies has been Ferrari‘s deputy team principal and racing director, playing a key role in the on-track activities of the team.
He participates in press conferences and media duties for Ferrari, along with team principal Mattia Binotto.
It can be argued that Ferrari‘s strategic mistakes at the Monaco, British and Hungarian GP is partly down to Mekies as he has a say in who is appointed on the strategy team, which is led by Inaki Rueda.
Wrong tyre calls, pitting at an inadequate time and a lack of trust in Ferrari‘s strategy team have seen them regularly showed up by Red Bull and Max Verstappen, who is set to became a double F1 world champion.
Despite the criticism, Mekies says Ferrari are still “incredibly united” and suggested the history of the team amplifies their mistakes.
“You get a lot of interest as Ferrari in general and, yes, sometimes you probably get also a lot more criticism for given actions,” Mekies told Channel 4. “But I think, if you put all of that together, it’s also what makes Ferrari special.
“So, we take some of the downsides with a smile and we are conscious of our responsibilities, we are conscious of what the Tifosi, and perhaps more, are expecting from us and we need to continue working hard and making small steps that will make us stronger.
“We have had a few reliability issues, and we have made a few mistakes. If you add all of that, it’s simply telling us that we’ve made great steps forward this year with a faster car, but we need more work to do to be stronger all around and that’s what we are working on.”