Vrom his office on the first floor of the glass palace at McLaren’s headquarters, Andreas Seidl looks back on the successful history of the racing team that he now leads. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Lewis Hamilton. The list of Formula 1 drivers who have become world champions with McLaren is long. Their racing cars are parked in the entrance hall of the company’s headquarters in Woking on the outskirts of London – and in the field of vision from Seidl’s office. Small information boards are placed next to the cars, one of which reads: “1988, Ayrton Senna, Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles”. The team won 15 of the 16 races that year.
The cars are unguarded, nobody would notice if Seidl sneaked from his desk to the ground floor in the evening to get behind the wheel. Doesn’t his fingers itch sometimes? “No, I’m not doing that,” says the McLaren team boss with a laugh and then, seriously by his standards, follows: “I have far too much respect for these cars for that.” Didn’t he even touch them? “No!” Not even the tire? “Well, maybe that one.”
If he is standing next to the cars from Senna, Prost or Lauda, Seidl respectfully keeps his distance. To people like him, those things down there in front of his office are more than just a bunch of tin and metal. You are history. They are tradition and obligation. The Bavarian has been team boss of the most successful British racing team in Formula 1 since 2019. “This tradition is very important to me. She gives me extra motivation. I want to continue writing this story,” said the 46-year-old.
750 employees in a Formula 1 team
The racing cars from back then not only look like they’re from a completely different era, they really are. They don’t have any frills. Neither for driver assistance nor for the safety of the pilots. Anyone who got into the missiles, Senna’s from 1988 was powered by a Honda Turbo V6, risked his life – and often lost it too. The Brazilian died in 1994 driving Williams at the Tamburello corner in Imola. He had previously won three world titles with McLaren.
If Ferrari is Real Madrid in the world of motorsport, McLaren is arguably Liverpool FC. “In football you have maybe 25 people in your squad plus the support staff. A Formula 1 team is a sports team with 750 employees,” says Seidl. Led by Coach Andreas. That makes him something like the Jürgen Klopp of his team.
But while FC coach Klopp is a superstar and has countless advertising contracts, Seidl is more in the background. As he talks about himself and the success he has achieved, it doesn’t take long for the engineer to emphasize the role of the team. “I want to be part of the generation that manages to compete for victories and titles again with this team. That’s what drives us all here, that would simply be the greatest thing,” he says.
Seidl’s passion for Formula 1 began with the man who caused a boom in racing in Germany: Michael Schumacher. As a child he watched in front of the TV at home how the Kerpener took his first steps from 1991. Seidl watched every free practice session, every qualifying and of course every race – and was certain: I want to go there too. “His focus and uncompromising approach to success has always fascinated me. And that for so many years,” he enthuses.
The dream of being on the track as a team member in Monaco is growing. But why not as a driver? “I knew my talents. I always played soccer until I was a junior,” admits Seidl. He begins studying mechanical engineering in Munich. Clear goal: Formula 1. When BMW announced in 1999 that it would enter the racing series as an engine manufacturer, he saw his chance.
Cooperation with Ralf Schumacher
Instead of waiting and hoping, the then student from Munich took fate into his own hands: “I just tried to call the head of motorsport. That was still possible back then. I kept calling until he stopped brushing me off. Simply because I wanted to show that I could make a contribution.” At some point, BMW’s calls became “too stupid”, as Seidl says, he first gets a job as an intern and after completing his studies he starts working for the engine manufacturer. He is “endlessly grateful” for this opportunity. That’s another reason why he now puts himself in touch with the right people at McLaren when he gets an email from a young person who has the same dream as Seidl used to.
In 2003 his wish came true, he accompanies the team to the races as an engine engineer. Although Seidl does not work with his idol Schumacher, he does work with his brother Ralf, who drove for Williams at the time, who were equipped with BMW engines. “It was the fulfillment of a big dream. Something very special,” he enthuses about the moment when he is on the starting grid for the first time. But in 2009, BMW ended its involvement in Formula 1. And it was the end for Seidl too: “Of course it was a huge shock!” He thought “that I can’t live without Formula 1”.
BMW offers him an interesting job outside, and what follows is the most successful period of his career to date. First he works for the Bavarian car manufacturer in the DTM. He was then drawn to the competition, as team boss at Porsche, Seidl won one of the most important races in the world three times in a row: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At that point at the latest, Seidl secured respect in the world of motorsport.
“A Thoroughbred Racer”
Old companions from that time report what can still be observed in the Formula 1 paddock today: Seidl is a team player. “Andi is very focused and determined and had an outstanding standing at Porsche. With the whole team” says Nico Hülkenberg, who won the long-distance race together with Seidl in 2015 as a Porsche driver. “Andreas is a real worker. He stood in his place for what felt like 48 hours and witnessed everything. A thoroughbred racer.” His empathy gives him the opportunity to really tackle and lead people.
And despite the successes outside of Formula 1, it was always clear to Seidl: he wanted to return to the premier class. Finish what was left unfinished: get a title. “It was an ongoing topic,” he says today. But McLaren isn’t even a midfield team at the time when contract negotiations are heating up. Hamilton won the last title in 2008, the last victory was in 2012. Seidl still goes from serial champion to serial loser at the time. In the 2019 season, he was appointed team boss.
Seidl is back where he always wanted to be. And now he has a completely new job. In the glitz and glamor world of Formula 1, he is now more in the public eye than ever. In meetings with the other bosses, the politician in him is often asked for, not the engineer. Sometimes you get the feeling that Seidl doesn’t really fit in with his unpretentious and chummy manner.
When Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali invited his colleagues from the racing teams to a chic star restaurant at the Grand Prix in Imola in April, Seidl appeared in the team outfit: polo shirt and vest made of functional fabric. Almost everyone else got changed after their day at the race track, the majority chose ironed shirts. Do appointments like this get on your nerves? “What appeals to me is the variety that this position brings,” says Seidl. “The most beautiful place on the track is the garage. Just before qualifying or just before the race starts when the tension builds up and everyone is fully focused.”
First win for McLaren since 2012
Since Seidl has been with McLaren, the racing team’s path has been steeply uphill. In his first season he finished fourth in the World Team Championships, and even third in 2020. Last year was the first Grand Prix victory since 2012, at the Italian Grand Prix McLaren benefited from the accident of World Championship competitors Hamilton and Max Verstappen and even achieved a double success with Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. According to CEO Zak Brown, this is also thanks to the German, whom he once called the best team boss in Formula 1.
The trophies and the winning car from Monza are also in the entrance hall of the company headquarters in Woking. Unlike the antique cars, Seidl sits on a tire at the appointment with WELT am SONNTAG. Not out of disrespect, the Bavarian built the car more or less with his own hands, so he can do it with confidence. He and the team have already produced a Grand Prix winner. But Seidl will only calm down when he can one day look from his office at a racing car that won the world championship under his leadership.