Monday’s announcement that Andy Cowell will step down from his role as managing director of Mercedes’ Formula 1 engines marks the end of an era for the team.

Cowell has been part of the Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrain (HPP) department for 16 years and has served as the German manufacturer’s managing director since 2013. 

Having graduated from university with a degree in mechanical engineering, Cowell’s first motorsport role saw him land a place on Costworth’s graduate scheme. 

Cowell worked his way through the company’s various technical departments before specialising in the design and development of F1 engines, where he helped innovate the power unit that powered Jonny Herbert to Steward-Ford’s first and only F1 victory at the 1999 European Grand Prix. 

Following a brief spell with BMW Motorsport in 2000, Cowell returned to Cosworth as principal engineer for F1 design and development before taking on the same position for the company then known as Mercedes-Ilmor in 2004, thus beginning his long-term relationship at the Silver Arrows. 

Working on a number of engine projects - including the KERS Hybrid system that made its debut in 2009 - Cowell quickly established himself as a major figure within the department, leading to a promotion to engineering and programme director for Mercedes-Benz HPP in 2008. 

Cowell held this role until January 2013, when his big breakthrough came with the opportunity to take over the managing director role and oversee the development of the PU106A V6 hybrid power unit which powered the all-conquering W05 machine that Lewis Hamilton steered to championship glory in 2014.

His work set the gold standard for Mercedes’ rivals to follow and has changed the face of engine development in F1, with the sport now boasting the most efficient racing engines ever made. 

Further success followed in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 as Mercedes dominated and cemented itself as an unstoppable force across the V6 hybrid era, winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships on each occasion. 

Under Cowell’s leadership, Mercedes has claimed the remarkable achievement of taking all the 12 world titles on offer since the start of the 2014 season. 

“Andy's leadership of the team at HPP has been a key factor in our championship success in recent seasons,” said Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff. 

“He has made an outstanding contribution to our motorsport legacy and I have valued and enjoyed our working relationship since 2013; I am sure he will enjoy great success in the next challenge he decides to take on.

There is no doubt that Cowell’s impending departure will leave a vast hole to be filled at the reigning world champions. 

Having informed Mercedes of his intention to leave back in January, the team has had sufficient time to plan a succession strategy. As a result, Wolff is confident that the team will remain in a “very strong” position for the years to come. 

But the huge significance of the role Cowell played is emphasised by the fact his responsibilities will effectively be shared across four people, with Hywel Thomas tasked with direct responsibility of the F1 power unit from July 1. 

Thomas will be supported by Adam Allsopp (powertrain director), Richard Stevens (operations director), and Ronald Ballhaus (finance and IT director), with Cowell helping to ensure a smooth transition for the new senior leadership team which will takeover the engine division. 

"This new structure will enable the company to deliver three key projects to the highest possible standards in the coming years: the F1 Power Unit, the Formula E powertrain and the powertrain development and production of the Mercedes-AMG One,” A Mercedes statement read. 

Cowell is set for an interesting next chapter following his departure from Brixworth as he looks to “consult Mercedes-Benz AG on a major future project until at least early 2021”. 

Explaining his decision to leave, Cowell said: “After 16 enjoyable years working for HPP, I have decided that now is the right time to move on from my role and seek a new engineering business challenge.  

"I have appreciated the opportunity to work with Markus and Toto in defining the future leadership structure of the company and I have every confidence in the ability of Hywel and the team to lead the company forward.

"It has been an absolute honour to work for Mercedes and especially to be Managing Director of HPP for seven years. Thank you to everyone who has provided me with such amazing opportunities and enjoyable challenges, especially Ola Källenius who had the courage to support me back in 2006."

While the exact nature of his next career-move remains to be seen, Cowell’s F1 legacy at Mercedes will ultimately conclude this season with the outcome of the 2020 world championship. 

And it might well end in another piece of history with Mercedes seeking the unprecedented feat of seven world championship doubles on the bounce once the delayed campaign finally gets underway next month. 

 

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