How McLaren’s technical chief is helping find the F1 designers of the future


McLaren’s James Key has revealed he has set up a scholarship to help help engineering students become the talents of the future.

In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.comKey – the team’s executive technical director – reflected on his own journey to Formula 1, as well as how he is giving back now.


Key joined the Woking-based team in 2019, and before that worked for teams including Midland F1, Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso.

Where interest in F1 began

Having been fascinated by his engineer father’s work on the bonnet of his car, Key can recall when his interest in F1 began.

“I already had an interest in cars from an early age, but Formula 1 really took over. [when I was] around 12, when I came across the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1984,” Key explained.

“I was immediately hooked, especially by the wonderful commentary from Murray Walker and James Hunt. They made it sound like such a magical thing, this amazing world of Formula 1.

“I think that’s kind of what hooked me straight away. After that I watched all the races and in two or three races I got to know every driver and every team, a real kind of anorak very, very quickly. And that fascinated me.” .”

This sparked Key’s desire to work in the sport “one way or another”, and as a result, he left school and home at 16 to pursue his goal. Just three years out of college, Key achieved his goal of getting a job with Jordan.

© McLaren

How Key Gives Back

Key attended the University of Nottingham, where he studied various engineering disciplines. Since then, he has established a scholarship at the university to help others achieve their engineering dreams.

“I had an amazing time at university, I absolutely loved it,” said the Briton.

“It was a really special time in life. I have since set up a scholarship there to help engineers from disadvantaged backgrounds go through it, because it was a great place.

“I wanted to give something back, but I wanted to encourage people who wanted to become engineers to do the same. So I got a scholarship there, and also some money in their Formula Student team.

“It’s nice to give something back to this place, but also to give an opportunity to young engineers.”

From there, Key became one of Formula 1’s youngest technical directors when he joined Midland F1 in 2005, before continuing his journey at several teams before arriving at McLaren in 2019.

Differences between engine providers

During his time in F1, Key has worked with most engine suppliers, and he admits watching the differences between them has been interesting.

“They’re all different. You have different architectures and so on, but the facilities, the approach, there was no set formula for that,” he added.

“Everything has been done differently depending on which manufacturer you work with. And even the details too, the electrical installations and systems and the voltages.

“The cooling systems are totally different between each of them. So I think when it came to fitting one into the next in the car, there was very little carryover. You really had to start over. “