A former Ferrari executive is in pole position to become the new boss of McLaren’s road-car division, one of the biggest jobs in the British automotive industry.
Sky News has learnt that Michael Leiters, who stepped down as chief technology officer of the Italian luxury car marque in December, is one of the leading candidates to replace Mike Flewitt as chief executive of McLaren Automotive.
Mr Leiters is a highly regarded figure in the sector, and one source at a rival car-maker said on Tuesday that it would signal McLaren’s renewed confidence and ambition if he were to join the Woking-based manufacturer.
It was unclear on Tuesday how close Mr Leiters was to agreeing a deal to join McLaren, which could not be reached for comment.
The British group’s financial performance has recovered strongly from the height of the pandemic, when it was forced into a far-reaching restructuring that saw hundreds of jobs axed and substantial sums raised in equity and debt to repair its balance sheet.
McLaren has reported strong demand for its limited production cars, including the 765LT Coupe and Spider, both of which have sold out.
It has also pointed to a robust order book for its new hybrid super-car, the Artura, with the first vehicles scheduled to be delivered in June.
In its racing division, which includes the Formula One cars driven by Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren has also seen a turnaround under Zak Brown, who runs that arm of the company.
At the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this month, the drivers finished fifth and sixth respectively, following a difficult start to the 2022 season.
It has also announced its entry into Extreme-E and has signed sponsors including Google, the internet search division of technology behemoth Alphabet.
McLaren announced in October that Mr Flewitt would step down after more than eight years running the automotive business.
The change of leadership comes amid challenging times for supply chains across the industry, with semiconductor shortages and wiring invariably produced in Ukraine causing headaches for car manufacturers.
The identities of other candidates in the frame to succeed Mr Flewitt were unclear on Tuesday.
Mr Leiters, a German citizen, joined Ferrari in 2014 and was responsible for much of the company’s road-car innovation over the ensuing seven years.
The process of recruiting Mr Flewitt’s successor has come against the backdrop of persistent speculation that McLaren might be the subject of a takeover bid from Audi, the German manufacturer.
People close to McLaren have sought to dampen such suggestions, although they acknowledge that the company is open to discussions about potential collaboration as part of its Horizon2030 business strategy and future electrification strategy.
McLaren has undertaken a series of corporate transactions since the start of the pandemic, when it sought a government loan – a request which was rebuffed by ministers.
Since then, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has acquired a minority stake in McLaren Group, bringing it alongside Mumtalakat, the sovereign investment fund of Bahrain, as a shareholder in the company.
Paul Walsh, the former Diageo chief who joined in 2020 as executive chairman, has also overseen the sale of a stake in McLaren Racing to a group of investors, as well as a £170m sale-and-leaseback of its spectacular Surrey headquarters.
Last year, it also sold McLaren Applied Technologies, which generates revenue from sales to corporate customers.
Founded in 1963 by Bruce McLaren, his is one of the most famous names in British motorsport.
During half a century of competing in F1, it has won the constructors’ championship eight times, while its drivers have included the likes of Mika Hakkinen, Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
In total, the team has won 180 Grands Prix, three Indianopolis 500s and the Le Mans 24 Hours on its debut.
McLaren’s on-track operations account for roughly 20% of the group’s annual revenues.
The company saw its separate divisions reunited following the departure in 2017 of Ron Dennis, the veteran McLaren boss who had steered its F1 team through the most successful period in its history.
He became one of Britain’s best-known businessmen, expanding McLaren’s technology ventures into a wide range of other industries through lucrative commercial partnerships.
Mr Dennis offloaded his stake in a £275m deal following a bitter dispute with fellow shareholders.
He had presented to McLaren’s board a £1.65bn takeover bid from a consortium of Chinese investors, but did not attract support for it from boardroom colleagues.