BUDAPEST (Reuters) - McLaren announced the signing of James Key from Toro Rosso as their new Formula One technical director on Thursday but their Red Bull-owned rivals indicated they would not let him go without a fight.
“James Key has a long term valid contract with the team,” Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost said on the team’s Twitter feed.
“The contents of the contract are confidential, therefore we won’t comment on any of the details.”
McLaren had earlier confirmed a report on the BBC that the Briton, 46, would be joining them after an unspecified period of ‘gardening leave’.
McLaren, preparing for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, also confirmed that engineering director Matt Morris had resigned.
Formula One’s second most successful team, who won titles with the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, have been restructuring their operations and parted company with Racing Director Eric Boullier this month.
Technical head Tim Goss was moved aside in April. Morris was one of a trio of technical bosses and his departure leaves only Peter Prodromou remaining of the top three as head of aerodynamics.
Brazilian Gil de Ferran, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, has been appointed sporting director with Andrea Stella taking over as performance director, responsible for trackside operations.
McLaren ended a three-year partnership with Honda at the end of last year and are now using Renault power units.
The switch has, however, highlighted the inadequacies of the car’s chassis which the team had previously believed to be one of the best on the starting grid but let down by an unreliable and under-performing power unit.
Team boss Zak Brown recognised this month that it could be a long time before McLaren were again challenging for championships.
“I think we are years away. I don’t know if that’s two or 10, or somewhere in-between,” he told reporters.
McLaren have not won a race since 2012 and are currently seventh in the championship, one place and 28 points ahead of Toro Rosso after 11 of 21 races.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Toby Davis