Most people normally associate F1 with the world of designer attire, fine wine, and of course a fair amount of corporate schmoozing. Whilst I don’t have problem with that and chance would be a fine thing, the part of F1 that I really wanted to experience is the one where the race engineers and mechanics hang out, the place where the cars are built .
Well, I was very fortunate earlier this year when my ambition turned into a reality. I was invited along to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for the practice day as a guest of the Marussia F1 Team.
Those of you who follow F1 will know the garage is situated adjacent to the finish line in an area of the track called the paddock. On arriving at the track, my first impression was how much effort goes into the security operation, i.e. four stops for routine checks in the car and one electronic gate later and I’m in.
My first impression of the paddock was the sheer size and opulence of the so called motor homes that sit behind the garages. These things are absolutely huge and to think they break them down, ferry them around Europe, and set them up again in time for the next race is amazing.
As I walk along the paddock I get an immediate sense of proximity to the teams, the drivers, and a fair amount of celebrities. In fact I don’t have to walk far to witness the stars of F1 appearing as frequently as the characters at Disneyland to give interviews and photo opportunities to the army of journalists and photographers. This is a serious business and the PR machine needs to be fuelled.
Everyone knows that F1 is a mega money sport and now I’m seeing why, not only does it take an army of people to make it happen, but there’s also a massive logistics operation in place behind the scenes. Lorry loads of high tech equipment, lorry loads of tyres, and a huge catering operation to feed the teams and their guests.
Up to this point my only experience of the garage, like most people, has been confined to the small opening at the front from which the cars emerge and the mechanics change tyres etc. However, there’s a huge operation going on that you can’t see.
I’m into the garage now and my first impression is how clean everything is, I mean clinically clean like some sort of laboratory. Did you know they repaint the inside of the garage before every F1 Race? Well you do now and I thought they only did this for the queen?
There are engineers and mechanics, from Cosworth in the case of Marussia, working on spare engines (I counted three), pumping warm oil through them so they can be fitted to one of the cars and are ready to go immediately.
There were experts analysing fluids from the engine and transmission for evidence of microscopic wear and damage to mechanical parts.
There were engineers building bits of the car and testing if they work better, worse or the same as the one it replaced.
And there are the engineers manning the nerve centre of the whole operation, monitoring all of the telemetry from the cars and advising the drivers what changes they can make to get the absolute most out of the car.
Important note… this shot is taken at an angle whereby you can’t see any sensitive information, I believe this wasn’t the case for the McLaren shot that got Lewis Hamilton into hot water after he tweeted it to the world (all of the other teams).
Moving forward to the front of the garage and the two race cars are surrounded by an army of mechanics and an impressive array of technology. One thing that struck me is that despite the number of people nobody got in anyone else’s way. Everyone instinctively knew where everyone else was and the whole operation was working with military precision.
Next I’m out front the Marussia garage and had a walk along the pit lane and this was when I heard the deep throaty roar of a Mercedes 6.3L, yes it was the safety car and it was thundering past the finishing line like a bat out of hell. It was closely followed by the medical car which also sounded awesome. Something I didn’t know is that they have two safety cars both identical and these travel around the world with the F1 season.
I have to say the most relaxed team in the pit lane was the Red bull team with (music) blasting out as the mechanics put the finishing touches to their cars.
I’m back in the Marussia garage and it’s time for free practice, the cars are readied, the drivers are inside the cars and then with an ear splitting roar the engines burst into life, I can’t think of any words to describe what it feels like to stand five feet behind a F1 car when it starts up other than maybe spine chillingly amazing.
After a little while the cars are back and the mechanics swarm around them to make minor adjustments to the setup and in a flash they’re off again. This happens over and over again in the morning practice and again in the afternoon.
In between all of this I’m made to feel very welcome by the Marussia team and as the day comes to an end its time for me to set off on the long drive back to Newcastle. The drive home is another story altogether due to the fact that Silverstone had turned into a mud bath and nobody was going anywhere fast. However, none of that mattered as I’d just had a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Thank you Mike Scudamore of Marussia for helping me realise a long standing ambition