Category Archives: Feature

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg handed licence to race as F1 heads home to Silverstone for British Grand Prix

Formula One legend Jim Clark was once asked in 1967 how he was enjoying being Graham Hill’s team-mate at Lotus.

The Scot replied: “I’m not. He’s my team-mate.”

Even before the days of live telemetry providing the finest detail on a driver’s every move, their performance against the man on the other side of the garage was scrutinised the most. The only driver with the same equipment, nothing matters more in Formula One than beating your team-mate.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

In 1957, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks were joint winners of the British Grand Prix at Aintree, after sharing driving duties in the Vanwall.

It was the first time that a British built car had won a Formula One World Championship race – and the third and final time that a Grand Prix would be won by two drivers in a shared car.

It is hard to imagine such a scenario now.

Almost 60 years on, this weekend the sport returns home to the Silverstone circuit where Formula One was born in 1950, with bosses at the Brackley-based Mercedes team warning of major consequences if there is a fourth crash in six races between their warring team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The pair have been given a “final warning” and a licence to race with no threat of team orders just yet, following their final lap collision while leading the Austrian Grand Prix a week ago.

Friends during their karting days, their relationship since becoming team-mates at Mercedes has been turbulent to say the least, thanks to numerous on-track skirmishes in a car that is the class of the field for the third season in a row.

Hamilton, who is chasing his third straight British Grand Prix win and Rosberg’s 11-point championship lead, said on Thursday that Mercedes’ beefed-up deterrents issued to the two drivers since Austria “doesn’t really change anything”.

But success for Rosberg on Sunday might do just that, if Hamilton’s victories at the Northamptonshire track in 2008, 2014 and 2015 en route to his three world titles is an omen.

This article was first published on the ITV News website in July 2016 

F1 INSIGHT: A day in the life of an F1 Design Engineer

We are more than a month into the Formula One close season and the team’s designers and aerodynamicists are busy working on next year’s car.

But the design process is not something F1 teams only begin in earnest once the season is over.

Even with the ban on in-season testing – brought in prior to the 2009 season to curb escalating costs – a dedicated team of designers and engineers remain at the factory all year round, trying to find that extra tenth of a second in performance.

So how exactly does an idea for a new front wing go from a designers head to being bolted onto an F1 car at the track? And how long does it take?

In the first of my F1 insight series, McLaren’s Alistair Niven tells all.

He reveals what his role involves on a day-to-day basis; how he got to where he is now; his advice to anyone wanting to become an F1 designer and what he feels is the best car he’s had a role in designing.

How long have you worked for McLaren?

“I have worked for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 Team for approximately eight years.”

What is your current job title at McLaren Mercedes?

“Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

What exactly does your role involve doing?

“As Aerodynamic Design Engineers we take the untamed concepts from our Aerodynamicists and convert them into credible engineered components that are ‘fit for purpose’ for either the Race Car or the Wind tunnel Model.

“In more detail, we take rendered aerodynamic surfaces and produce detailed engineering designs for our manufacturing departments or external suppliers; needless to say the whole process up to the material cutting stage is done electronically using CAD/CAM.

“We currently use ‘CATIA V5’ as our preferred CAD option. We tend to work in small teams concentrating on specific areas of the car.

“I spent my first few years at McLaren developing the geometry and aerodynamic concepts of the front suspension and braking system before moving onto the aerodynamic benefits of exhaust systems and rearward surfaces.”

How do these duties fit into the overall development of the McLaren car and the way the team operates as a whole?

“Although many of the mechanical and electrical concepts on the race car change throughout the season the largest amount of change takes place on the aerodynamic surfaces.

“An aerodynamicist can visualize an idea which we, as Aerodynamic Designers, convert into ‘realistic’ designs.

“These creations are transferred electronically to our manufacturers (either in-house or external) for the production process which can take the form of; machining, fabrication, moulding, rapid prototyping etc.

“The completed parts are often shipped straight to the track and assembled to the race car.

“This whole process regularly takes place within one working day. One working day in motorsport means 24 hours! So to summarize: Concept – Design – Manufacture – Transport – Assemble – Race.”

How did you get to where you are now? What qualifications and experience did you obtain prior to arriving in your current position with McLaren?

“I took a bit of an unusual route into Formula 1.

“I served a mechanical engineering apprenticeship after leaving school and then went to Glasgow University and studied for a combined degree in Aeronautical & Mechanical engineering.

“I was then offered a Lecturing post at a college in Barrow-in Furness teaching mechanical engineering to students working on the Trident submarine programme.

“Five years later I moved to Surrey, to take up a Lecturing appointment at Brooklands College, next to the famous Brooklands race track, teaching mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

“We designed and taught the first suite of National and Higher National Diploma’s in Motorsport engineering which is still running to this day.

“After twelve years at Brooklands I moved to Oxford to lecture on the automotive engineering degree course at Oxford Brookes University.

“Several years later I was asked to run a GT team back in Surrey and a year later joined McLaren as an Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

How much of a F1 fan were you growing up? Did you always want to do what you do now or did you drift into it, almost by accident?

“I have been a motorsport fan for as long as I can remember, but my early passion was football and was lucky enough to play semi-professionally for over twenty years.

“I started racing motorcycles when I was eighteen on a Yamaha TZ350E before moving onto a Suzuki RG500.

“I blamed my lack of money for not winning, but looking back it was probably my lack of ability that was the primary reason!

“The main reason for choosing an Aero/Mechanical degree was that I really wanted to be an astronaut, but with the opportunities in that direction being few and far between I subsequently fell into lecturing.

“Looking back I have no regrets.”

Do you travel to races? How much involvement with the drivers, mechanics and team bosses seen at a Grand Prix do you have?

“As Design Engineers we are not required at race events.

“Originally, when ‘in-season’ testing was allowed, Design Engineers would attend two tests per year.

“The drivers on average come into the McLaren Technology Centre about once a week to either use the simulator or attend marketing events. They will have meetings with their Race Engineers to discuss car developments and up and coming race strategy.

“The Race Engineers will have been briefed by the Lead Aero Designers on aerodynamic improvements.

“Martin Whitmarsh or Jonathan Neale give a detailed debrief to the factory based staff on the Monday after every race.”

In your time at McLaren, what have been the biggest changes you have seen? How have these changes affected the way you and the team operate on a day-to-day basis?

“Without doubt the biggest change has been the speed of production, as mentioned earlier.

“An idea can be in the head of an aerodynamicist at the beginning of the day and less than 24 hours later it’s racing around a track on the other side of the world.

“This puts an enormous amount of pressure onto engineers, machinists, logistics departments and mechanics.

“The extra tension and excitement during this process tends to be the biggest surprise to most new employees from other industries.”

What is the best car you have had a role in designing?

“The obvious one is the 2008 Championship-winning McLaren MP4-23, but the previous years’ car, the MP4-22, was also great.

“This was the car in which Lewis Hamilton started his F1 career and started winning races almost from the outset, before narrowly missing out on the championship in his rookie year.

“But, as many Design Engineers will tell you, the best one will be next years’ car!”

What effect do you think the 2014 engine regulations will have on the racing?

“As the current regulations have been around for some time now, the gap between the front and rear of the grid has narrowed.

“I would imagine these differences will initially increase again with the advent of the new engines and all the complex chassis changes that will have to be incorporated.

“The existing engines are all producing a similar output, but that will change with the new V6 unit and will take some time for the engine suppliers to reach an equilibrium.

“From a spectators point of view I would imagine the noise may be a disappointment compared to V8’s, V10’s & V12’s of the past.”

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into what you do?

“Be very hard working, methodical, punctual and polite.

“Try and get as much hands-on experience as you can, working for nothing at weekends within other race formulae always looks good on a CV.

“Physics, Maths, Technology and English are the preferred A-level options at most good engineering universities.

“Grand Prix teams employ graduates from most forms of engineering including mechanical, aeronautical, electrical, software, product design etc.

“The National Diploma/HND in Motorsport Engineering is another route into F1 – it just depends on how long you wish to study for before you start your career in racing.”

In the next F1 INSIGHT, we’ll be hearing about life on the road as an F1 mechanic.

Can the Circuit of Wales deliver the next Welsh F1 driver?

In Formula One’s 63-year history, British drivers have won the World Championship 14 times – more than any other nation.

But since the tragic death of Tom Pryce, from North Wales, in the 1977 South African Grand Prix, not a single Welsh driver has made it onto the Formula One grid.

But could that all be about to change?

The 830 acre site in Blaenau Gwent, where the Circuit of Wales will be built. Published with permission from Good Relations Wales.

The 830 acre site where the Circuit of Wales will be built – published with permission from Good Relations Wales.

There are plans to build a “world class” race track over an 830 acre site near Ebbw Vale, in the Blaenau Gwent area of the Welsh valleys.

The £250m facility – called the Circuit of Wales – is designed to host international events, such as MotoGP, World Superbikes, World Motocross and World Touring Cars.

A new dual carriageway will be built to help access to the circuit and the developers believe they will be able to accommodate up to 70,000 spectators arriving by car.

Circuit developers are aiming to get up to 70,000 spectators through the gates on race day

The Heads of the Valleys Development Company aim to get up to 70,000 spectators through the gates on race day

The project is spearheaded by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company. One of the brains behind the plan is Chris Herring – a motor sport industry veteran, formerly Communications Director of the Honda Racing team.

Herring told me the “first-ever purpose-built Grand Prix circuit in Great Britain” is something that is “long overdue in the UK.”

Why Blaenau Gwent?

There were “opportunities to take it elsewhere in the UK” but Blaenau Gwent was “easily the place to bring it,” said Herring.

Developers plan to turn this barren piece of land into a world class facility by 2015

Now a barren piece of land – developers plan to turn this into a world class motor racing facility by 2015

“Blaenau Gwent council were very helpful, very co-operative in the beginning.

“From a local economy point of view, it will make a much bigger difference than it would have done in any other environment elsewhere in the UK.”

There will be a low carbon technology park adjacent to the circuit; an international karting track; two motocross tracks; hotel and leisure facilities and a leading motor sports race academy and training facility.

“Everyone focuses on this circuit as the sexy bit, but the circuit couldn’t happen without everything else balancing out the cost of building the race track,” said Herring.

“There’s a serious lack of qualified engineers in motor sport, which needs to be addressed. That’s why we’ve engaged with the Welsh universities, such as Swansea Metropolitan and Cardiff.”

An artists impression of the Circuit of Wales - published with permission from Good Relations Wales

An artists impression of the Circuit of Wales – published with permission from Good Relations Wales

“You look at Sepang (the purpose-built F1 circuit in Malaysia) and there’s a race track, a motocross track next door and that’s it – there’s no industry, nothing.

“Here, within a two hour drive you’ve already got a huge amount of motor sport business.

“Within thirty miles of Silverstone is probably 95 per cent of the British motor sport industry. It would be nice to get a little 10 to 20 per cent of that down here.”

Hywel Lloyd, from Wrexham, raced competitively in Formula Renault and British F3 until recently. Now, as team manager for the CF Racing British F3 team, he said the proposed circuit is “quite important” for motor sport in Wales.

“I think people will want to come there and a lot of race teams will want to be based there as well.

“There are a few good race teams in Wales, on their own merits, so it can inspire a lot of people, not just drivers, to get into Formula One.”

The developers claim the Circuit of Wales will “drive change and transform lives” in the area, bringing estimated economic and regeneration benefits worth over £50 million a year to the Welsh economy.

What the Circuit of Wales will look like at night - published with permission from Good Relations Wales

What the Circuit of Wales will look like at night – published with permission from Good Relations Wales

But will it inspire and help nurture Wales’ next F1 star? Herring believes it can.

“Having a circuit is a magnet, it brings youngsters in.

“People need the experience and the know-how. With this facility they’ve got a good chance, in a safe environment, to learn the trade with a lot training and practice facilities that don’t exist all over the UK.”

This view is one echoed by another Welsh racing driver, Seb Morris.

Last year Morris was named ‘Young Welsh Racing of the Year’ by the Welsh Racing Drivers’ Association. More recently, he featured in Sky Sports F1’s ‘Britain’s Next F1 Star’ series.

And although Morris feels the circuit is “probably not” going to help him get into F1, he said the opportunity it will provide is “very promising”.

“The chance and opportunity of visiting a new track that could be built in Wales would broaden Wales’ view of motor sport. I don’t personally think it’s that strong at the moment.

“But if there was a big circuit, with proper venues, that could really create a whole new industry and revenue for Wales.

“I think Wales as a country needs a Silverstone – something big like that.”

The timescale

“It’s effectively a two year build time”, said Herring. “We’re hoping to be on site by June/July 2013 with a view to being finished in June/July 2015.”

As for whether the Circuit of Wales can end a 35-year wait for another Welsh F1 driver, only time will tell.