Tag Archives: Grand Prix

F1 INSIGHT: Life on the road as an F1 mechanic

Getting a Formula One car to the other side of the world and onto the grid in front of thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers is no simple task.

Before the Lewis Hamilton’s and Sebastian Vettel’s of this world can even think about turning a wheel, there are a myriad of processes that need to happen before an F1 car is ready to race.

In the first edition of my F1 insight series, McLaren Design Engineer Alistair Niven explained the design process – the most essential phase in the development of a Grand Prix car.

The next, crucial job is for the team of mechanics to ensure the car is ready to be tested and then raced.

I’ve been speaking to former Red Bull Racing mechanic Dan Fox about life on the road and the demands of the profession. He started by telling me it was a job he aimed for from a very young age.

“I wanted to become a Formula One mechanic from the around the age of five.”

“My family was involved in motorsport and we always watched the Grand Prix growing up. I went to my first Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1988 and I was hooked.”

But for Dan, the journey to achieve his childhood dream of becoming an F1 mechanic was a long one, involving a lot of hard work and dedication.

“I worked my way up the ladder in the junior formulae, a bit like most F1 drivers”, he said.

“I started off at an indoor kart track called Magna Karta in Milton Keynes while I was at school. While I was working there and doing my GCSE exams I would send letters and CVs to race teams in the area.

The journey to becoming an F1 mechanic was a long one

The journey to becoming an F1 mechanic was a long one

“At the end of 1997 Fred Goddard from Fred Goddard Racing called me over for an interview and I started there in early 1998.

“We ran Formula Ford Zetec cars in the British Championship against the likes of Jenson Button that season. We also had a number of F1 and F3000 cars that we ran for customers in Boss Formula.”

It wasn’t long, though, before Dan started working with some of the stars of the future.

In 1999 he worked in Formula Renault and a year later moved onto British F3, working with Gary Paffet.

The following year was another Formula Renault campaign – this time as a mechanic for current Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen.

After a few more years in British F3 and the World Sportscar Championship, Dan finally achieved his goal of becoming an F1 mechanic.

His F1 career began with Red Bull Racing in 2005, with whom he would remain for five years, working with the likes of David Coulthard, Mark Webber and reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel.

“The job was very much as I expected it to be”, he said.

“Lots of my friends and ex colleagues worked in F1 plus I had read books by Steve Matchett about his time at Benetton.”

Although a familiar environment from his time working up through the ranks, Dan was keen to stress the demands of his role with the Red Bull team.

“The most demanding aspect of the job was the long hours and time spent abroad”, he said.

“When I was in F1 there were no curfews and in those days we had in-season testing.

“Sometimes we would work from 6.45 in the morning through to 4am the following day, for three days in a row at tests and race weekends.

F1 mechanics work flat out during a Grand Prix weekend

F1 mechanics work flat out during a Grand Prix weekend

Dan said it is “difficult for the armchair enthusiast to understand” the demands and pressures that F1 mechanics are under, “but there are many good books out there which give info about what goes on in Formula One.”

“After a Grand Prix ends and TV viewers at home tuck in to their Sunday lunch, F1 personnel are just about to start another days’ work, packing everything away and prepping the cars ready for transport back to the factory or the next race.

“Most teams don’t finish this until midnight.”

In his five years with Red Bull Racing, Dan said his favourite moment was the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, when David Coulthard picked up a third place finish – a huge achievement then, for a team that has made a habit of winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships in recent years.

Monaco 2006 - when the Red Bull Racing team were sponsored by Superman Returns

Monaco 2006 – when the Red Bull Racing team were sponsored by Superman Returns

It was a race weekend when the team were sponsored by the Superman Returns film, and Coulthard duly wore the Superman cape during the podium ceremony.

One of his most challenging tasks as an F1 mechanic, however, came a month later in Montreal.

“We had one hour to change an engine in David Coulthard’s car before the start of the 2006 Canadian Grand Prix, after it had an air leak from part of the pneumatic valve system”, he said.

“Later that season we had a major fuel leak on Christian Klein’s race car at the Hungarian Grand Prix and we could not fix this in time, so we had to use the spare car that day.

“For me, the worst moment, though, was in 2007 when Vettel (then driving for Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso) hit Webber during the safety car period at Fuji in the Japanese Grand Prix.

“We could have won that race and Webber had battled to drive with food poisoning.

“That day was a sad day for everyone involved.”

Keeping the tyres warm: F1 mechanics have a lot of responsibilities

Keeping the tyres warm: F1 mechanics have a lot of responsibilities

At the pit stops, Dan was initially responsible for putting one of the front wheels on before he later took charge of the rear jack.

He said his favourite race was Melbourne due to the circuit’s close proximity to the beach, but the facilities and hotels at Imola (which used to host the San Marino Grand Prix) and in Barcelona were “not great.”

Unfortunately for Dan, his F1 career came to an end in 2009. He had recently moved over from the Red Bull race team to the test team, which made him redundant when the ban on in-season testing came into force that year.

Since being made redundant, Dan has set up his own company, Team Fox Racing, based near Buckingham and only a short drive from Silverstone, providing “first class race car preparation at all levels of motorsport.”

His advice to any aspiring F1 mechanic?

“Work hard at school and try to learn a second language, which will help if you make it to Formula One.”

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Why the BBC have made the right choice with Suzi Perry

“I’ve missed it. Haven’t you?”

Those were the words with which Jake Humphrey opened his first show as BBC F1 presenter, off the back of the opening credits to the soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ – the iconic theme tune of the BBC’s Grand Prix programme from the 1980s and 90s – making its return after a 12 year hiatus while ITV held the television rights.

And here we are, nearly four years on from Humphrey’s BBC F1 debut in Melbourne 2009 and Suzi Perry – the former MotoGP presenter – is talking about how much she has “really missed” being away from the grid, having been revealed as Humphrey’s successor; the Norfolk-born 34 year-old is moving on to present BT Vision’s new Premier League coverage.

How things change.

Humphrey: If I had my way I'd be in F1 for the long haul

Humphrey: If I had my way I’d be in F1 for the long haul

Only in May this year, Humphrey tweeted: “If I had my way I’d be in F1 for the long haul.”

Less than four months later, it was announced he would be leaving the sport to “fulfil a lifelong dream of presenting the Barclays Premier League.”

Not that it was any great surprise. Only a week earlier, Humphrey announced to his thousands of twitter followers that his wife, Harriet, was expecting their first child in the New Year.

Jake Humphrey announces he is to become a Father

Jake Humphrey announces on twitter that he is to become a Father in the New Year

And as he explained in his last blog post as BBC F1 presenter, he “wants to be there for them both.”

But as Humphrey contemplates being in “Manchester rather than Melbourne and Chelsea rather than China” what do we make of his four-year reign as the BBC’s face of Formula One?

He hasn’t been without his critics. In fact, within hours of the BBC announcing he would be fronting their coverage of the sport in February 2009, F1 fans logged onto internet forums in their droves to express their dissatisfaction at the appointment of the former children’s television presenter.

But boy he has proved them wrong.

When the fresh-faced 30 year-old appeared on our screens at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, it marked a distinct change in the way Formula One was covered in the UK, which had for many years been anchored by the likes of Jim Rosenthal and Steve Rider.

Eager to make the viewer feel like they were a part of his jet-setting journey following the F1 circus and become the most accessible F1 presenter ever, he certainly achieved his goal in that regard.

Although perhaps initially slightly intimidated by the presence of 13-time Grand Prix winner David Coulthard and former team owner Eddie Jordan alongside him, he rapidly grew into the role.

His blog posts were an instant hit, offering a fascinating insight into what it is like presenting the world’s fastest and most glamorous sport. Whether it be through recording his talk back during post race analysis; revealing what it’s like being producer and presenter or giving fans a guided tour of the BBC’s offices in the TV compound in Budapest, Humphrey truly delivered in giving F1 fans the kind of behind-the-scenes insights they had craved for years.

On screen, the chemistry with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan was equally as popular.

The bike ride to, wing walk over and campsite BBQ at Silverstone have been amongst the most memorable of stunts and features performed by ‘the three amigos’ over the years.

The F1 forum never failed to entertain and inform and the emotion conveyed in the Brawn garage moments after Jenson Button won the World Championship at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix was sensational.

After four years, Humphrey was willing to admit in his last blog post that he has “taken the F1 job as far as I can.”

Some would argue that the three-Top-Gear-lads-style coverage had begun to run its course and was in need of a revamp.

So what can we expect from the BBC’s F1 coverage in 2013 with Suzi Perry hosting the show?

The BBC’s Head of F1, Ben Gallop, said Perry will bring a “real energy and years of experience to one of the biggest jobs in sports broadcasting.” Of that there is no doubt.

For ten years the 42 year-old presented the corporation’s MotoGP coverage with consummate ease and style.

Presenting solo from the grid, Perry held the show singlehandedly – something Humphrey would probably be the first to admit was not a strength of his.

Since they lost the exclusive TV rights at the beginning of 2012, Martin Brundle’s trademark ‘grid walk’ has undoubtedly been the biggest loss to the BBC’s coverage. David Coulthard – who blossomed this year as a commentator – tried his best, but struggled on the grid in the shadow of his former colleague.

With ‘the three amigos’ broken up, however the BBC decide to cover the sport in 2013, it will be different in style and tone to what viewers have become accustomed to.

BBC bosses could do worse than allow Perry to do what she does best: presenting the bulk of the race build-up solo, with an extended grid walk; guiding viewers through the starting line-up, the background stories and permutations, while engaging with drivers and team bosses and throwing to her pundits and roving reporters when appropriate. A new, dynamic, less awkward coverage of the sport may yet emerge from the state broadcaster.

And when the 2013 season comes to a close Brundle’s grid walk may have been all but forgotten, while those who dreaded the break-up of ‘the three amigos’ may find they haven’t been much missed at all.

Vettel dominates in India to extend championship lead

Sebastian Vettel claimed a dominant victory in the Indian Grand Prix to extend his championship lead by another six points over title rival Fernando Alonso. The reigning World Champion now heads into the final three races of the season thirteen points ahead of the Spaniard, with 75 available. Following victories in Singapore, Japan and Korea, Vettel has for the first time won four Grands Prix in succession.

“It has been an incredible two years for us here to get pole on Saturday and win the race on Sunday,” said Vettel.

“I don’t know what it is about this circuit but I really like the flow of it. Big thanks to the team, as I said on the radio, every single one is pushing very hard and I think there’s not one thing that stands out.

“I’m glad to be part of that and just enjoying the moment.”

Behind him, Alonso drove impressively to finish second, after starting fifth. Webber completed the podium, with the McLaren’s of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fourth and fifth.

Vettel led off the line from pole position and never looked back. The German led from lights to flag, building a 28 second lead before his one and only pit stop on lap 33, emerging a full 12 seconds in front of his team-mate Mark Webber. In doing so, Vettel became the first man since Ayrton Senna to pick up a hat trick of wins and lead every single lap in the process.

It was a race generally lacking in wheel-to-wheel action, with the notable exception of the opening lap. Hamilton, Button and Alonso enjoyed a tremendous tussle behind the Red Bulls, from which Button emerged the winner and Hamilton the loser in fifth, two places behind his starting grid position.

On lap five, Alonso used his DRS to sweep passed Button into turn four, to take third place. Two laps later, it was Hamilton’s turn to make a move on the 2009 World Champion, who slipped back to fifth.

The McLaren mechanics changed five wheels on Hamilton’s car at his pit stop, after the 2008 World Champion complained of down-shift problems with his steering wheel. Button meanwhile finished almost half a minute behind the winner. Setting the fastest lap on his final tour was scant consolation.

Further back, Kimi Raikkonen endured a frustrating afternoon in the Lotus stuck behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian switched to the hard compound tyre a lap later than his former team-mate. When he emerged from the pit lane marginally in front of the Finn, the 2007 World Champion pounced, making an incisive pass into turn three. One corner later though, Massa used his DRS to opportunistically cruise back past Raikkonen, who remained there until the chequered flag.

There was more misery for Michael Schumacher, who retired for the eighth time this season. The seven times World Champion – who will hang up his helmet for good at the end of the season – had a difficult afternoon. After slamming into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore, the Frenchman repaid him the favour, causing the German a right-rear puncture. Schumacher was later under investigation by the stewards for ignoring blue flags, before finally retiring five laps from the end.

Elswhere, Nico Hulkenberg will have pleased his team and sponsors will a well-earned eighth place finish in the Force India, while Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna finished in the last of the points-paying positions.

Fernando Alonso was undoubtedly the driver of the day though – yet another heroic performance from the Spanaird, passing both McLaren’s early on, before breezing past Webber, who was without KERS, on lap 48.

As for the championship, it would take a brave man to bet against Vettel becoming only the third man in Formula One history – after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – to win three World Championships on the bounce. The momentum may be with Vettel, but there is time yet for the kind of bad luck that beset Alonso in Belgium and Japan to hinder the German’s march towards championship glory.