Tag Archives: Mark Webber

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.”

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ash Miller talks racing, dancing…and Hamilton’s move to Mercedes

Ash in action at Brands Hatch

From Brisbane to Brands Hatch, racing driver Ash Miller has been around for a while now. He may not be a household name, but his commitment to and achievements in motor racing to date – not to mention his talents outside of the sport – is something to be admired.

By the age of six, Miller was already pestering his Father for a kart, telling him he was “holding up” his Formula One career. In 2000, his Father was presented with an affordable package and Miller’s karting career was underway. It started off as a hobby and “a bit of a reward for doing well in school”.

After five years, Miller drew a line under his karting days at the state championships in 2005, which he describes as a “pivotal point”.

“We had such a terrible race meeting in terms of results, everything went wrong. It culminated with me being taken out deliberately about five laps into a fairly long final. It was the tipping point, I guess.”

Frustrated by the politics involved, Miller turned to car racing, which was he says was an “interesting” transition.

“Everything happens a lot slower in a car than a go kart. The first time in a car was quite easy compared to the go karting because with go karting everything is so fast paced and everything is on edge, everything happens a lot quicker.

“When the back end starts to come out (in a car) you can feel it almost before it’s happening, whereas in a go kart as the back end comes out it’s out before you know it.”

2009 saw Miller break through, claiming several victories and sealing both the Production Sports and the Mazda MX5 Queensland Championships.

The following year Miller raced undefeated, winning every round of the 2010 CUE One Hour Endurance Series for class 2E – by over a minute, on some occasions – sealing the Mazda MX5 National Title in between. The challenge of endurance racing was an altogether different challenge, though.

“Initially when we were doing car racing it was club meetings and sprint meetings and trying to get the experience up.

“We did the first round in the CUE One Hour Endurance championship because it was local. I co-drove with the son of the guy who engineered my car.

“I loved the amount of track time we got, because a driver is never going to say ‘no’ to more track time and I just really enjoyed the challenge, really enjoyed the strategy, the thrill of not just going ballistic.

“It was definitely a step up.”

Outside of motor sport, Miller is a qualified journalist. He started out writing for a national karting magazine in Australia. When the subject of payment came up, however, Miller realised he would have to gain a qualification and he subsequently obtained a degree in journalism.

Now he works on a freelance basis covering touring cars for Motor Sport News and says he would “love” to try his hand at commentating. Training as a journalist, though, has benefited him as a racing driver, he says.

“It’s helped out an awful lot with the motor sport, as a lot of the guys behind the wheel don’t really know how to deal with the media and we need to work with the media to get the most out of it.

“So being on both sides of the fence, it’s given me a real appreciation of both elements.”

Like his fellow countryman Mark Webber did in the mid-90s, last year Miller moved over to the UK to race.

Driving Druids at Brands

His first taste of competition was meant to be the Britcar 24 hour race. But two weeks before he was due to fly out the team had an accident with the car and he was out of the race before he had even turned a wheel.

Fortunately, GT3 driver James Walker – who has provided a lot of managerial support in finding drives – was on hand and helped secure him a drive in the final Renault Clio Cup race of 2011 at Brands Hatch, which he describes as “proper competition and the real deal.”

At this point, it dawned on Miller that he had to make a sacrifice with another of his exploits out of racing.

Long since he took up racing, Miller has been a dancer. He is four times an Australian Irish Dance Champion and he climbed the professional ranks, finishing 11th in the 2007 World Championships.

However he was faced with a “water shed moment” last year when the Clio Cup round clashed with the Irish national dancing championships and he realised he could only do one or the other.

After an impressive debut in the final Renault Clio Cup race of 2011 at Brands Hatch, Miller returned to the UK this year ready to race.

Disappointingly, the 2012 season didn’t materialise as expected.

“When I planned the move here I was in a good position with funding and I had a contact in Australia who was going to help me get started in the championship with the Clios this year. Things were looking good.

“But not long from flying out, his position changed and the funding was not withstanding, as happens. With a lot of the financial turmoil that’s happening, it’s unpredictable at the best of times.

“So I still went ahead with the move over here and used 2012 as a building block to make contacts for next year, put something in place and really be able to structure it properly so we can go into 2013 knowing exactly where we stand.”

“As much as it has been frustrating (not racing in 2012), I came over here knowing what a challenge it was going to be and throughout everything I’ve done in my life I’ve always reveled the challenge and believe that nothing is ever worth doing if it’s going to be easy.

“This has probably been the hardest challenge that I’ve had to face in my racing career. But you wake up every morning with a positive attitude and still with the belief that with every day that comes, you get a bit closer to the goal.”

While 2012 has been a frustrating year on the side lines – with the some kart endurance racing and the Karun Chandhok charity karting festival providing him the only chance to compete – Miller says he is “about 70 or 80 per cent confident” he’ll be racing in 2013.

I asked Ash how the motor sport scene in the UK compares to that of the Australia and whether it’s easier to get noticed.

“Absolutely”, he says. “Motorsport over here in the UK is still a very viable means of both marketing and it’s part of culture – much deeper ingrained in culture, from a grass roots level all the way up to professional level than it is in Australia.

“In Australia you’ve got this massive gap between grass roots motor sport and professional. The guys who make it to super cars have done because they have a lot of backing and that’s what the drivers coming up through the ranks in Australia are facing.

“The cost of a national Formula Ford season in Australia is another 30 to 40 per cent more expensive there than it is over here.

“And the coverage over here is much better for motor sport generally. You’ve got channels like ITV4 which run the British Touring Cars. That’s something that was really attractive for the Clio Cup is the package that you’ve got to be noticed with on television. You don’t get that in Australia.

“The Clio Cup is immensely popular with the fans. The fans go to see the support classes as much as the main event, whereas in Australia everyone’s there for the V8 Supercars and ignores everything else.”

On the current state of play in Formula One, Miller says it’s a “sad thing” that his fellow countryman Mark Webber “seems to have been trumped by this up-and-coming young star year after year” but if he were to bet on the outcome of this year’s World Championship he would “put it on Vettel.”

“I think Alonso’s faced with a harder and harder challenge and you can’t fault him for his determination.

“If there was a race for persistence then I think Vettel would fall for Alonso – he’s always there or there abouts.

“Korea 2010 was the pivotal moment where Mark might have ended up letting it slip out of his grasp. From a country man’s perspective, I’d love to say that he’s got a shot at the title for the next ten years, but from a realistic point of view as long as Vettel’s in the game I think he’s going to have a very tough time.”

“You hear a lot of people say about when Schumacher was dominant how boring Formula One was, but I think those who watch it don’t realise how much history is being made here.”

But what does he make of Lewis Hamilton’s switch from Mclaren to Mercedes?

“From a purist’s perspective and from a driver’s perspective, if your driving becomes a little bit stale and you start looking for a fresh challenge, you’re not one hundred per cent committed to the job at that team.

“From a results perspective it probably isn’t the smartest move but from a personal perspective, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hamilton’s looking for a new challenge.

“He’s still discovering himself as a man, as well, he’s still finding out what makes him tick. Growing up in the eye of the world in Formula One you don’t exactly get every opportunity to discover who you are.”

“The one thing he (Hamilton) does have up his sleeve is Mercedes’ budget. They’re committed to Formula One which he doesn’t have to worry about.

“This is speculating, but I think where Hamilton may succeed where Schumacher has failed is the fact that Schumacher was very much at the twilight of his career. Hamilton is still eager and hungry…but he doesn’t seem to have the steely mental confidence that Schumacher had.”

As for his own future, Miller says his focus is very much on securing a drive in the Renault Clio Cup next season and his ultimate goal is Le Mans – although he “wouldn’t turn down a Formula One drive.”

Would anyone?