Tag Archives: Sebastian Vettel

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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Button wins Brazilian bonanza as Vettel clinches third title

Jenson Button won a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit, ahead of the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and  Felipe Massa.

But with Sebastian Vettel’s fighting drive to a well-earned sixth-place finish, Alonso’s second place was not enough to deny the German a third World title.

Vettel clinched the championship by just three points in what Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described as “the most stressful” race he’d been involved in.

For Vettel, the record books just keep tumbling. At the age of just 25, he is the youngest-ever triple World Champion and one of only nine drivers to have clinched the Formula One World Championship three times.

And off the back of his titles in 2010 and 2011, Vettel has joined an even more exclusive club of drivers to have won three World Championships consecutively. Only Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57) and Michael Schumacher (2000-04) had achieved that feat previously.

A top four finish would have guaranteed Vettel the title. After the opening lap, it was obvious the task in hand was to prove one of his greatest challenges yet.

From fourth on the grid Vettel had a poor start, dropping down to seventh. Approaching turn four, it went from bad to worse for the German. Bruno Senna – whose uncle Ayrton had held the record for youngest triple World Champion – misjudged his breaking point on turn-in, slamming into the side of the Red Bull, spinning him round.

Cars dodged to the left and right as Vettel was left rolling downhill in reverse. Only until the last of the back-of-the-grid stragglers had past could the German spin around and set off in pursuit, in what was now a damaged car.

Meanwhile up ahead, Alonso was making the most of his championship rival’s misfortune.

From his seventh-placed grid slot, the Spaniard made up two places off the start line. A lap later, he made yet more ground, scything up the inside of Mark Webber’s Red Bull and team-mate Massa into turn one.

Whether he was aware of Vettel’s predicament or not, it was opportunistic driving from Alonso, who now found himself in the vital third place he would need to win the title, should Vettel fail to score.

The German, though, had other ideas.

With the track becoming increasingly slippery, Alonso chose to switch to intermediate tyres on lap ten. Vettel did likewise. In the absence of pit radio, Alonso would have been astonished to see Vettel in his mirrors as he exited the pits. Boy had Vettel made up ground.

Ahead of the two men in contention for the championship, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button were driving superbly in the tricky conditions, notching up a huge lead over the rest of the field.

All that changed on lap 22, however, after the safety car was deployed to clear up dangerous amounts of debris scattered across the track.

Eight laps later, Hulkenberg led the field off the restart, with Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel in hot pursuit.

On lap 31, Hamilton, in his last race for Mclaren, made a bold move on team-mate Button to take over second place. Then, on lap 48, Hulkenberg made a rare error, putting a wheel on a slippery white line, and Hamilton was into the lead.

It was a lead that lasted for just seven laps, though, as Hulkenberg spun into the British driver while attempting a re-pass into turn one.

Retirement in his final outing for the team which had nurtured him since he was thirteen was not the ending Hamilton would have wanted – or deserved.

All of this enabled Button to scamper clear into an unassailable lead. Behind the 2009 World Champion, Vettel’s dramas never ceased.

Wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of Massa and Kamui Kobayashi continued. And then there was the weather, which changed almost as rapidly as the on-track combat the TV director chose to follow. One moment it was a pit stop for slick tyres. Three laps later, Vettel would be in for intermediates.

A small favour from Michael Schumacher – the man whom he admired so much as a young boy – was the only saving grace for Vettel on a day everything seemed conspired against him. The seven times World Champion – in his last outing for Mercedes before finally calling it a day – decided not to get involved in his fellow country-man’s charge for the championship and duly let him by for sixth place.

But even though Massa had let team-mate Alonso by for second place two laps earlier, seventh would have been good enough for Vettel.

“It is difficult to imagine what goes through my head now even for myself,” Vettel said. “I am full of adrenaline and if you poke me now I wouldn’t feel it.

“It was an incredible race. When you get turned around at Turn Four for no reason and it becomes like heading the wrong way down the M25 it is not the most comfortable feeling.

“I was lucky no-one hit me but the car was damaged and we lost a lot of speed, especially when it dried up. Fortunately it started to rain again and I felt so much happier.

“A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks [during the season], but we did not get distracted by that and kept going, and all the guys gave a big push right to the end.”

For Alonso, it was the second time in three seasons that a third World title had slipped from his grasp.

In 2010 a strategic error by the Ferrari team allowed Vettel to snatch the title in the Abu Dhabi season finale. This year, there is no doubt that Alonso has dragged a dog of a car that simply had no place to be in contention for the World Championship. But for being caught up in first lap accidents in Belgium and Japan, he would have won the title.

“I’m very proud of the team,” said Alonso. “We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil, this is a sport after all.

“When you do something with your heart and do it 100% you have to be proud of yourself and your team and we’ll try again next year.”

Schumacher wraps up 7th title in the Ardennes – Spa, 2004

Without a doubt the best race I’ve been to was the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

Two years earlier, the former F1 driver Tomas Enge checked into out B&B in Monmouthshire with some of his Czech mates, when he came over to see the Wales Rally GB. I dug out a tape of his crash in the Prost F1 car at Suzuka 2001 and showed it to him, which was met with a wry grin. My Dad and I mentioned that we wanted to go to Spa one year and he happily gave us his number and told us to give him a ring when we were there.

With no race in 2003, we made the trip a year later and Tomas – racing in F3000 – turned up at midday on the Saturday with a couple of paddock passes. He gave us a tour of his garage in the old Spa pit lane and at one point my Dad walked up a metal staircase only to find himself standing on the podium, to cheers of the crowd in the grandstand opposite! Standing on the pit wall as the F1 cars came screaming past down towards Eau Rouge in qualifying, kicking up huge amounts of spray, was breathtaking.

The race itself was a thriller. It was the 14th of the year and Michael Schumacher had failed to win only one of the previous 13.

Kimi Raikkonen took a storming win from 10th on the grid in the Mclaren, making a race-winning pass on Michael into Eau Rouge.

There was overtaking galore, three safety cars, loads of crashes and just about every car in Michelin tyres got a puncture.

Schumacher claimed his 7th title but on the day he was beaten fair and square by a brilliant Kimi – and boy did he look miserable; you could tell he hated losing.

At the end of 2006 – when he announced his retirement – I thought I’d always be able to say: “I was there when Schuey won his last title.”

When the German made is comeback in 2010, I wondered whether that would always be the case. But with Lewis Hamilton having now replaced him at Mercedes, it looks as though he has, finally, called it a day having failed to discover his Ferrari form.

What an honour it was, though, to have witnessed Michael Schumacher break his own record and become the first man to attain seven world titles.

But with Sebastian Vettel having now racked up three in a row, Schumacher’s fellow countryman has every chance to go one better.