Tag Archives: Silverstone

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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Want to go to the British Grand Prix? Here’s my all-you-need-to-know guide

Despite the fact that over seven million people in the UK watched the championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix on television, very few people ever go to a race.

Formula One may be the third most watched sporting event in the world – after the Olympics and football World Cup – but with only one event in UK every year, it’s not the most accessible of sports.

But getting the chance to watch a Formula One car roar past in the flesh is not necessarily as expensive and as difficult as you might imagine.

If going to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is as far afield as you’re willing to travel, then the options open to you are endless.

The cheapest option – if you just want to experience the thrill of watching a Formula One car driven in anger – is to get to Silverstone on the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend.

A Friday-only General Admission ticket – which, unlike on race day, will give you access to all open grandstands – will set you back £49 (£24 for a child), though this will rise to £65 when the ‘early bird’ offer comes to an end. For this, you will get the chance to watch three hours of Formula One practice, on top of practice and qualifying sessions for the support races, including GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup.

Saturday-only tickets cost £85 (£42.50 for children) however these will not grant you access to grandstands for qualifying.

For this, you will need a three-day weekend grandstand ticket. As I explained in an earlier post on the view from the Silverstone stands, there are many to choose from. The cheapest available at the moment is a weekend seat at Copse corner for £180, however a grandstand ticket gives you roving access to all open grandstands on the Friday and Saturday.

If it’s only the race itself that you’re interested in, a Sunday General Admission ticket costs £145 (£73 for children). And while that may seem a bit pricey, there’s so much more than the Grand Prix itself. The morning will feature three support races; a host of air displays, including the red arrows and a Grand Prix party after the race.

At the moment, however, an extra £7 will get you a covered seat at Copse corner, which seems like an attractive option given the deluge suffered by last year’s race-goers.

The easiest – and cheapest – way to get tickets to the British Grand Prix is via the official Silverstone website.

Getting to Silverstone

In terms of how to get to the Silverstone, there are plenty of options open to you.

If you’re only going on race day, Megabus operates a service from over 50 towns and cities across the UK from as far away Edinburgh, Southampton, Plymouth and Swansea. A return ticket from Cardiff, for example, costs £30, leaving at 6am and departing Silverstone at 4pm, around 90 minutes after the chequered flag.

Alternatively, Silverstone operate a Park and Ride service, just off the M1 and M40. For the first time, this service will operate on the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend. If you’re attending on all three days, it costs £15 per car. A one day pass is priced at £5.

If you wish to arrive by train, the nearest mainline stations are Banbury, Milton Keynes and Northampton. Stagecoach provides a bus service from all three stations throughout the weekend.

For those arriving by car, 2012 was a bit of a nightmare. Silverstone suffered from torrential rain in the build-up to the weekend. Fans were warned not to travel to the circuit for qualifying on the Saturday, in order to let the grass car parks recover in time for race day. Nevertheless, if you wish to travel by car to the 2013 British Grand Prix, a three-day car parking pass will cost you £60. A Sunday-only pass, however, will cost just £45.

Directions are available on the Silverstone website.

Camping

There are a number of campsites within a short walk of the circuit. Silverstone’s official campsite is Silverstone Woodlands, which costs £60 per person (£20 for children) and located on the south side of the circuit near Club corner. However on the three occasions I have been to the British Grand Prix, I have always camped at Whittlebury Park, which is a 5 minute walk from Copse corner. You can see a full list of campsite surrounding the circuit by clicking here.

Accommodation

If, however, camping is not for you, the Silverstone website has a comprehensive section listing local hotels and B&Bs.

Top Tips

If arriving by car, leave very early – especially on race day.

Remember your binoculars! There are many giant screens dotted around the circuit so you can follow the race properly. However, unless you’re lucky, they’re not normally giant enough to be able to read the on-screen graphics properly with the naked eye.

Take a pocket-sized radio and tune into BBC Radio 5 Live or Silverstone Radio of 87.7 FM.

Wear ear plugs! If you have never been to a Grand Prix before, nothing will surprise you more than the deafening noise. Ear plugs are available for purchase at the circuit.

Finally, if you have any money to spare, hire one of the hand-held Fan Vision controllers, aka Kangaroo TV’s. From one of these you will be able to watch the world feed shown on the giant screens and to millions of TV viewers around the world. In addition to that, you will have access to a range of commentaries; team radio, timing screens and a host of on-board options.

If you have been to the British Grand Prix and would like to give advice to other fans thinking of going for the first time, please share your experiences and tips below!

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.

View from the stands: Silverstone

It’s where Formula One was born in 1950 and it remains one of the most popular and best-attended Grands Prix of the season.

Once an airfield in World War Two, Silverstone has changed beyond recognition over the years.

Gone are the days when straw bales ‘protected’ the fans from the death traps that the Hamilton’s and Vettel’s of yesteryear hurled around at brake neck speed.

Today’s modern facility boasts a brand new pit and paddock complex, superbly positioned grandstands and provides fans with entertainment ‘e-zones’ and a post-race concert.

I first attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2003. Almost ten years on, it’s a weekend I still remember vividly.

After watching qualifying on the Saturday at a friend’s house, a group of seven of us made the trip up to the Northamptonshire countryside.

The atmosphere at the Whittlebury Park campsite right next to the Copse side of the circuit was fantastic, with race-goers partying long into the night.

Unable to sleep, I crept out of my tent at around 5am and walked through Copse Wood and made my way towards the circuit to discover what I could see.

A short stroll later, I will never forget the moment I emerged from the woodland to the site of the five Copse grandstands lining the legendary (and then first) corner.

Eyes out like saucers, I tried to take in the size of it all. The car parks were already filling up with those ‘general admission’ ticket-holders eager to find the best spot; the smells of the burger vans cooking breakfast for the early arrivals wafted through the air; the ITV studio stood adjacent to the pit straight grandstand, ready for Jim Rosenthal to host the action to millions of television viewers.

The wait for everyone else to wake up seemed endless. Eventually they did and we made our way to a small café on the edge of the campsite for breakfast.

Support races including Maserati’s and the Porsche Supercup entertained an expectant crowd in the morning before it was lights out for the Grand Prix itself.

And what a race it was. Rubens Barrichello made a poor start from pole position, with Renault’s Jarno Trulli and Mclaren’s Kimi Raikkonen nipping ahead at the first corner.

David Coulthard’s headrest falling off his car aside, it was a fairly uneventful opening twelve laps.

Protestor Neil Horan invades the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix

That was until madness struck when a protestor invaded the track on the hanger straight, with the cars driving towards him at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. The crowd on the pit straight roared when a brave marshal ran onto the track and rugby tackled the man. Remarkably no one was hurt. But the deployment of a second safety car – under which nearly every car pitted – shook up the order in a way no one could have predicted.

What followed was overtaking galore and a truly remarkable drive from Rubens Barrichello to claim his first win of the season.

I made a second visit to Silverstone in 2006.

Again, we watched from what was the old pit straight grandstand overlooking the pit lane entrance. With the aid of a giant screen, this made following the strategies much easier than if positioned at another point around the circuit.

View of the old pit straight grandstand. The pits have now moved to the opposite end of the circuit.

The race was hardly a classic but there was a unique vibe about the weekend with it being a month earlier than usual and on the opening weekend of the 2006 World Cup.

There were England flags everywhere. Sitting in the grandstand with the GP2 race in progress while the BBC’s coverage of the England game was being beamed on the giant screens felt strange, but it kept everyone happy.

For my third and most recent visit to Silverstone in 2009, I decided to watch the race from the Stowe corner grandstand – a fantastic vantage point to catch the overtaking and one which I’d thoroughly recommend.

The parade lap: the cars make their way through Stowe corner before the start of the 2009 British Grand Prix

With the use of binoculars, I was able to follow the action for half of the lap: all the way from the exit of chapel, down the Hangar straight, through Stowe, Vale and Club, before the charge up to the Abbey chicane.

Sadly, this is no longer possible, following the building of the new pit and paddock complex.

The new layout has, however, enabled fans to enjoy viewing from two parts of the circuit at once – with several grandstands offering views of Farm/Village/Wellington Straight and the brilliant Maggots/Becketts complex.

For more information on Silverstone – with advice on getting there, buying tickets and camping – please see my all-you-need-to-know guide.