If you were to tell me five years ago, that in the not too distant future, I’d be packing my camera gear to head to the Nürburgring to shoot the 24 Hour with Aston Martin Racing, I’d have thought you were joking. Turns out it was no joke, but in the words of our team driver Liam Talbot, it was a baptism of fire. I have never worked so hard in my life, I smashed my 1D, risked life and limb trekking the forest at night and stumbling next to the armco in the pitch black with cars hitting well over 200km/h just metres away, destroyed my feet and went with only an hour’s sleep in a space of 38 hours. But it’s by far the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d do it again tomorrow. But I’m getting ahead of myself, lets go back a fortnight to the beginning. Leaving Brisbane, we travelled via KL to the UK. An unusual starting place, considering our destination of Germany. The first day in the country, we picked up our rental car and headed out of London.
We had a stop to make with a team operating at the pinnacle of international motorsport. That team was Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1.
To get a private tour of a Formula 1 Team was without a doubt, a dream come true. I have seen some pretty big race team factories, where they do all their own design, construction and testing in house, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the operation.
With over 600 employees on site, you start to get some idea of the size of the operation.
In the foyer along with the trophy lined walls, was a creation the team had great pride in. Naturally, we had to ask what it was all about.
Turns out the local town of Brackley hosts a soapbox derby and this is what happens when you ask a team of Formula 1 engineers what a soapbox racer should look like!
The team really enjoy supporting the local community who support them and this is just a fun way for the team to bring some flair to a local event!
Once we got past the main foyer, we were instructed to turn off our cameras, so the only sad part here is they were very firm about no photos inside the building. However, what I can tell you is that the things I saw in that factory absolutely blew my mind. You know that they are pretty serious and that a lot goes into it, but absolutely nothing compares to the level they are operating at.
To give you a few small examples, did you know that Mercedes F1 have a technical partnership with NASA? The technology that the F1 team produce in terms of making parts lighter and stronger and then the bonding technology that holds them all together, surpasses the tech of the people that send other humans into space. Think about that for a second!
It is an engineer’s dream operation, they design, build, race and test everything in house, with the never-ending goal of making everything more efficient. My maths is terrible so I may stand corrected here, but if my memory serves me well, we were told that they work to a product quality rate of 99.9%. Yep, everything they produce has to be perfected to that percentage. They further explained that as each car is comprised of just over 15,000 individual parts, at that percentage it means two parts will fail each time they race. Again, this place was bending my brain further into the realms of what is actually possible.
In the suspension testing area, they had an F1 car rigged up on a system that could be programmed with the on-car data from the logger that could then perfectly recreate those precise stresses on the car, around any given circuit, in real time.
The next part that totally shocked me is that all the logos on each car are hand painted. I was staring at the nose cones that were lined up waiting to go on the cars, when I realised that they weren’t decals. Turns out they have staff on site that painstakingly airbrush every part of every external panel. The minute rise and fall of having decals on the car changes the airflow over the car. Naturally they know this because of their wind tunnel on site…
I could go on for hours about all the things I saw, but all I can tell you is if you ever get the chance to see inside an F1 team, move mountains to make it happen! This really was a trip of a lifetime and there is plenty more to come on this journey to the Nurburgring 24 Hour. Stay tuned for our next installment, covering Part 2: Silverstone and Le Mans.