On the final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Sahara Force India were kind enough to let me have some time with a team member to tell me all about their role with the team, and the next steps to get to Melbourne, and their routine over the race weekend.
Meet Adrian Williams, Race Team Spares Co-ordinator for the team:
Adrian is bright and breezy to talk with, and when I ask him his age whilst chatting, he gives me an answer that I know is a joke. I feel included in the team banter! Adrian has a mechanical background, and has been with the team for 9 years, 7 of them racing. One thing I can definitely tell is that he is full of love for the team, and doing his job to the best of his ability is very important to him.
Asking Adrian what his job entails is interesting. We all know that F1 teams are limited on passes at races, so I knew personnel often picked up additional roles. “My job title is Race Team Spares Co-ordinator, but also I’m sticker ‘manager’ for the car, garage, and media board, and look after driver kit for Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, and team kit.” As I find out later, he is being rather modest, as this isn’t the full list of things that Adrian does over a race weekend!
I’m talking to Adrian stood inside the spares truck just behind the garage in the Circuit de Catalunya paddock, and because Checo’s running has come to an end early, the team are milling about around us already in full flow with the pack-up. They will finish packing up that night (Friday), and the trucks will make their way back to the factory whist the other team personnel fly home. Adrian tells me he’ll get Sunday at home to see his family, before the well-rehearsed factory routine starts on Monday.
“Everything you see around you will be decanted, checked, replenished, any items that need servicing will be serviced, and then it all comes back to us to be put into flight cases.” So on Monday, all the items they unpack will go back to their various departments – such as electronics, sub assembly, composites – so that they can do any maintenance or repairs that are needed.
All parts have a life –they are tracked and recorded so the team can tell what circuit it’s been to, what races it has participated in, and how many kilometres that was. This is all fed back to someone at the factory whose job it is to update the system – they mirror the hours that team are working trackside, and information is fed back to them by email to input so that everybody will know how much mileage is left on that steering rack, whether it needs servicing, can it do another race, or two races, or whatever.
Adrian also says he will start to catch up with departments back at the factory to get an idea of what new parts there might be or updates for the race. “From my point of view, I’ll be chasing spares, because we’ll have gone from running one car in testing to two, to start getting things moving. I’ll also be looking to see what items are coming back from paint so that we can start getting transfers on those.”
He explains that whilst this is going on, they’ll also be taking delivery of the drivers’ kit for Australia too. Part of his responsibility is to unpack all of that and check the logos are in the right places and visually confirm everything is okay, then repack their bags ready to go to Australia. So what exactly does this driver kit consist of, I ask?
Firstly, helmets. A driver has anything from 6 to 12 helmets a year. They’ll have 3 with them at any event, and Adrian shows me where they are stored.
One is normally set-up with a clear visor for rain, one as a medium, and one as a smoked visor. Some drivers have a preference for black smoked, or you can get mirrored smoked in various colours, so it might look mirrored blue, yellow, pink or whatever. Drivers have their own preference on these, but Checo will tend go for medium, whereas Nico tends to go for dark.
Because designs cannot be changed so much anymore, Adrian tells me that the drivers don’t tend to use as many helmets throughout a season now – in the past a driver would have had a new one for Monaco, a new one for their home race, and a new one for Singapore to look glittery under the lights of the night race.
Every helmet manufacturer has a representative at the track on race weekends, for Sahara Force India, this is currently Schuberth. They know the helmet well, and whilst the team are very hands on and can fix things, they are there as the expert on their product. They might not attend testing, so on those occasions, the Adrian will look after the set-up. The team can look after the tear-off visor strips, and change visors – Adrian tells me this is essential as the manufacturer reps are not allowed on the grid. Drivers can be superstitious, so although the spare helmet is set-up, they might want to stick with the one they are wearing, leading to a last minute visor change that Adrian might have to make.
The team can also remove the padding to change the drinks tube, and are responsible for putting the radio in. Adrian explains that drivers have a preference for the type of microphone used – Checo has a boom mike in the front of his helmet, but Nico will have one inside his balaclava. I’m interested to hear this as I guess it explains why certain drivers sound so different when we hear them on team radio during the race. I take a look at Nico’s new helmet design for 2016, which I really rate:
Next we talk about race suits. Adrian tells me that the drivers use 21 on average per year. Of these, 4 4 of those suits will be without the alcohol branding for Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. These are provided to Force India by their technical partner, Alpinestars, and during the tests, the drivers will have been feeding back to them on nuances of the suit – perhaps they felt it was too baggy, or the arms needed to be slightly longer – and these adjustments will then be made on future ones for them to use in Australia and beyond. Adrian also tell me he is responsible for getting this kit laundered, and ready to be used again.
There’s also race boots and gloves, again from Alpinestars, and the drivers will use on average ten pairs per season – swapped at various stages along the way.
We then talk through the rest of the routine of preparation for Australia. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the team will start to build the cars. Loading will start on Wednesday afternoon and carry on through Thursday, and everything will be netted, and fly out with DHL Motorsport from East Midlands Airport on Friday AM.
“We take a large amount of freight for the team. Some of that is sea freight that went in December – it’s a long way to Australia!” he says. I reflect on how early that means the team have to be getting these things done and the number of duplicate items they need to make this possible.
Adrian will fly to Australia on the Saturday – he tells me that it’s a good choice by the team that they opt to fly then: “We land about 6am Monday morning, so that means we will be at our hotel for 9am, and then we get the day to ourselves to acclimatise. Some teams do it other ways, and although Australia is the first race, and the adrenalin is there, it’s still so far away – 36 hours door to door travel time in total, so when you get there, you really want to put your feet up and have a rest.”
The team will head into the circuit on Tuesday morning, knowing their freight is already there, and get straight down to the business of unloading the various different sizes of flight cases that have all the kit (and the cars) in them. They’ll start putting the garage together, Adrian refers to this as the “horseshoe” – the overhead pods that the cars sit under, which contains all the lighting, and also power, air lines etc. Certain flight cases go straight into the garage as they are and the team work out of them, such as a spares or support “shack” that has all of the dampers and similar in. Adrian explains that it will take a full day to set the garage up, to the point of getting the cars in, but then they won’t start working on them until Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, they get straight into assembling the cars. “They travel without engines, or gearboxes, it is literally just the cockpit that travels. So we have to get all of that together for Thursday, when we are given a timeslot for a visit from the scrutineers. They will want to check everything from the driver kit to the seatbelts to the tethers on the car, or making sure the fire extinguisher nozzles are in the right place etc.” I ask Adrian what would happen if there was a delay that meant you weren’t fully ready for that timeslot, and he explains that if something happened, for instance a piece of driver kit hadn’t arrived, you could rebook another slot, but that it is compulsory to complete those checks on the Thursday.
So we are as far as Friday, and it’s practice day. Adrian explains that it is quite a busy day for him. “We start off by making sure all of the drivers kit is out and ready for them when they arrive. They get their overalls on arrival, we keep the helmets to one side, and I put them in the garage for them.” Adrian also ensures their gloves and ear pieces are there for them too. “Then I also do front left blanket on Checo’s car, so during the sessions, I am always busy with that. If there’s any issues with visors, microphones or similar, that will also be my job.” I immediately ask if this causes any conflict or priorities. How does Adrian juggle this? “It’s not so bad on Checo’s car, as if he wants something during to his visor, say, he’s normally in the garage. It’s a bit harder when you’re trying to do the tyre blanket as he wants to go out, and Nico has something he needs. Luckily, there’s always someone floating – that’s why testing is great, because everybody can get involved and have a go at new things! So in that case, there’s normally someone you can ask to fill in whilst you run off and get what you need.”
Friday is always a late night. Although we all know there is a curfew, Adrian explains how the teams typically run a “Friday Engine” and a “Friday Gearbox” for practice, and then have a “Race Engine” and a “Race Gearbox”, so once Friday practice is finished, they need to strip the chassis and fit those, then take to the weighbridge. “That’s why the curfew is there, otherwise you might have worked all through the night, had two hours sleep, and then need to do the whole next day.”
Saturday is here, and it’s Quali day. I ask Adrian if what is different about his routine that day. “If you make it through the Q3, the car will be down at Parc Fermé. That means there is a chance that the FIA might want to do legality checks on the car, so I have to make sure we have the jigs ready for that, and they may also want to do deflection checks on the car. They normally randomly select 3 teams for this.” So Saturday night is normally a more reasonable finish time? “Saturday night is normally when we get to go out and have a nice meal. We’re a small team, but we are a very close-knit team. It’s a great team to work for in that respect.” I tell Adrian I had noticed this when watching the team at work in the garage – I saw that everybody is active, and that even those not working on the car are wiping down surfaces, polishing. “Image is everything, so for a small team like ourselves, you never know where that potential next sponsor is, and likewise, we like to give our guests in the garage a good experience. Part of that is seeing how we work in the garage and keeping it tidy.”
We arrive at Sunday morning – race day. “Race day is a day that starts really slowly, but then passes really quickly. You arrive at the circuit, and the team has breakfast. You start getting stuff ready, also keeping one eye on what you can pack away to make it easier in the evening. Then I have to get all of the drivers kit ready, including spare kit to take to the grid for them, but at the last minute, they might need a visor change, so suddenly its panic stations. You’ve got to get yourself ready too, for pit stops. There’s a lot that goes into it, and then all of a sudden, you’re on the grid and thinking where did those last 5 hours go!”
I ask Adrian how quickly the race itself passes for him. He tells me that some of the more processional races can be the same for them sat in the garage, just like when we are watching at home, but that a race where his two drivers are doing lots of overtaking, and listening to the radio where the pit stops will be crucial to gaining an advantage, go a lot faster. Adrian also tells me that he is rear jack on the pit crew. Another role he fulfils!
After the race, the cars will be in Parc Fermé again, but are normally released around two hours after the race finishes. Adrian tells me he is one on the three team personnel that wait there for the cars release. They assist with the legality checks if required, and then bring them back – one on front jack, one on rear jack, and one on the skateboard. Then whilst the pack up continues, they are looking at the cars to assess the damage. “Even though you’ve finished the race, there’s still damage on the car, so you start seeing what you need to order for the next race. Then also we have returns, back to the UK. We’ll strip the cars, whatever amount of bits are taken off the vehicle, and then we load that – whether it goes back in a suitcase as baggage, or we could put it in a box. We have in the past sent the monocoque back from somewhere like Australia in a big wooden box, and we’ll pack around it. So packing is one of my big skills!”
As well as packing up in Melbourne, Adrian has to think ahead, and tells me that he will start removing the alcohol branding stickers ready for Bahrain. The sponsor might have an alternative brand within their group to fill that place. As well as stock taking car parts, he explains that they need to do a stock take on stickers, and then get them ordered, made, and shipped.
I ask Adrian what other things they might keep in the stores that I wouldn’t think of. There’s obviously all the individual parts as we’d assume, but they also carry some standard things like nuts and bolts, and umbrella’s like we see the drivers on the grid under. Everything is meticulously labelled. Most consumables are known way in advance, so these are sent by sea freight, and that’s essential as some would not be suitable to fly out, such as aerosols. We discuss wheel rims – Adrian tells me that these are not considered a part in the same way as other’s in his stores are– they are in sets, and engineers will decide which set they want in conjunction with the team’s tyre guys, but they still have their life details recorded in the system.
The other thing Adrian mentions is sticky dots, and I’ve seen these around in garages before but not paid much attention to them. It would seem thousands are used, and that all teams use them to cover up any holes on the car for aero reasons, and neatness. There’s a whole range of shapes and sizes that have to be kept to match to the car colours, and even some ‘sighting stickers’ to highlight the back of the car in fluorescent colour to use as alignment for the jacks.
The team don’t leave the circuit on the Sunday night until everything is packed – with Australia being a twilight race, this might be 2 or 3am. Then they’ll fly home on the Monday evening. Adrian explains that he always has one eye on trying to balance sleep with getting back onto UK time with more ease.
As we finish up our chat, I take on board one thing that Adrian has said to me during the course of our time together, that I think sums up the whole thing succinctly:
“F1 never stops, but the beauty of F1, and working in this industry, is that nobody ever has an attitude of ‘can’t do’. It’s always ‘can do’.”
And with that mentality, I truly believe anything is possible! SM.
Many thanks to Adrian and Sahara Force India for allowing me to spend time with them in Barcelona.