Formula One is one of the most-watched global sports events. The money involved runs into hundreds of millions of rands.
Apart from the races that take place roughly every second Sunday during the season, there is a lot going on behind the scenes, most of which the viewers don’t even know about. I was made aware of this fact during a recent visit to the Red Bull factory situated outside Milton Keynes in the UK.
Owing to Infiniti’s sponsorship of Red Bull Racing, we were given the chance of a full factory tour shortly after the brief international launch of Infiniti’s products. Don’t be fooled by the word factory. Red Bull Racing’s HQ includes the offices, meeting rooms, and yes, on the ground level all the equipment, autoclaves and technology to manufacture a modern day Formula One car.
Our guide was a bit like a walking Red Bull Racing encyclopaedia. He probably should be, since he is the marketing and brand manager for this double world champion.
As we climbed the stairs to the first story and stopped to view the open plan office, we were informed that these nearly 100 employees are only responsible for design. As he mentioned some of the figures we started to understand the scale of running a Formula One team.
About 20 of these employees focus only on aerodynamics, and as we walked past their computers we couldn’t help but look – very briefly – at their screens and notice the improvements they are making of some sort on a very specific part of the car. Depending on the time of the season, these guys work between six and seven days a week delivering anything from 300 to 500 drawings a week! Of these a handful will make it to the production phase and used on the race car.
The competition between the teams is as much on the track as it is off the track. As was explained to us, the lap time of their new car before the season around a specific test track can fall by about two seconds (a lifetime in Formula One) by the end of the season. This will all be down to continued development throughout the season. Not easy, especially when you take into account that the average Formula One car has 1 500 components.
Although Renault supplies RBR with engines and transmissions, there are no less than 500 people employed at RBR’s Milton Keynes office.
FIA versus the teams
One of the main factors of this whole tour that stood out for me was the permanent battle between the FIA and the Formula One teams. Basically the teams develop and use every bit of technology to make its car go as fast as possible, while the FIA is doing the exact opposite. For instance, when the FIA put rules in place regarding the use of wind tunnels, and time of usage, RBR immediately planned to enlarge, by spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, its computer capacity and processors to make up for the loss of wind tunnel time. Following this change, the FIA replied by putting new rules in place, limiting a team’s computer capacity.
The control room
Looking like a smaller version of NASA’s control centre in Houston, RBR’s control room is made up of several rows of computer screens, headphones and keyboards. From here much of what happens in the pit garage are controlled during the race meeting. These team members are not only fixated on the team and the two race cars, but race as a whole, and will look out for possible mistakes that other racers make like crossing the pit lane line and then follow up by reporting it. “It is all about maximising us against our opposition”.
The weather plays a tremendous part of a team’s strategy. Apart from using the latest technology to get up-to-the-minute forecasts, RBR actually sends out rain spotters about two kilometres from the track to keep the team up to date. Apart from the obvious beneficial reasons, this helps to see on which part of the circuit the rain will arrive first.
Without a doubt one of the most important factors for the pit crew and the racers. Apart from the gym, the pit crew will replicate up to 65 pit stops a day! After all, it doesn’t help the development of the car is on par to be a fraction of a second faster when the pit crew can’t match it.
After this factory visit, one can only marvel every second Sunday when these cars, the teams and the drivers are ready to race. The effort that goes into developing and building every single part of that Formula One car, and the speed at what it needs to be done is more than just impressive.
*We weren’t allowed to take any pictures on our tour, except next to the (2010) RB6 race car in the factory’s squeaky clean workshop.