A Day With The Lotus F1 Team (Now Renault F1)

For 13 years I’ve lived and breathed F1 as one of my life-long passions. But, I’ve only got as close to the action as being glued to a TV screen.

The noise was deafening! Much worse than a child screaming into your ear or the speakers of a concert throwing music into your eardrums.

Electrical generators were scattered around the whole pit lane area. But why? To power the equipment that’s being used to prepare the circuit (for health and safety purposes), to create the pit boxes (where the team principals, driver’s engineers and directors sit) and to power the wheel-guns (used to screw and unscrew wheels on and off a car) – all that sounds like animals in the jungle.

This post is unusual to the ones I’ve been doing in the past. Today, I’m writing an account when I experienced a trip to Silverstone on Tuesday 25th June 2013. I finally had the chance to hear the noise, smell the air and see the surroundings of an iconic circuit.

As I rolled and strolled along the paddock, a whiff of tyre rubber and oil was caught inside my nostrils. The smell was lovely-tastic… well, to me certainly.

I stepped onto the pit wall. The pit wall that led me to seeing what I’ve dreamt of seeing with my own eyes for a long, long, long… time: The start and finish straight! I only got a glimpse of it as cranes blocked the marvellous, marvellous view. The pit wall is so close to the grid that you would see the driver’s eagle eyes inside their visors. The team principals, directors and racing engineers must have eardrums

covered with steel when the race starts! The revs of one car alone are one thing to put up with, but can you imagine the noise of 22 cars getting away from the line?! Madness!

What you are reading here is not a joke, I’m not over-emphasising or being over-dramatic about the noise, the smell and the sight. This is real!

I got even closer to what goes on during a Grand Prix weekend by interviewing some of the Lotus F1 Team mechanics and support group members.

Below are the interviews that took place:

John Carey, the team’s engine dresser

Question 1: What part of the car do you work on?

“I work on the engine. Basically, I’m the middle man between Lotus F1 Team and Renault. I build the engines from Renault for the cars for the weekends.”

Question 2: The pressure must be huge during a race weekend, how would you put it?

“Yes it is, it’s probably part of the job you know, you love doing it and part of the buzz is part of the job and if you didn’t like the buzz well then, you wouldn’t be doing it.”

Question 3: How did you get to where you are now?

“I did a motorsport apprenticeship doing a mechanical apprenticeship in Silverstone to do a course and then got a placement in a British Formula Three team and rose up through the ranks to land on this job about two and a half years ago.”

Question 4: What type of qualifications do you need for your role?

“I’ve got level two and three NVQs in motor vehicle mechanics, that’s only a motorsport course. They become more and more popular now as colleges recognise them and try to get them in.”

Question 5: If a new member of the team comes in, how do they fit into their role?

“They get on with it and you work together and a lot of the time we go out on evenings together and you get on with it and everyone’s friendly within the team so you get on well with everybody.”

“Big Rob” – Kimi Raikkonen’s chief mechanic

Question 1: What part of the car do you work on?

“I’m number 1 on Kimi’s car, so I work around the middle of the engine and the fuel system, and then look after the other three guys who work in this area as well.”

Question 2: The pressure must be huge during a race weekend, how would you put it?

“It is, but you get used to it. There’s always some pressure there in the back of your mind.”

Question 3: How did you get to where you are now?

“I’ve worked in Motorsport since I left school doing various jobs for teams in lower formulas and worked my way up to get to here and I’ve been working here for seven years now.”

Question 4: What type of qualifications do you need for your role?

“It depends really, there are some people better working on cars who’ve done a degree, some people do an apprenticeship and some people may have worked in Motorsport all their lives through experience, so there aren’t any definitive qualifications. It’s just what you do and how you get on with it.”

Question 5: If a new member of the team comes in, how do they fit into their role?

“It depends what they’re like, but the people who we get are very good and slip straight into the job. They’ve always got a background because if they’re at a Formula One team, they’ve been first to GP2 or Formula Three or something like that, so it’s quite easy to fit them in.”

Question 6: How’s your working relationship with Kimi (Raikkonen)?

“Alright yeah, he’s a bit quiet as you can tell on the tele. He’s a nice bloke, but there’s nothing too much, just a few words there and then.”

Steve Foster, Lotus’s Support Group Tyre Man

Question 1: What part of the car do you work on?

“Our job is to support the crew to set up the garage today to make sure everything’s up and running and my job is looking after tyres.”

Question 2: The pressure must be huge during a race weekend, how would you put it?

“I don’t see that there’s too much pressure, but we have a lot of procedure put in place, so that when we operate everything is according to plan depending on the weather, so I suppose it is pressure. You don’t really think about it when it’s normal procedure.”

Question 3: How did you get to where you are now?

“Initially I was a truck driver and my job was driving trucks, transporting the motorhome and then I got a job in the garage, helping with the car by putting on tyres. Everyone has different ways of getting into Formula One some come through doing mechanics and some come through engineering and on my side it was driving the trucks. My job is a very interesting job, it’s a very full on job. You have to heat the blankets, check the pressure, make sure that the right tyres get onto the right car at the right time. The heating processes that we have on the tyres are really very important. If the heat of the tyres is not correct, this will effect the initial out-laps and the performance, so it is really important to have the right temperature for the tyres. The engineer sets the heating schedule and we have to make sure that we keep to that.”

Question 4: What type of qualifications do you need for your role?

“In my role it’s basically experience. I’ve spent five years on the test team, working on tyres before I came onto the racing team. Initially, I was driving the trucks, so I had to have the right driving qualifications of course. A lot of it is just knowing the right people and working correctly. I didn’t need any technical qualifications, I just have to know my job inside out. We do have ongoing training though.”

Question 5: If a new member of the team comes in, how do they fit into their role?

“It’s different, we’ve had a new guy come in at the beginning of this year. It always depends on them, if they are bright and pick things up quickly and are a good team player, then it’s ok. For somebody to do my job it’ll take quite some time and they start off with basic things, such as prepping. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hours and a lot of physical work, but the main thing is working as a team. You help your team members and they help you that is the main thing. For somebody new it’s their attitude that depends how they fit in. This is a very friendly team, so it’s never a problem because they’re very welcoming to anyone that’s new.”

Question 6: How’s your working relationship with the drivers?

(Laughs out loud) “We have got two very different drivers. I actually work on Kimi’s car. Romain is very friendly and easy to talk to. Kimi is quite a distant person, but when he has a laugh and a joke he’s very funny. I don’t talk to Kimi very often. And also Kimi was never a test driver. You get to know the test drivers really well over the years. Like Fernando (Alonso) is still very friendly and Mark Webber and even Jenson Button who were test drivers years and years ago. They’re always friendly. Jerome (D’ambrosio) is still our driver, but he’s not our third driver anymore. He’s a really, really nice guy, very friendly. He’s still doing a job in the simulator in the factory. He’s still a very good member of the team.”

Thank you to all the Lotus guys who’ve taken out some time to talk to me, despite being extremely busy with the set up for the 2013 Silverstone Grand Prix.