From race to base and back again: behind the scenes at Mercedes F1

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg may be the stars of Mercedes’ Formula One team but behind them stand a workforce of several hundred, all of whom are linked like never before thanks to the latest in connectivity technologies. SportsPro was given the rare opportunity to tour the team’s UK headquarters to find out how data is driving its operations.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg may be the stars of Mercedes’ Formula One team but behind them stand a workforce of several hundred, all of whom are linked like never before thanks to the latest in connectivity technologies. SportsPro was given the rare opportunity to tour the team’s UK headquarters to find out how data is driving its operations.

If the 2012 season was the statistical breakthrough year for Mercedes’ Formula One team, the year in which Nico Rosberg recorded a first victory since the German car-making giant acquired Brawn GP in 2010, then 2013 may come to be remembered as the season when it became a genuine Formula One frontrunner.

As the European leg of the season ended in Italy early in September, the British-based team fuelled by hundreds of millions of German euros had recorded three victories and established itself as a true contender, if not quite yet at the all-conquering level of the remarkable Red Bull Racing.

Those three victories, two for Rosberg including a dominant drive at the Monaco Grand Prix and a first for new recruit Lewis Hamilton, have their roots in a 24,000 square foot facility located off an innocuous roundabout on the edge of Brackley, itself an unassuming town around 50 miles north of London.

This is part of what has come to be known as ‘Motorsport Valley’, the area of the UK in which over half of the 11 teams competing in the Formula One World Championship are based. Mercedes’ Formula One team – Mercedes AMG Petronas to give it its official name – has been based here since 2010, when the world championship-winning Brawn GP team logos were replaced by the now-familiar silver.

The facility itself has been operational since 1998, when British American Tobacco (BAT) announced grandiose plans to set up its own Formula One team, taking over what was left of Tyrrell. Known as BAR, the lavishly funded team endured a miserable birth and, after just a handful of podium finishes, was acquired in time for the 2006 season by engine supplier Honda.

Despite Jenson Button’s debut Formula One victory at that year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Honda’s stint as owner was costly and largely unsuccessful. A particularly dismal 2008 season was the catalyst for the Japanese manufacturer’s withdrawal at the end of the year, leaving the future of the team in doubt. A management buyout led by Ross Brawn, who had been hired by Honda to run the team, followed. Remarkably, through a combination of Brawn’s interpretation of Formula One’s complex ‘double-diffuser’ regulations and the fact Honda was still virtually bankrolling the team, Brawn GP went on to win both world championships in its first and only season.

At the end of the year in swooped Mercedes, keen to go it alone after more than a decade of success with McLaren as an engine partner and minority shareholder, to acquire the team. Add in its engine division, which in 2013 supplies McLaren and Force India as well as the main team, and only Red Bull rivals Mercedes’ current spending in Formula One.

Back to Brackley. What is often described as a factory is actually a collection of not particularly eyecatching buildings – five in total. In one lies what Mercedes calls its ‘experience centre’ for guests and hospitality events, a reminder that Formula One is above all else a major marketing tool. Just inside the entrance, hanging from one wall, is a scale replica of the 2009 world championship-winning Brawn GP car, alongside a Mercedes-branded model from last year.

The windtunnel, large enough to test 60 per cent scale models, is also tucked away somewhere in this first building, away from public view. Next door lies the modelling department, where new components are being honed; again, prying eyes are prevented from seeing precisely what is being developed, unsurprising given that 2014 will see the largest package of Formula One technical regulation changes in a generation.

To continue reading this article, open up the digital version of the November 2013 magazine article below.

 

 

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