Mark Yates (Fraggle), Assistant Front Wing Technician
Sunday, Race Week
My alarm goes off at 8am which is nice to have a bit of a later start on race day as the cars in parc ferme conditions until 9am. We’re downstairs in the van at 8.20am and the city is very quiet this morning as we drive out through the centre. It gets busy on the motorway near the circuit with the other teams arriving at the same time and all the fans starting to turn up.
We have some work to do on the spare noses when arrive and as the cars are in parc ferme conditions, we make sure that our two scrutineers are aware so that they can confirm the changes are on the list permitted by the FIA. After the changes have been done, we update the life number of the loom that we have replaced on SAP and check that the race wings are in the correct specification.
After that, we look at the mileage for each of the nose box and main plane assemblies to check how many kms they have until the next service. You always have to be thinking ahead to the next race to make sure that you have the right parts. It gets much harder when you have five flyaway races in a row like at the end of the season and you need to rotate the wings to bring the mileage down evenly because the cost of flying parts back between flyaway races is very high.
By now it is lunchtime so we grab some food before the action starts. At 1pm, it’s time to get changed into our black racesuits and get our radios on so that we can have our briefing from our Chief Mechanic Matt. At least I don’t have to go to the grid standing in the blazing sun… I am sweating just thinking about it. Whilst the cars are on the grid, I will be in the garage helping to get everything set up. Firstly we lay out the spare wings with labels ready to pull off if the wing is needed. Then we help Tony set the garage out with tyre racks on each side and make sure they are plugged in and on heat. We line up the chairs in front of the TV with the tyre collectors positioned on the end next to their tyres and the gun men in the front row. Every chair has one of the guy’s names on but they know exactly where they need to be so it’s just a nice personal touch from our paint shop. You need to have the right people in the right position as they may get a call from the pit wall just 15 seconds before the car arrives in the box. You have to be on your toes from the start to the end of the race.
It’s the calm before the storm once the pit lane opens at 1.30pm and the cars have left. The garage becomes very quiet with only a handful of people who do not go to the grid. Chris sets up the pit box, the two assistant race engineers Riccardo (Nico’s side) and Bono (Michael’s side) are at their positions and then just me and Tony setting up the garage. Once all the chairs are out, we put a bottle of water on each chair for the boys after they have run back during the formation lap. At least it’s not too far to run this year! Last year we were the last garage in the pit lane and it was a very long way in your racesuit with all the equipment.
As you probably know by now, it wasn’t the best of days for our team today. The race started reasonably well but with the safety car coming out after one of the Force India cars loses part of a front wing, it is action stations in the garage as we know that our cars are in their safety car window and will come into the pits to change their tyres. The gun men and jack men go out to our box and the tyre collectors get both Nico and Michael’s tyres as they will be coming in very close together. With most of the other teams coming in as well, it’s extremely busy and frantic in the pit lane.
Nico stops in the box and I am ready with the starter motor in case he stalls. As the right rear gun comes off, the nut comes out of the socket and rolls away without the gun man realising and unfortunately Nico’s car is released from the box without a wheel nut on the right rear. We know immediately but there is no time to think about it as Michael is already coming down the pit lane and we have to get back in position and out of the way of the car. It all happens so quickly and he arrives just 4.7 seconds after Nico leaves. Michael’s car leaves safely whilst Nico is at the end of the pit lane with only three wheels so he is out of the race with his first retirement of the year.
We are all absolutely gutted and so disappointed. It feels like you’ve just been punched in the stomach, especially as we later realise that the loose wheel hit one of the Williams mechanics.
One of our PR team heads down to Williams to check on his progress and thankfully we soon find out that he is not seriously injured. Everyone sits back down in disbelief at what has just taken place in less than one minute of action. These things happen though and the pressure is so intense in those three seconds of a pit stop that every team will have its share of incidents during the year. It happens all the time as the Renault and Force India teams also found out today but when it is your turn, it really hurts. The rest of the race action is pretty boring to be honest and at the end, Michael is in 11th place so it’s our first race of the year without scoring any points. A bad day all round.
fter the race, it’s time to pack up which takes around five hours and at the end of a long and hard day, it almost feels too much. But on the bright side, at least we are going home tomorrow to start two weeks at home with our families. We hope to be finished with the pack up and leave the track around 9.30pm. Everyone is pushing hard as it is Nathan’s stag do this evening and the entire team is planning to go out and celebrate with him. As I mentioned yesterday, we all have to wear crazy hats and mine is a traffic cone hat! Hopefully it will be a good and funny evening which is what everyone needs after a day like this. Hope you have enjoyed reading my blog and learning a little more about our weekend. Bye for now…
Saturday, Race Weekend
My alarm clock goes off at 7.10am after seven hours sleep and it’s really hard to drag myself out of bed this morning, perhaps because my body knows it’s Saturday. With eyes still welded shut, I get in the van for 7.30am and I really need my berocca to wake me up this morning. We arrive at the garage just before 8am and get stuck into finishing Nico’s start wing. We are changing the left-hand loom from the control box to the motor, the electric motor and a sensor. This takes about thirty minutes so while the rest of the team do practice pit stops for the last time before Sunday’s race, I am round the back working on the wing.
Once I’ve put the wing back together, it needs testing and calibrating. We find a problem with the new motor so strip the left side mechanical assembly again to change the motor for second time. While I am doing this, Steve is checking both of Michael’s wings on the legality jig as the engineers want to make an adjustment on the pylons. By the time I have fitted the new motor to the assembly and bolted it to the main plane, it’s 9.45am so I missed breakfast this morning unfortunately! The telemetry guys do their calibration work on the wing whilst I am bolting and taping the shrouds back on with a little help from Jimmy. By the time they are happy with the calibration, it is thirty minutes before practice so we take the wing round, test the FFA and are ready for practice with a few minutes to spare. Sometimes you have mornings like that where it is completely non-stop.
At the start of the session I am tidying up our area following the busy morning and making sure that the parts taken off Nico’s wing are given to Tony, our Spares man, ready for the factory to look at. By the time I’ve sorted out the tools and put everything away, we are 20 minutes into the session and I take some time to grab a drink and snack. There are no front wings dramas in the session and everything seems to be working well. At the end of the session, we take Nico’s start nose round the back and check the underside of the main plane. It’s the last chance we have before the wings go into parc ferme conditions after qualifying. Nico’s wings are staying the same for qualifying but there are some changes to Michael’s spare wing so we get straight onto that.
Qualifying is where the pace of the weekend picks up and you have to be on your toes because you never know what’s going to happen. Luckily this weekend, I’m a spare person so I spent most of my time at the front of the garage. It’s pretty cosy here in the garages especially with two cars and 28 people working flat out. I’m still doing my job with the leaf blowers when the car stops in the box for a pull forward. Both cars make it through Q1 with no issues. Both cars do a stop in the pit box for the gun men from each corner to practice connecting the gun on the nut as the speed limit in the pit lane has gone up to 100kph.
The second session is tougher for us. Nico shows good pace but Michael is not quite as quick and doesn’t make it out of Q2 unfortunately. So we have one side of the garage feeling down whilst the other side is frantically getting ready for Q3. Formula One is a team sport but it’s only natural to want your side of the garage to do well. As Q3 starts, I give Michael’s wing a look over and clean as his car is not taking part in the session. Steve is part of Nico's car crew when the car is running so he is still busy working on the car. Nico ends up in sixth place which is better than we expected so everyone is pretty cheerful.
If you asked everyone up and down the pit lane, I think they would agree that parc ferme on Saturday night is the best rule ever to be brought into Formula One. We are not allowed to work on the cars from 6.30pm on a Saturday until five hours before the race on a Sunday. That’s perfect for us as it means Saturday is an early finish and we can leave the track whilst it is still daylight.
Once we are back at the hotel, I have a nice hot bath to relax my body as it’s been such a busy two days and I feel much better for it. Then I sit down to write this blog and have my sandwich. This is my fourth trip to Budapest so I’ve seen all the sights and would rather save my day money to spend on my beautiful daughter Ruby! But I will be going out tomorrow night as it is the stag do for Nath, the number one mechanic on Nico’s car. So we’ll be having a speedy pack-up and getting out as quick as possible. The theme for the night is top secre but we do have to wear a funny hat. I’ll tell you about mine tomorrow! I call Amy on skype to see what she and Ruby have been doing. They’ve been to see my Mum and Dad in Sussex and I really can’t wait to get home and have a cuddle with Ruby. With the two races, I’ve been away for almost two weeks and she changes so quickly at the moment. One of the hardest things about our job is the time away from our families but when we get home on Monday, it’s the start of our two week factory shutdown so I can’t wait to spend the time with my family. My head hits the pillow at 11.00pm so only two more sleeps to go.
Friday, Race Week
We got away from the track at 10pm on Thursday night after spending the last hour working by torchlight in the dark as the circuit power went off down the whole pit lane. Luckily Jimmy, our composites man, has everything in his tool box that you could possible need and on this occasion, he came up with a couple of mining head lamps! It was around 11.30pm when my head hit the pillow by the time I’d had a shower and spoken to my wife Amy on Skype. The free internet at the hotel is great and makes it much easier to keep in touch with my family.
Fridays are our earliest leave time so my alarm went off at 6.40am and we were on the road by 7am. Most of the team swears by Berocca to cope with the early starts and I was having my drink whilst in the van and still feeling half asleep. Our first task at the track is pit stop practice and though I said yesterday that I wasn’t involved, well that didn’t last long! As I’m an extra pair of hands, I’ll be doing the starter motor this weekend if the car stalls. Normally the right rear tyre guy would do it but it makes sense to use me so I’ll be looking forward to a hot Sunday afternoon in my boiler suit.
After practice, we check the noses that have been used for any damage from the front jack or the nose changes and then check the flap adjuster whilst the cars are fired up. The system is operated by small electric motors which move the flap up or down and controlled within the constraints of the FIA software. The drivers are allowed to make two adjustments per lap and those adjustments have to stay within a range of six degrees. So for example, if a driver has too much understeer, then they will increase the flap angle to help control it.
After breakfast, we check the specification of the wings for the first practice session and make sure the controller boxes are the right life and ID plug numbers. The latter are the numbers that we give to our telemetry guys and it’s really important to make sure that they have the correct numbers to avoid the wrong software being programmed for the car. We check the life sheets for Tony, our Spares man, so he can record the mileages of each part.
During the practice session, I help out with what we call ‘crowd control’. When you have Michael Schumacher driving for your team, there are always a lot of photographers, TV crews and people at the front of the garage. Sometimes they get a bit too close to the car for our comfort so we have to politely move them out the way. I also do the right rear brake fan for both cars when they come into the pit lane and do a ‘pull forward’ or race start. This track is very hard on the brakes and we try to stop the callipers from overheating and damaging the seals by putting brake fans on all four brake ducts as soon as the cars come in.
The first session is really busy and after each run, I have a quick look over the front wings checking for any damage. As soon as the session has ended, we have a really good look and give them a proper clean. You would be surprised how many dead flies you have to clean off and the rubber marks picked up from the track. I check with Simon, our chief engineer, on the specification of the wings for the second session and as they are staying the same, we make sure everything is ready to go and then have some lunch.
The afternoon session is just as busy and we complete some live pit stops as further practice for the race. We had the two fastest stops in Germany so everyone is determined to maintain our advantage. There’s no better practice than live stops with the driver coming at you at full speed. It’s a big difference to having the car pushed in by hand! At the very end of the session after they have taken the flag, we do stops with both cars in quick succession. The pit lane is a very busy place at the end of a session, especially as we are the first team at the entrance. With both of our cars doing stops, Red Bull next door doing the same and every other car wanting to come down the pit lane, you need eyes in the back of your head sometimes. My job is to make sure that the first car which is Nico’s doesn’t get in the way of other cars whilst Michael does his stop.
Once the front end mechanics have checked the flap angle, we clean the wings on the nose stays at the front of the garage. The music is blaring out with 80’s classics. The Friday night turnaround is the biggest workload of the weekend so it’s good to have some music to keep everyone going. We then take each wing that has been used today round to our area at the back of the garage. It’s not a very big area, particularly when Jimmy is working on both floors there too, so we tend to leave the front wings at the front when possible just to create some space. We put the wings on the stays to check the underside of the main plane for damage or dents and fill in any surface that needs smoothing. It’s really important that the main plane is smooth as it is critical for the aerodynamics with the front wings generating about 30% of the car’s total downforce.
Whilst we wait for the engineers to decide which wings will be used on Saturday, we check all of the lifing sheets to see how much mileage each of the components has left. By 7pm, both car crews have fired up their cars and completed their gear shift checks with the telemetry guys checking the operation of the flaps on the start and spare wings. It’s dinner time by then so it was nice to sit down for a few minutes after being on your feet since breakfast. We have a great hospitality crew and dinner tonight was perfect for a busy day… beef, mash, peas and gravy with my favourite dessert banoffee pie! By the time we have finished, the cars are ready to go to the FIA patch for their legality checks.
All the wings are good on the FIA patch and no ‘shim’ changes are needed tonight. We need to change the specification of Michael's spare wing as his test wing from today has become his start wing for tomorrow so Steve gets to work on the changes. I help the telemetry guys to find a problem with Nico's wing as it was working well in the garage but shows a drop-off in the data when out on the circuit. We try to replicate the situation in the garage and they find something in the electrical looms to the left-hand motor which is affecting the sensor. So we change all of the looms from the control box to the motor and when we’re done, it’s just before 11pm and time to head back to the hotel. Any finish before midnight is good for a Friday! I just have time to call Amy to see how her and Ruby’s day has been before my head hits the pillow just before midnight.
Thursday, Race Week
Our Thursday starts with a 7.50am alarm call and breakfast at the hotel before heading into the track. We’re lucky this week as we’re staying at the Intercontinental in the centre of Budapest which is a great hotel right by the river and it also does a great breakfast buffet! The track is about 30 minutes drive and it’s a nice sunny day for the first time since we arrived straight from Germany on Monday.
My job this weekend is assist with the build of our front wings as we have a new guy called Steve who started the job in Germany and I’m helping him to get to grips with the role. I’m actually a factory-based mechanic these days which involves building the cars for tests and demos but I also help out on the race team when needed. I used to work on the race team as a floating mechanic on the left-hand side of the garage (what used to be Rubens’ side and is now Nico’s side) but I went factory based after the first race in Bahrain this year when my first child Ruby was born. My nickname is Fraggle after the kids TV show Fraggle Rock. It’s a nickname that I’ve had since school which has stuck all the way through my life… most people would have to think hard to tell you what my real name is!
Thursday is the second set-up day for us this week. I spent most of Wednesday preparing the front wings for the weekend and building the wings to the specification required for Friday’s practice sessions. We usually have five fully built wings available and our latest specification was introduced in Germany. Each driver has a start nose and a test nose which we can run on Fridays only and then we have a spare nose which can be used on either car.
The front wing comes in two assemblies; the nose box and the main plane. About 80% of the parts on front wings are lifed which means they can run for a specific number of kilometres and we keep track of their use on our SAP system. We had four wings built by the end of Wednesday after checking for any damage caused in the last race. They are still in pretty good shape and just needed a paint touch-up to cover the stone chips. The main plane for the fifth wing arrived this morning in a van from the factory as one wing was badly damaged on Friday in Germany and had to be sent back. Other jobs included taking the weight of each wing for the engineers and working with our telemetry guys to plug the wings into the car and make sure the FFA (front flap adjuster) was working.
By late afternoon, the cars are ready to go to the FIA scrutineering patch for their legality checks. For the front wings, these checks include the height from the floor and making sure the wing is within the required measurements. Once we’re back in the garage, we wait for the engineers to advise any changes required such as alterations to the height of the wing. We can adjust the heights by adding or removing ‘shims’ from the nose pylon on both or one side. We make these changes on a big carbon front wing jig which takes around an hour for all five wings. The hardest part is carrying each wing from the front of the garage round to our little area at the back of the garage as they are pretty heavy and there isn’t much room to move in the garage. Once any changes are done and the wings are the right specification, then we tape the shrouds and make sure the stickers are correct ready for Friday.
At 6.30pm, we have our first pit stop practice of the weekend. I’m not involved in the pit stops as I’m only making a guest appearance this weekend but when I was on the race team, I was responsible for putting the left front wheel on. However even though I’m not involved, I till have to wear my overalls on Sunday, just in case. After practice, we have dinner before I return to front wing world and finish the final three wings on the jig before we leave the track at 10pm. That’s slightly later than usual for a Thursday but still not too bad.