The winter period presents an opportunity for many to take some time off and recharge their batteries, but in Formula One, it is the busiest stint of the year for teams...
It's easy to assume F1 teams head off on a lengthy, relaxing 'winter break' after the conclusion of a long, intense season. Quiet factories, a moment to pause and reflect. But, in reality, that's far from the case.
Most departments have little time to stop and take stock. The Silver Arrows' duo of factories in Brackley and Brixworth have been a hive of activity over the winter months, prepping the new beasts for battle.
With new F1 cars launching at the end of February and on-track running commencing shortly after that, the bulk of the design, manufacturing and build process has to take place over the winter months and that makes for some very busy departments.
The vast Design Office is rarely silent, with the team hard at work drawing up and signing off designs for the new car. This is one of the first steps on the road to building an F1 machine. "It doesn't really quieten down," admits Paul, a Lead Mechanical Design Engineer.
"The winter period is busy for us, mainly because we have so much to design in such a compressed time. Over the last few months I have mainly been drawing the brake components, they are the components that cool the brakes and are usually one of the last components to draw.
"That's because they are all driven by the Aerodynamic Group, who we leave as long as we can to get the best performance on the car. There used to be a time where you could have a quiet period in the summer but we are generally busy all year round now, because we are pushing performance on the car throughout the season."
Such a demanding time of the year makes for some long days and late nights. "I usually start my day at 8:00 in the morning and finish between 8:00 and 10:00 at night," says Ben, also a Lead Mechanical Design Engineer.
"At the moment we have been preparing parts for the pre-season tests, so we are trying to ensure everything is strong enough and works as we intend it to."
The hard work, effort and determination of team members is focused on just two targets: the Drivers' and Constructors' World Championships. After such a remarkable and incredible run of success over the last four seasons, the pressure is on to craft another winner. W09, you have some big shoes to fill...
Because deadlines over the winter are so precise, some parts of the factory are busy 24/7, including the Aerodynamics department - where they are constantly putting new parts through their paces in the Wind Tunnel and investigating new car development directions.
"It's quite stressful, you can't really afford to make a mistake," explains Pierluigi, an Aerodynamics Team Leader. "It's particularly busy at this time because we are defining things around long-lead items and the schedule means we have to meet strict deadlines. We just don't have the same flexibility that we might have during the season."
It may still be several months away, but Pierluigi's team have been working hard over the winter on the aero package that will hit the track at the Australian Grand Prix. It's an intense cycle for his department and even though he works regular F1 hours, the Wind Tunnel isn't on the same schedule, so he's always on call. This is just one of the characteristics of working in the sport.
Jon, a Coordinate Measuring Machine Inspector, talks through another fascinating feature of F1: "You are never doing the same job two days in a row, you are always swapping from one job to the next. When I go home at 2.30pm, I probably won't see the job I am working on again because someone else will pick it up and finish it up later on or that night, such is the priority of the parts."
Due to the fact many areas of the team are running 24-hours a day, quiet moments are a rarity. "Depending on how the new car build is going, there are perhaps a couple of quiet weeks around the shutdown, but apart from that it seems to always be a busy department," Jon adds. "There are always things being changed on the car, so we are continuously machining new components."
For Jon, he starts to see parts for the new car from mid-way through the previous year, and it only ramps up from there. "We see each and every component come through this department, so there's a lot going on," he adds.
It's not the case in all areas of the team, but many reach peak levels of activity around the festive period. It's a crucial time for the team, in order to meet those notoriously strict deadlines and be as prepared as possible for the challenges of a new season.
Tom, a Production Engineer in the Machine Shop, explains the winter months from his perspective: "The festive period is generally our busiest time of year in this department. I was lucky, I managed to get just over a week off, but the company is open so if they needed me to be in, I would've been in and filled that role.
"All the parts are getting released for our 2018 challenge. It's all hands on deck. As the company has evolved, so have our components. They are a lot more complex now, they need a lot more background work, stage drawings and models.
"Parts are constantly changing as we are machining them. So, there is that stress element in manufacturing because the part you start with may not be the part you end up with."
It's a similar story over in Composites. Matt - a Composite Kit Cutter - adds: "We have thousands of components to input from scratch, everything is bespoke and hand-made. The car is always evolving and changing from track to track, too, so there is never a dull moment in here."
The development race is just as relentless as the on-track action, and this means there's a constant cycle of designing and building components for these high-tech, mind-boggling F1 cars. Take a moment to relax, and that's precious time lost to the competition.
Whether you walk around the factory in the middle of the day, or late at night, there's always something going on - especially over the crucial winter period. The car park is never empty. The factory is never silent. Our focus is locked on title number five, and we're not blinking for a second!