Every winter, the world of Formula One goes into hibernation for a couple of months. Or at least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. While the winter months are spent away from the usual race track activities, they end up being the busiest for everyone at the factory, with the hard work on the new car focusing pretty much all of the team’s efforts.
Without fail, we hear every year about how drivers stay in shape during the colder months, away from the highly demanding environment that represents their cockpits. It is indeed true that Nico, Michael and the rest of the grid will spend most of their time in the gym, riding their bikes (if the weather permits!) or doing any other activity which will helps to maintain their muscular mass, strength and stamina at a good level during the close season.
However, what about the “unsung heroes” of the team, our pit crew? Even though the demand on their bodies is not quite the same as on Michael and Nico (with heart rates rising to 190 bpm and forces of up to 5G in some corners!), our mechanics need to stay in good shape during the winter to ensure optimal performance from the first practice session of the year onwards.
Our Chief Mechanic Matt confirms that the pit crew will do “circuit training for 45 minutes once a week” which consists of reaction-rig tests in the gym. The guys will also work on their “upper-body strength”, run and cycle.
The mechanics working on the cars also attend stretching classes twice a week and use the gym available at the factory in Brackley at least once a week. “The stretching classes are particularly good when we attend the first winter tests of the year” explains Matt. “Obviously it is pretty cold out there, you are suddenly doing 18 hours days, you spend a lot of time bending over the cars, and if you’re not careful, you can quickly hurt yourself... and to be fair, we’re not getting any younger either!” he laughs.
The key part of the mechanics’ training will obviously be the pit stop practice sessions the boys do twice a week. With pit stop times having radically reduced over the last few years (to an average of 2.9s per pitstop in 2011), and our team being consistently one of the quickest (our mechanics recorded the fastest individual stop on seven occasions last season and the fastest average across the year), there’s - almost - no room for error and 2012 won’t be an exception.
The key for 2012: consistency
After such a successful year, do the boys feel a bit of pressure to maintain good form this year? “When you’re good at something, you want to continue being good at it. The pressure comes from within you in order to maintain the good results, more than from any other exterior source.”
This year’s key point is: “Consistency. We’ll soon arrive at a point where we can’t get any quicker at a pit stop, so the key will be to consistently be the fastest and to maintain the level.” Matt also insists on the fact that “Mistakes can happen. When you work at the limit at all times, when you keep pushing like that, mistakes can’t be ruled out of the equation. But the most important thing is how the guys will deal with mistakes and react to fix them quickly...”
Consistent good results come from continuous practice, and everything is done at the factory to ensure that by the first race in Australia, everyone feels 100%. “Everyone is super competitive in the team - if you’re the fastest gunman in the team, you’ll want it to stay like that. If you’re not, you’ll push to be. It’s almost a question of forgetting about the other teams - if we’re individually the fastest, we’ll be the fastest team. If every guy finds 0.1s in himself, you can easily end-up half a second quicker...”
And obviously, all that practice is done while the guys build the new car at the same time. Who ever said Formula One was quiet during the winter?