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Why January Is an F1 Factory’s Busiest Time

While the on-track action doesn’t start until March, the winter months are some of the busiest times for the team at the Brackley and Brixworth factories.

This hive of activity is built around a few select target dates: the launch, winter test and the first race of the season.

With so much going on, we wanted to lift the lid on why this is such an important period. We spoke to Rob Thomas, our Chief Operating Officer, to find out more.

What’s happening right now?

Between December and January, final designs and drawings are released. Once the designers have finished, the manufacturing departments get to work making and testing the parts.

“There are literally thousands and thousands of components arriving, going through inspection and levels of testing,” explains Rob. “Then they’re built into various sub-assemblies for the Test and Development department, who’ll put them through tests for fatigue, reliability and performance.”

Parts will often be inspected and tested in smaller component form on bespoke rigs or non-destructive testing, such as ultrasound or X-ray. That’s before they are put into larger assemblies and undergo bigger tests to see how they perform.

“Two of the bigger tests are the front 12 axis and rear 12 axis tests, where you take the whole front of the car, the suspension, axles, uprights, build them up and put them through tests that replicate different tracks and conditions,” says Rob.

“These are to test the car structurally and we learn a lot from it. Does the part fatigue, is it doing what we want?”

This stage of the year is about the manufacturing and testing areas, across aerodynamic, structural and internal parts. We want to ensure everything’s ready to go for launch and the first test.

Why is this period so important?

“It’s a really intense time for people in the factory because these departments are operating on shift patterns 24/7,” Rob says. “People show huge levels of commitment.

“There’s so much going on and everything must come together for these deadlines.

“It’s crucial at this time of year to stick to the timeframes and leave no stone unturned. We know that’s what’s required to put us in the best condition to go testing and racing. Otherwise, we’ll find problems further down the line that have a much bigger impact.

“We’re always trying to find that balance between speed and quality.”

This busy period is really underpinned by our behaviours and Rob explains how the team has adapted and developed over time.

“We’ve worked hard for years on behaviours in the team and making sure we have a defined set of values.

“It’s really this time of year where it comes together, everyone is in [the factories] and each department is an expert in what they do.

“But to deliver the car, it relies on every department interacting so closely together. Everything is done respectfully, but very fast. There’s a line of trust in each area. There’s never finger-pointing. If anyone has an issue, they’ll fix it and if they need help, they’ll come and ask.”

How has this period of year evolved, over time?

Rob joined the Brackley team in 2010, at the beginning of Mercedes’ return to Formula One. This period of the year has always been busiest.

“There were detailed plans [when Rob joined the team], but they weren’t really respected,” he says. “A lot of internal dates were a bit optional, and we’d do our best to hit those deadlines, but generally we didn’t.

“Things got later and later and what you ended up was people working in a chaotic firefighting way, trying to get parts together.

“We wouldn’t get either the result we needed from performance or reliability either. That all leads to going to the first races in a massively sub-optimal condition, not getting the learning you want and leading to people being burnt out.”

Strong leadership from the engineering and operational areas helped smooth out the issues. The team is now in a place where deadlines are met while still ensuring we look after our team-mates.

Ultimately, all this work is crucial because we only have one winter test to learn as much as we can before the racing begins. Completing as many laps as possible is therefore vital.

To do that, we need to deliver a reliable car, in the best possible condition, built and maintained by the hard-working people in the factories.

People show huge levels of commitment



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