It’s a little after 7pm on a Wednesday evening here in Singapore. We’re being led across what were busy streets just a day ago, but are now barricaded. There’s a note of burnt rubber in the air with sort of a pea soup thickness before our eyes. It’s the matter of this haze business that’s been blanketing the island nation lately. Compared to what it was in the past couple of days, it’s a lot better right about now. But the Wednesday I refer to, is three days ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix, here in Singapore. All eyes in the region, perhaps even the world are on our little island – all anxious for the race of the season, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading the drivers’ board with 252 and 199 points, respectively. Not just the drivers – but as a whole, the Team is right now leading the Constructers’ board at 451 points. On top of all that, the possibility of a win for Lewis on Sunday, September the 20th, will mean that he’ll have matched Ayrton Senna’s 41 victories from 161 starts.
Needless to say, we’re in for quite the weekend.
For now, we were in the company of our friends from IWC Schaffhausen and two MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS engineers – on our way to the Singapore Flyer for an aerial view of the glowing city track, in the light of early dusk. Earlier in the evening we were privy to the generous hospitality of Matthieu Dupont, Managing Director of IWC, South East Asia and his team who ferried invited guests from the various IWC boutiques over to Ritz Carlton, to meet up with the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS engineers for a very special evening.
30 soothing minutes on the Singapore Flyer, we spent time getting acquainted with our new friends above the cityscape. But mostly, we interrogated the engineers about their job – and just trying to get a grasp of the sheer amount of travelling that is required by their profession. They shared that including the technical team and the folks on the business end – 90 individuals fly into the race destination over the course of the week into race-day on Sunday. And just when everyone’s gathered, the team actually has people who fly back to UK as soon as Sunday night itself, to be back at their desks on Monday morning. And if the following weekend has a scheduled race, the cycle simply repeats itself.
Back down on terra firma, with a slight wobble in our legs, the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS engineers lead us now to the main event: a tour of the heart of their operations – the garage.
We were led into the Singapore F1 Pit Building with a reminder to put our trigger-happy camera phones away. A lot of the team’s gear in the garage was still in the midst of being assembled. Even the cars were still in parts.
Walking though the little entrance into the labyrinth of the garage, we first stopped to speak with two engineers who have a little space to themselves, no larger then a closet, where they test fuel samples from the car during the various runs for analysis. Little ahead, we see a shelf of headsets and walkie talkies, marked with names such as: Niki Lauda, Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe. Around the corner, a team in their neon green dri-fits, were preparing the Power Units (engines in layman speak) to be fitted into the cars further down the line. Yet another turn and now we were in a room with race tires. From here on in, everything became a hands-on experience.
Our engineer tour guides invited us to try and lift the tires off the ground – have a feel of them. Where most of us have probably had nasty encounters with having to roll the average car tire, when faced with a flat – these special Pirelli tires were comparatively feather-light. Next our guides showed us the moulded seats that are cast specifically to fit Nico and Lewis. It’s here that reality begins to strike as to just how small the cockpit in the Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid must be.
At long last, we were on the main floor space where both cars were being assembled. What was mostly comprehensible right then was the skeletal structure of the vehicles, cockpit space (or, rather the lack of) and the gearbox assembly aligned towards the back. There was a calm precision about the whole assembly process before us. It’s a wonder how these cars are just a day away from being whipped around the track by 900 horses from the Mercedes PU106B Hybrid Turbo Power Unit.
From there your eyes are bound to land on the massive console in the middle of the garage where computers are set up for the race engineers to monitor the cars and their drivers. Two teams sit on either side of the console to work with their specific drivers, to analyze data coming off the car’s sensors and devise appropriate strategies. While we were admiring the set up, our guides informed us that we could now take pictures with the cars (as they were). Out came the camera phones, with all of us taking turns to take pictures with the cars.
Taking a step from behind the screen dividers that were at the garage opening, we then found ourselves in the pit stop area, with a portion of the track in view. It was now time to take a few more pictures with our guides before saying farewell and on to the next item on our program – dinner.
Dinner was hosted by Matthieu and his team at the delectable La Brasserie, at the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Joining us for dinner we had three key representatives from the Team, who would have to bear though all our burning questions: Christian Dixon (Partner Manager), Oliver Tennant (Partner Manager) and Andrew Shovlin (Chief Race Engineer).
I myself had the extreme pleasure of sitting right next to Andrew Shovlin. The name sounded vaguely familiar when we exchanged handshakes. I found out later that it was because Andrew had been race engineer to Michael Schumacher in 2012, when Schumacher drove for the team.
Once we were all seated, Matthieu said a few words to being and asked the engineers the big question everyone had on their minds, “Is the haze going to hinder the race, and if so how badly?”
Andrew took the question and assured us that there wouldn’t be too much of an effect really. The Mercedes PU106B Hybrid Turbo Power Units will run as they should, as long as they are receiving adequate oxygen. On top of that, they’re fitted with fine air-filters to prevent unwanted particles from entering. The older engines were aspirated engines that required a lot of revving in order to generate enough power, and therefore required a lot of air intake – the case is not so with the new Turbo Power Units.
With a sigh of relief, we retired to our dinner and thoughts of the exciting race ahead. Andrew shared countless anecdotes with us from his now 17-year long career with the team. We topped that off by asking Andrew our curious questions about Nico and Lewis, who are in this F1 season proving to be incredible drivers. In the course of the conversation, Andrew told us that the Team is actually set to run on EU time while they are in Singapore for the race. Which meant that while the rest of us were having dinner, this was lunch for them (technically speaking, of course). Which also meant that after their time with us, they had to head back to the garage to continue preparations for the weekend ahead.
To the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula OneTM Team, our thanks for the tour into the heart of all the action and best of luck for the race this weekend – we’re rooting for you. And to our gracious hosts Matthieu and the IWC team – thank you, your hospitality is ever unwavering.