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Piecing it all together - A behind the scenes listen as Mercedes prepare for the big day

Published by Christine

Mercedes factory race bays
Credit: Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix

BBC Radio 5live sent their current affairs programme for a spot of outside broadcasting today, with presenter Sarah Brett joining Formula One commentator Jack Nicholls at the Mercedes factory. The three hour programme saw in depth interviews and behind the scenes snapshots interspersed with the current news, which made for a slightly odd but surprisingly entertaining listen. It's the day before Mercedes launch their new car, so you can imagine the pressure is high and the excitement mounting, but the staff still found time to make sure Sarah's phone had a sticker over the camera to stop any covert shooting.

She got a good look at the cars being put together in the race bays, and stopped for a moment to chat with Peter Hodgkinson who is head of build for Mercedes.

It’s really good. We’re slightly behind schedule but we should be okay for tomorrow. We’ve had a few little issues across the course of the day, when you’re trying to bring 6000 parts into a car bay over a two day period, you’re gonna have some problems. The gearbox is on its way, so we’ll be alright there.

The process starts months and months ago. It starts with planning, obviously. Design. We’ve got to get to the bay at the right time, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes for this one day. This is our biggest day, this is like Christmas to us. It’s the most exciting time to be inside a Formula One team. The energy in the building is absolutely electric. All the work we’ve done is for this one moment. No one’s going home. You don’t want to go home, you want to be here to see this. It’s a great feeling.

Meanwhile, Technology Director Geoff Willis had some insight to share about how the regulation changes for the 2017 season have affected the team's preparations.

It’s an unusual year for us. Normally regulation changes have been there to control the performance of cars, stop them getting too fast. This is the first year they’ve been designed to make the cars go faster. We’ve got more freedoms around the car, so quite an exciting change. It’s good, and it’s also slightly alarming because in the past when the regulations changed, the target was to recover all that lost performance. Now the bigger question is how much is enough? Compared with last year’s end of season, I think we’re seeing at least two seconds a lap faster. Compared with the end of 2015, we’ll probably get close to the 4 or 5 seconds that was asked for.

The car will evolve all the way through the season, with a big change in regulations, we can imagine all the visible parts of the car will have changed by the time we get to the end of the season.

Mercedes factory paint shop
Credit: Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix

From designing and piecing together the insides of the car to putting a layer of paint on the outside, Sarah also spoke to Sam O'Brien who is head of design.

It’s looking good, it’s a bit of a change from last year. We’ve tried to incorporate more areas of the design. We have our contractual obligations we have to follow but we always have some creative freedom how the overall paint scheme looks. Most of the car is painted by hand, we paint mask it all, we digitise it, we work through visual renderings. Then we translate that onto the car through paint masks but a large portion of it is hand brushed.

I still haven’t seen the whole car pieced together myself so I’m still very nervous waiting for that to happen. Free reign is great but having some restraint and direction about where you’ve got to take the livery is great. At the beginning of the year we start with four initial concepts that will then generate ten to twenty designs from each of those concepts. We narrow that down through the year until a point we’re happy with it.

And finally, I've picked a quote from Emily Dickson who is in the human resources department. She and Sarah had a quick chat in the canteen, which is apparently a very popular area of the factory.

F1 but also engineering companies in general struggle to recruit women. That stems back to schools, education and driving people to want to work in engineering. We have got an increasing number of engineers here, which is great. Our female workforce is increasing but it is still a male-dominated environment.

Everyone here at the team is very involved, we try to do a lot of initiatives and celebrate successes here. Every Monday after a race, we have fantastic championship celebrations and the trophies are always up in reception for the employees to hold and take selfies with, so everyone feels a part of it.

There was a lot more in the episode itself, including interviews with Toto Wolff as well as both drivers plus scene-setting and analysis by 5live commentator Jack. If you have access to the iPlayer and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend giving the show a listen. It'll put you in exactly the right mood to anticipate the launch of the defending champion machinery tomorrow.

All content in the series 2017 F1 launches