“If you visit the McLaren Technology Center on a Saturday or Sunday this year, you won’t find many free parking spaces.” Ron Dennis this is how he defined the preseason for a Formula 1 team, when he was still directing McLaren. The most intense intramural period, the period of production and construction of a car. However, in 2021 the Covid has left many free spaces in the Woking car park.
Unlike last season, the pandemic has hit teams for the first time and fully in this complicated period of the year, when a Formula 1 is materially born after long months of design and requires a huge amount of production work. But the protocols and conditions of the coronavirus have radically altered the dynamics of the teams from the initial design to this crucial time of year, adding challenges and unknown obstacles at a stage where teams usually need to work 24 hours a day.
McLaren’s case may be even more paradigmatic and complex compared to the rest. In 2021, a significant percentage of the car remains compared to the previous season, a decision agreed by the teams in light of the impact of the pandemic. However, the Briton has already resolved the passage to the Mercedes engine before, so he will be the only one to change his engine, a variable that adds greater complexity in an already complicated context. “Who cares if you’re still in your pajamas and disheveled? The McLaren Production Manager graphically explains, Piers Thynne, to illustrate the dynamics facing its members in a piece published by the British team. Because that’s how a car is designed and built in Covid’s Formula 1.
How to give birth to twins
By May of the previous year, the technical team will have defined the specifications of the new car and the deadlines to be met by the different design departments, as well as the manufacturing and evolution program. As of August, the accelerator is pressed to give material form to the project. Once the monocoque was built towards the end of October, since December the production of parts and assembly of the car begins. But in the case of McLaren, the replacement of the Renault engine to the Mercedes means that the MCL35 needs to accommodate the different architecture of the Mercedes engine, including all the systems that accompany it. Added difficulties in an environment of work restrictions and physical presence.
“If you work in the production team, you work every month of the year, but when you earn your salary in January and February: it’s the hardest time of the year, ”explains Thynne. Among other issues, because it is necessary to homologate the car and pass the ‘crash test’ of the FIA as soon as possible. “It is a difficult and anxious time for many people. It reminds me when my wife gave birth to twins, the only difference is that we pass the homologation every year ”. But never under the effects of a pandemic that limits the access of personnel to the facilities. For the members of the production team who work at McLaren Technology, the shifts have been doubled to meet deadlines, night and day as usual, but with great operational restrictions.
Things might look a little different around the MTC this year, but the hard work continues on getting the # MCL35M ready for season launch. 👀🔩 pic.twitter.com/veMljpanyn
– McLaren (@ McLarenF1) January 8, 2021
“No one at the MTC without authorization”
At McLaren they already began to develop their protocols after the canceled Australian GP, when their facilities – and those of other British teams – were organized to manufacture respirators for British hospitals. Under this new dynamic, the evolution of the MCL34 and the introduction before October of elements that would be incorporated into the MCL35 were carried out, while working on the manufacture of this new car. Its technicians managed to homologate the chassis in December. But the British team had to set up a whole system of cameras and live links so that FIA technicians could follow the entire assembly process and verify the legality of their systems from a distance. During these times, team members cannot move freely around the facilities, divided into zones to prevent access to each other. And if the elements or specific parts of the car must be transferred to other sections, they are deposited in specially designated areas to be collected by members of another department, always without direct contact.
Since last year many technicians have been working on the design of the new car from their homes. “Nobody goes to the MTC unless there is an absolute necessity”, Thynne explains, “it has been authorized by its manager and director, and they have passed a covid-19 test. This has led to the use of video calls and photographs so that team members working remotely can understand problems and help find solutions, “explains McLaren’s Production Director,” the amount of remote work that we have done has grown enormously, and has meant an enormous amount of calls. It is not the same to be in the same room with someone, that is why it is so important to stimulate participation and involvement on the part of each one in virtual meetings, and that means having the (computer) cameras connected ”, that is, be physically in sight with each of the members of the meeting, ”explains Thynne.
2️⃣ weeks to go. ⏳👊#MondayMotivation # MCL35M pic.twitter.com/cFqZy3AWMq
– McLaren (@ McLarenF1) February 1, 2021
An unprecedented work culture
Despite the computer interactivity of a company network, the necessary physical interaction between the members of a Formula 1 team has been replaced by work at home, with all its plethora of personal and family situations and, consequently, with an unprecedented work culture. “This means being open and honest in difficult times. If you need to answer the door because something is brought home, nothing happens. If the children’s homework is giving you headaches, or if you can’t finish the piece until the last hour of the day, nothing happens ”. Flexibility has gone hand in hand with naturalness to deal with seemingly embarrassing situations.
“It is the reality of life for everyone at this time, and people should feel comfortable recognizing what they face and what impacts their work. With this level of openness is how we maintain unity when physical interaction is not possible ”. So if the baby starts bawling when you’re working in your pajamas to design the wiring for the new Mercedes engine, nothing happens. It can wait. But up to a point, of course. Because the design of the new and radically different car of 2022 is already underway. This is Formula 1.