Their tributes can be heard time and time again, but they are meaningful and sincere. While there is a cap on the number of personnel operating physically with them on the track on race weekends, Brackley Base personnel retain a vital role.
Much of the key work off the track is done in Mercedes’ Race Assistance Room (RSR). It is from there that the data will be analyzed and the analysis will be completed to inform strategy calls that can make or break races.
Autosport was given a rare opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Mercedes factory for Saturday’s US Grand Prix race, joining the men and women of the RSR for final practice and qualifying.
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One of the largest and perhaps most surprising contingents within the RSR are university students, who volunteer to work on race weekends as part of their internships with the team. Mercedes F1. They will be between their second and third or third and fourth years of university and come from a range of subjects including computer science, physics, aerodynamics and mathematics.
It gives students the opportunity to gain live experience within the racing team, performing tasks such as transcribing publicly available radio from other teams or analyzing videos from the global stream, screenshots of interesting information or things they noticed.
For Mercedes, this ensures that all the bases are covered, harnessing the added resource to hear and watch it all.
“Listening to literally the equivalent of 20 talking car wires, you just need ears to watch all the TV streams, you need to have eyes on the field,” said Dom Riefstahl, head of the Mercedes race support team and test engineer.
“It’s just about having that workforce. They can listen to meetings, debriefings, all the discussions that take place around the car.
“Basically, they just give up their free time to do it. On a Friday, they will have to have the agreement of their manager to come and help them. On Saturdays and Sundays all they do is really give up their free time and their free time.
The open nature of Mercedes’ approach means that interns are able to raise points or make suggestions, and can often help with requests made by the team.
“If they have an opinion on something, they are also more than welcome to offer it,” said Riefstahl. “It happened very, very rarely, but every once in a while we had a question or a line where someone said, ‘has anyone noticed this?’ and then you could have someone say, ‘yes, I have the video, and I’ll send it around.’ “
It also helps encourage the next generation of F1 strategists and engineers. Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff has regularly noted how the Brackley factory looks more and more like a college campus, and that’s part of it.
Photo by: Mercedes
Riefstahl holds a “Racing 101” session with the students on the Sunday morning before the race where nothing is considered a stupid question, allowing them to raise any questions they may have.
“It just feeds their passion for it,” said Riefstahl. “It’s very informal, but they can ask all the things they really want to know, and you can really see that it gets the ball rolling.
“Yes, the job at RSR is hard work, I can’t lie about it. They are very busy during the sessions. But I think that side of it and then being able to be present at all the meetings is really the thank you for the job that they have done, and they feel really involved.
Their involvement also translates into a real sense of shared accomplishment on successful weekends for Mercedes, especially when dissecting a large amount of information can aid in decisive strategic calls.
“So this is a weekend where strategy was key, and we know strategy was dominated by what we also heard other teams were planning to do, and we reacted to it and we reacted to it correctly, then you know, yeah, what I did was really important, ”said Riefstahl.
“A race like Sochi where it rains at a certain point, and all of a sudden getting all the information on what people are thinking in terms of tires is really crucial, and that’s where they really realize, ‘yes that makes a difference and I have an impact on a race weekend’.
“I imagine that is quite unusual for someone who is just a student on an internship at a company, saying that I actually played a part in winning this race.”