Red Bull Factory Tour: Part 2
Right, where did I leave you last time? Lunch is done, all F1 issues put to rest, Alonso cut down to size…
First and foremost, it is rather unfair to call this place a factory, as it suggests an assembly line of carbon copies. Yes it is a slick operation; but each component, whether it is a nut or an inlet manifold, is bespoke from the ground up. Or the design floor down. But for a lack of better word, and Red Bull themselves refer to it as the factory, I’ll take their lead and use it too.
The first stop on the factory tour was the aptly labelled ”design floor’, consisting of a large open plan office space, it contained all aspects necessary for the initial development of the car. Listening to Helen (our tour guide) I surveyed the expanse of desks, feverishly coordinating new components on CAD, the staff were surprisingly at ease with our presence.
We had been gently warned beforehand that photography wasn’t permitted; Helen explained that they had to become stricter since they started winning. Fair enough. It’s hard to be disappointed when you’ve been told outright (and with humour) to keep the cameras away. Unfortunately we had been told this just before we passed two very important offices.
Shrouded in glass; we stood in front of Christian Horner and Adrian Newey’s offices. Side-by-side they were on the periphery of the design floor, not hidden away beyond a labyrinth protected by a three-headed dog and an irate hermit, as one might expect. The biggest attraction was the drawing board; every single Newey-designed car starts its life by the application of pencil to paper, proof that technology isn’t the absolute.
The first photo opportunity came between the design floor and the model shop, David Coulthard’s ‘Wings for life’ car had been conveniently placed along the tour route. For a £10 donation you could have your chosen photograph on a F1 car. Not bad, I’m sure you could twist it to say you’ve technically raced with Coulthard…
The model shop is exactly what it says on the tin; this is where the prototype models are constructed to be tested in their wind tunnel. They’re usually manufactured at 40-60% of the full size, constructed from resin in vast machines nothing is left to chance. They are checked extensively with a laser weighed down with a massive piece of granite; one mistake and it’s scrapped then it’s back to square one.
Meandering along the stark white corridors; many strewn with promotional material (one example was a natty little drinks stand with a scaled down nose cone protruding out of it) and spare parts. Actually now that I mention it, throughout the factory there were spare nose cones and rear wings dotted about. Spotting them I immediately wished I had brought a bigger bag.
Following the path Helen was leading us on, we meandered further into the depths of the manufacturing process. Next we were treated to a burst of information about…paint. Personally I found it interesting, but you may not, so to keep it short; they saved 80% of paint-weight by stripping the layers back so much you can see the carbon fibre weave. Apparently Ferrari have done this so effectively it can sometimes look orange… ouch Red Bull!
We then made our way to the only place to be on race day, the ‘Operations Room’ (McLaren’s version is called the ‘Mission Control’, seriously). Every team has one and it serves as an extension of the pitwall; there are no windows and the rows of computers face a wall of screens. Here they manage strategy and have the advantage of being separated from the distractions of the pitlane.
We were told about one employee, Sarah, who sits on the front row and completes masses of calculations, before transmitting them over to strategist Will on the pitwall. And in a sweet twist we discover they are dating…all together now, aww!
Yes, the factory is actually littered with Formula One cars.
One highlight for me was getting close up to ‘selective laser sintering’ (SLS). The SLS technique incorporates a laser fusing small particles together (i.e plastic), transforming a liquid into a 3D model. By utilising the speed of the process, the team can create prototype components that are ideal for wind tunnel testing, on a greatly reduced time scale compared to more traditional approaches.
At present the generated pieces are fragile (there were a few nervous moments as we handed the pieces around) but perfect for their current uses; however it has been predicted that in 5-10 years this will be the next step in general manufacturing in F1 factories.
The rather sci-fi sounding ‘composite clean room’ enabled us to gain a small insight into how they manufacture the carbon fibre elements. Layers of carbon fibre are laser cut, shaped and laid in moulds; then cured in vast ovens before being finished and refined.
Nearing the end of the tour we finished in the race bays; we had been staring at them since first thing this morning, and now we were stood in them.
And it really is that clean and that white. Ideal for showcasing their stunning cars; blue leaping out of the starkness, curves bouncing off the sleek lines, you can’t get much better than that.
As we wound around the corner the group peered into a room to be greeted by the gearbox guys. Unfortunately we had to turn down an invitation to go inside, but they quickly showed off the magnum Mark Webber celebrated with in Hungary. Jealous!
Here’s Sebastian Vettel’s number 5 car…
And here’s Mark Webber’s number 14 car…
We returned to the mezzanine floor we began the day on; still buzzing from the days events we were all handed a bag full of goodies, then the realisation sets in that it’s all over. Sad times indeed.
Well, almost. The two tour groups were as one again as the majority were heading back to the coach to make their way home. I lingered to gather a few more shots of the race bays, this as it turned out was the right decision to make. With my last parting shot made; a dream realised and an ambition cemented, a shock of electric mauve materialised below.
Did my eyes deceive me? It couldn’t be, could it? Mere seconds passed before I recognised the man…
Now that is how you end a tour!
It was hard not to be impressed by Red Bull throughout the day. As we wandered around the factory you couldn’t ignore the friendliness and courtesy exhibited by the staff. And for a team getting ready to follow-up on their enormous success of the 2010 season; the atmosphere was certainly studious, but far from tense. It was relaxed, open and impossible to find someone not doing anything!
We were encouraged to ask questions whenever one came to us, but as it turned out we were a little lost for words (in awe?) at times. Another (although unsurprising) factoid was that there was never a shortage of Red Bull, wherever you turned there was a mini-fridge (in walls, on desks) ready to be plundered. Needless to say the day was gently perfumed by liquid energy via sprightly little cloud.
I had the immense pleasure of meeting several well-versed and knowledgeable F1 fans; I mean where else could you find people who will happily argue about the colour of Christian Horner’s jumper?
And I must extend massive thanks to Pepe Jeans; Millie for escorting and organising us (and taking several photos!), and Andrew for contacting me in the first place!
So that is that!
No! I hear you scream; but yes, I must leave you here!
Really, you don’t want it to end? Okay then, I’ll give you a parting anecdote…
During a particularly tough time this season, Sebastian Vettel was making mistakes and doubting his abilities. So led by his race engineer, Rocky, his side of the garage removed his race seat, and each signed their names on the back of it. Replacing it, they let him know that no matter what, when he’s out on that track, they are always behind him.
Sums up Red Bull rather well I think.