In the world of F1, the men behind the wheel no doubt hog the limelight. But credit must go to the team of engineers who work tirelessly day and night to improve a performance that’s measured in mere milliseconds.
We fire off some questions at Andrew Shovlin, Chief Race Engineer, and James Vowles, Chief Strategist of the The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
What’s your favorite sport next to F1?
Andrew Shovlin: To watch cycling, and especially the Tour de France.
James Vowles: MotoGP and Isle of Man TT racing definitely.
Name one thing you’re absolutely not allowed to do at a pit stop
AS: You can’t add weight to the car. You can actually change to a different specification of front wing as you are not in Parc Ferme conditions, but if it weighted even 10g heavier you would be disqualified. You can’t add water, oil, fuel; even tape on the brakes would be illegal.
The one thing you hate hearing about before, during and after the race?
AS: When people tell me we’re not very quick. My job is mainly about performance and you can never have too much of it.
What’s your favorite part of a car to work with?
AS: It’s always interesting trying to solve tire problems I suppose. That’s one of the few times you can find a second of lap time just by making some changes to the set-up.
JV: The steering wheel. When you really look at the wheel up close, you realize that the driver has the ability to control over 100 sensor systems on the car, change over 20 different set-up items, and dramatically change the performance of the car with a simple rotary change.
The best perk of working in the F1 industry?
JV: The best perk is the ability to see the result of your decisions and hard work within seconds to minutes of a decision being made. Other industries can be years before you understand what impact you have made.
Your favorite celebratory drink? (Doesn’t have to be the champagne you get sprayed with!)
JV: Gin and tonic (but no cucumber!)
What’s your proudest achievement to date—both on and off the track?
AS: I think the work we’ve done with Mercedes to create the modern era of the Silver Arrows. It’s easy to only think about the year you are in but it is amazing when you think we’ve managed to add something to a brand with as much heritage as Mercedes-Benz.
JV: Off the track, to have met and married my beautiful wife. On the track, being a core part of the Brawn GP team in 2009, and having won races and then the Championship with very little money, and without the fastest car for most of the year.
What’s the best song to drive to?
AS: I don’t often listen to music in the car. I’m more a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
JV: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman or Just A Day by Feeder.
If you weren’t an F1 engineer what would you be?
AS: I’d definitely be an engineer—I’d decided that well before I ended up in F1. Probably I’d have gone in to the passenger car industry but I’m very glad I got a chance in motorsport. I can’t really imagine doing anything else now.
JV: This is a tough question; there are very few jobs that would ever provide the satisfaction that Formula One provides. There are roles within the finance industry that provide a similar level of risk management/speculation.
Your (real, future or imaginary) child’s dream is to be an F1 driver. What would you say to that?
AS: It’s such a difficult sport to get into. 22 drivers in the world and most hopefuls spend a fortune and don’t make it. My advice would be to try and be an engineer instead—you’re much more likely to be successful.
What is the retirement dream?
AS: I have too many. Living abroad to learn foreign languages. Traveling the world without an itinerary, just hop around and move on when I’ve seen enough of one country. Re-learning piano and guitar. Long bike tour with my friends…
If you could be a race driver for a day, what would you race in?
AS: I’d love to have a go in a rally car.
JV: I would participate in 24 Hours of Le Mans.
If you could take an F1 racing car out for a ride anywhere in the world for two hours/305km, where would you go?
AS: My hometown near Middlesbrough. It’s about 305km and mostly motorway, so there’s a better chance I wouldn’t crash.
Which was your favorite race this year?
JV: Singapore is my favorite. It’s an amazing city that welcomes Formula One with open arms. It was also a track we struggled at in 2015, and is a very tough race to win.
What is the most exciting destination you’ve ever visited?
JV: Delhi was the most exciting place; it’s very different to any other country we have ever been to. There is obviously a stark contrast between our lives and some of the people living there; it’s a humbling experience.
If you can take a month-long hiatus anywhere in the world, where would you go?
AS: I’d like to hire a motorhome and drive across America with my family.
JV: I would love to go to New Zealand. I have never been there and it looks like an incredibly beautiful country, from what I have seen, with lots to explore. I think we all need company to share experiences and life with.
If you can go anywhere to travel for a week, but you’re not allowed to drive (no cabs either!), where would you go?
AS: Cycling in France.
JV: The Maldives! No need for a car… sea planes and boats are best there.
What is the next place on your travel bucket list?
AS: New Zealand.
JV: Thailand or the Seychelles.
Name a destination you’d like to go back to every year.
AS: As a race, Austin is great. We’ve only been there for four years and we’re still finding great places to go.
JV: I would happily go back to the Maldives every year. I have been fortunate enough to visit a few islands and it’s a very relaxing experience.
As a man of speed, what do you do to unwind and slow down?
AS: Cooking when I’m at home. I really enjoy it and it’s totally different to what I do at work.
JV: Driving racing cars when I am not at the track or riding my motorbike on tracks, normally in Spain due to the weather in the UK. I suspect most would classify that as not winding down however!