Engineering marvels

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am

They look like any other engine to the untrained eye. Even the trained ear has trouble recognising the different engines.

But the Formula One engines are miles apart - in their construction at the rival factories and often at the end of a Grand Prix.

How different is a Jaguar engine to the one next door? 'Poles apart,' says Alan Maybin, the chief mechanic for Australian Mark Webber. He reels off rpm, piston size, and the angle of the V-10 as a few differences.

And 'no photos please'.

Teams will trash one engine over this weekend's Grand Prix and another new, and hopefully improved, version will be waiting for the next stop in Japan.

'This is the pinnacle of engineering,' says Irishman Maybin, 37, as he oversees some pre-qualifying maintenance. His job is to make those little changes to help Webber find the extra hundredths of a second.

'Things are very different now,' Maybin says. 'It's all driven by aerodynamics. We have three separate teams working on it back at the factory.'

That's more than 100 people and still they can't get near the Ferraris, who lead the high-tech race with their wind tunnels.

That factory crew, Maybin and the 85-strong travelling team plus another 200-odd Jaguar employees are wondering whether they will have jobs next season after Ford's decision to pull out of F1 and sell the Jaguar team. 'We have been told they are doing their utmost to sell the team as a going concern,' Maybin said.

'The sport has been such a victim over the past few years with Prost [2001] and Arrows [2002] going down. I think there would be more said if they didn't think it would be bought, if it wasn't going to survive.

'Most mechanics and race teams have been through it before [in lower formulas]. Personally, I think it affects the factory people and the production people a lot more. They are not associated with what goes on here.'

Maybin has been in F1 for 11 years and shakes his head at the vast sums of money involved in running a car. It has spiralled so much he has lost track.

'I know four or five years ago we were talking of US$1 million to race a car, so now it's probably double that. Running costs are just astronomical. It's gone crazy.'

Maybin is responsible for Webber's car - its preparation, setup, the day-to-day racing and for the whole weekend.

'Today's modern F1 car is a very complicated piece of equipment and the way the sport has changed recently you need to have coverage of a lot of different areas,' he said.

'The way we run the cars is four mechanics per car including a number one or chief mechanic [Maybin] for each car. There is a guy for the front end, the rear end and a gearbox mechanic.

'I have overall control of them. Any issues that crop up they come to me. If I need to take it to a higher level I'll go to the race engineer and vehicle performance department.'

With the introduction of one-lap qualifying, it has changed the way the crews and car are run.

'Fridays we don't run a lot of miles any more. The circuit is always green and you are only wasting tyres. The track's not quick so you don't get good information.

'The way F1 teams are today they have very big departments back in the factory who are doing lots of simulations so when we come here we are 90 per cent sure on the car setup. In terms of tweaking, it is only the very small items like rollbars, wings etc.

'Friday night is the main preparation night. In the past you could work right through Saturday night - new gearbox, new engine, whatever you wanted. Now with the parc ferme - where teams are now allowed to touch the car after final qualifying - Friday is the crucial night.'

'You get two sessions on Saturday morning, a two-hour break before qualifying and that's the last chance to make changes.

'All the engineers have basically decided the strategy on Friday evening.'

All the mechanics who work on the cars are the guys who do the pitstops. Working four guys per car - including the spare third car - that makes up the 12-strong pitstop crew. A couple of people working on hydraulics will do the refuelling.

'And I'm the silly fool who stands in the front of the car with the jack,' says Maybin.

'I've been around F1 for 11 years now. I started as a junior and I've done the wheel thing, taking it off, progressing to putting it on, then to the wheel gun and through the system.'

Races are often won and lost on pitstop strategy and the time it takes to refuel. 'Everyone on the pitstop crew is under the same pressure,' says Maybin, who will be delighted if Webber scores a point today.

But that will take a fantastic drive from the Aussie from 12th on the grid, a lot of luck ... and some expert tinkering from Maybin.