"Today here at McLaren International is a special day because David Coulthard is coming to see us," explains General Manager Geoff Highley. "He has been here before of course, but this time he wants to come and try and make some of the parts...
"Today here at McLaren International is a special day because David Coulthard is coming to see us," explains General Manager Geoff Highley.
"He has been here before of course, but this time he wants to come and try and make some of the parts used on his race car. He is going into the composite shop to make one of the mirrors for the car. He will then move to the fabrication shop and make a brake pedal for himself. Finally, he will move to the paint shop to try and paint the mirror. Who knows how he'll get on!"
"I think it is very important to come to the factory and meet the people behind the scenes," says West McLaren Mercedes driver David Coulthard, on why he has opted for this unusual day out. "You race and test and meet the race team and engineers, but you don't normally have time to appreciate the effort of the 350 or so people back in the factory who are working directly on the car for you. They also have a passion for the job and the hope is that they get to see the cars they have built, going round the race tracks and hopefully beating the opposition."
How would one of the team's stars cope with a day on the factory floor. "We've never had David in a position where we have asked him to get his hands dirty," admits Highley. "I think there might be a bit of apprehension on his part as well."
As David dons a pair of rubber gloves to prepare for laying up the parts needed to make "his" mirror," he is struck by the complexity of it all. "It's interesting to see how much work is involved in putting together such a small part of the car. I am taking three quarters of the day making just one mirror and it is so easy to damage in a race, just with stone chips for example. It shows that despite all the technology in F1, it still comes down to one individual to make sure the part is made properly. You rely heavily on all the people here to take pride in their work and thankfully they do," said Coulthard.
Having prepared the part, it is then packed in a vacuum bag to suck all the air out, before the mirror is "cooked" in the autoclave. It is then heated up until the resin in the pre-impregnated fabric can do its job. "I bet you can cook a lot of bread in here," says David, marvelling at the size of the autoclave.
Over a canteen lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which he pays for himself, Coulthard reflects on the lessons he is learning. "I normally pass through the factory a few times a year. I've never done anything more than say 'hello, thank you, bye-bye.' I've never had the opportunity to spend time with the people. It has given me a whole new appreciation of how hard they work and the skills required in making a part. There is no one person responsible for the car. It is a whole number of people who all have to do their job to one hundred percent, otherwise the car will fail."
After lunch, Coulthard moves to the fabrication shop, where he is to make a brake pedal for his car. Tasked with getting a piece of metal to curve to the shape of his foot, the Scotsman gets off to a bad start, attempting to put the piece in the machine upside down. "It's amazing all the detail that goes into something like a pedal," reckons DC. "I thought it would be a solid piece with a flat surface, but it is all fabricated, folded over and TIG welded - that's a phrase I learned today. Once again it shows the amount of detail required from all the individuals here to piece together the car. All this, so we can have some fun on a Sunday!"
"Once he got over the fear of being electrocuted with the welding equipment, David enjoyed it, even if he wasn't very good at it at first," is the assessment of fabricator Tom Cann. "In the fabrication shop, you see a lot of traditional skills that you wouldn't expect to see in an F1 car," continues David. "I am surprised how much they actually use hammers and moulded bucks to shape and bend the pieces on the way to the finished product. That comes down to the human eye working from a diagram. I think it's nice to see. We don't want to only see CAD- CAM and computers and finished bits of carbon. It's nice to see the guys are craftsmen. I've never welded before so I was not very good. But it's fun to pick up these tools. It's like being a kid in a shop. I wanted to pick up a hammer, start whacking things and make as much noise as possible." Having rather botched his brake pedal, Coulthard has one request for his teacher. "Will you promise me one thing? Will you put this pedal on Mika's car and not mine!"
"I think we can repair this brake pedal and get it on his car for this year," whispers Cann, once his "apprentice" is out of earshot. "I think David is now a total part of the team as he has actually made something that's going to be fitted to his car. For someone who has never done this job he picks things up quickly."
Having made a pedal, it was time for Coulthard to discover his artistic side in the paint shop, where his mirror had arrived from the autoclave. "The paint detail on the car is fantastic," he enthuses. "It's all airbrushed rather than done with stickers. The man hours required to paint our car is probably fifty percent longer than the other cars on the grid. If you look at one of our opponents, theirs is just red with a few stickers, whereas ours really is a work of art, which should be in a museum." So how did the driver get on, switching from steering wheel to airbrush. "I think he did a first class job," reckons Paintshop Supervisor Alan Moffatt. "If he ever gives up the driving, he can have a job here in the paint shop."
Coulthard no doubt feels he still has some unfinished business on the race track before he considers taking up the new job offer.