Inside the WilliamsF1 Test Team

For every hour the FW24 is on the track racing, it spends another 16 in the hands of the test team. A group of engineers and mechanics as large as the race team, they travel across Europe on a quest for the answer to the big question "how can we...

For every hour the FW24 is on the track racing, it spends another 16 in the hands of the test team. A group of engineers and mechanics as large as the race team, they travel across Europe on a quest for the answer to the big question "how can we make it better?"

During the ten-month search for the hundredths (tenths if they're lucky) of seconds that will keep the BMW WilliamsF1 Team at the top of the grid, the test team will setup, disassemble, attach parts to, tweak, monitor and measure every aspect of the car, under all conditions. It's all a part of a non-stop collection of performance data - information that feeds the incessant drive to evolve and improve the FW24 over the course of the season. Tim Newton is the man responsible for keeping the WilliamsF1 test team focused and on track during the crusade.

Q: What is your history with WilliamsF1?

Tim Newton: "I've worked with WilliamsF1 since the end of 1994 and I started with their Touring Car operation. When that closed down at the end of 1999 I was asked to look after the F1 testing operation."

Q: Is there much difference between the Touring Car operation and F1 in terms of your role?

"No not really. The logistics of getting people somewhere is the same, although some bits are different. I have a large Team now that I can split into two operations. Like anything, a small operation means you can be more hands-on. The bigger an operation becomes you have to delegate more and make sure that individuals do their respective jobs."

Q: How do you keep track of schedules and goals for the test team?

"Firstly there is the technical side where I'm really a service provider to the rest of the WilliamsF1 organisation. The engineers need to perform tasks and it is my responsibility to ensure that everything is in place to be able to perform those tasks. So, if they want to change something on the car I need to make sure we have to right amount of people and equipment to be able to do the job. You have to let the engineers get on with their job and provide them with the tools necessary to do it, without trying to engineer anything yourself."

"You also have to be a reality check. Racing is about commitment and passion and wanting to do the job, and engineers can be very passionate about what they are doing. In this passion they can sometimes lose their sense of reality, so they forget that it takes a certain amount of time to get from one circuit to another, or that the team has to go home at night rather than just keep working to do one more task."

"A large part of my job is making this reality known. Some of the engineers go from races to tests to races; it's a very busy life. When a truck first arrives at a circuit we have to paint the floors, setup all the equipment in the garage, park and clean the trucks, etc, and once this is all done the engineers arrive. So the engineers don't really have the same experience and therefore a conception of how long things take to set up. This is completely understandable, as their focus is on their own jobs rather than worrying about the logistics."

Q: Do you find yourself having to push back on the demands made on the testing programme?

"You shouldn't push against people; they should be steered. If you push against people it means that there is a conflict which is very undesirable. You need to make sure everyone has the right information to do their job, so if you are pushing back against someone it really means that they are lacking some information. Confrontation is a waste of energy; that energy is much better if everyone rows in the same direction."

Q: Is there a lot of pressure from time constraints?

"You usually have more time than you think. It's not like racing in that you have deadlines and goals and plans that you've made up to achieve what you want during the test session, but if they don't happen then there usually is another day available. In racing there isn't; at 2 pm the race has to start. When a car goes racing it has about 7 hours track time over the whole weekend, Friday to Sunday."

"If you are testing then each car will spend 7-8 hours each day on the track. Consequently, at a race, before Sunday, the cars stop around 2 pm so they are being rebuilt then, while, during a test, the cars are starting to get rebuilt at 6 or 7 pm, so the hours are much longer and like anything else, you have to pace the work load. If you tried to run the whole of the tests at the same pace as a race then everyone would be falling over.

Q: What do you see is the fundamental goal of the test team?

"The most important contribution of testing is to get data, and make sure that the data you are collecting is correct. Each area of the team relies on information, whether the design office, aero or manufacturing, so supplying data back to these people is the goal. If everyone runs around at a frantic pace but you are not collecting valid data then you are wasting your time. Sometimes you go to a test and you get masses of data, whilst other times you don't get everything you want or you might have some problems. When that happens it's important not to get angry but to understand what went wrong and learn from it and try to prevent it happening again."

"It's all about trying to get quality. Even if everything goes wrong you can learn something from it. At a test session you don't know what the competition next door are doing. They may, for example, be running less fuel so you may have a fantastic test but still not be the quickest around the track. The point is that you still know that you had a good test. At the end of the day the real result is when you race.

Q: What is the process in deciding what gets done during a test session?

"There are several ways. There is a testing calendar put together by Sam Michael, our Chief Operations Director, which I review and change with him to ensure that we can get to all the tracks we need to. Sam will write down his ideals, and then I will look at it and suggest changes, trying to fulfill all his requirements."

"We may need to go to a particular circuit because it precedes a certain GP, or to a track because it has certain characteristics such as corners or braking segments or type of asphalt, as you can't test at every circuit you race at. It's not a big discussion as we know from previous years what is doable. The testing schedule is put together around February but changes throughout the season; we are on issue 10 at the moment!"

Q: What is an average test day like?

"A lot of it is in the preparation beforehand. If everything is in place there is a lot less stress. Silverstone is a little abnormal because the running times are a little less, but in, say, Valencia we would leave the hotel at 7am, drive to the circuit, and have breakfast there with our own catering. Whilst some of the team is eating, others are pressurising the tyres, making sure that all the cars are ok and there were no problems overnight as the cars have water heaters so they are warm first thing in the morning and ready to go. So there is a cycle of people having breakfast and getting their different bits ready for the day's processes and timing systems."

"We normally start testing around 9 am, so I need to make sure that everyone is ready. The cars go out as close to 9 am as possible and start testing. At some circuits we don't stop for lunch, so we can run continuously until 6 pm. Sometimes I have to negotiate with the engineers to stop for lunch, which is not a problem, and they will come up with a list of jobs to do during the lunch hour. Then you have to balance the tasks getting done by the team, the changes to the task list, and everybody stopping for lunch. The same things happen during the afternoon. 15 or 20 minutes after the session is finished we have a meeting with BMW to very quickly go over the day and check the program for the next day to make sure there are no big hiccups. Then everyone goes about their finishing tasks."

"The engineers write up a daily report, and job lists are given out to the mechanics. At about 8 pm we have another meeting to more thoroughly go over the day's events, and to more thoroughly plan the next day, and discuss any other issues. The mechanics will normally change the engine and gearbox, and service any parts that are needed. We would on average leave the circuit around midnight. As much as I can, I like to run a curfew at 1 am so that no one is working after that time. Especially during longer tests you don't want to get into the spiral of working late and starting early, as people naturally get tired and will start making mistakes."

Q: Are there any recurring problems that you need to constantly deal with?

"One problem we are starting to run into is that more and more tests are run in Spain, and being a popular tourist destination together with the impact of September 11 on the airlines, the flights are becoming massively expensive and difficult to get seating, so I'm trying to plan as much as possible ahead."

"If you book flights you can get a reasonable deal on a group basis but you can't change any people or numbers or destinations or dates, so you are always battling with getting the job done and the costs involved. It's tougher in some ways with some of the smaller teams. I don't like spending money unless it's making something more efficient, making the car quicker or getting more testing done, so if the straight transportation costs double it's a waste of money."

Q: How does the test team rely on technology to get the job done?

"The engineers have vast computing power for the massive amounts of data and information that they collect. There's a set of Compaq ProLiant servers in the garage, and that's their main tool. I use my Evo laptop for a lot of the logistics work; recording information, sending it back to the factory, and keeping up to speed with things going on in the team. My laptop is like a portable office, so all the information I need is with me.

Q: What about using PDAs, like the iPAQ PocketPC?

"I have entire staff list on my notebook and am constantly writing on it, so the iPAQ will eventually replace some of that as it has a more user-friendly interface. I can see the iPAQ being used more and more, simply because it gives you more available information you can actually carry around, giving you more flexibility, and you can transfer information easier."

Q: What are some of the ingredients for success?

"For my part a lot of Motorsport is about anticipation. It's the engineers using computer simulations, anticipating what is going to happen to car during the race, it's the mechanics anticipating what the engineers are going to be requesting next or what has to be changed on the car, it's the parts man anticipating what needs to be ready to for the change, it's the truck drivers anticipating the consumption of consumables. The more anticipation you get, it means that people are thinking about their job more. The more successful the team and/or people the more they have semi-anticipated; they know what is going to happen next. 90% of my job is figuring out the fires before they become fires. With a little experience very few things surprise you."

Q: Do you fancy driving an F1 car?

"No, I'm much too tall at 6 foot 4! You may think that you can drive quickly but if you've ever been in a racecar with a professional driver, it really is not the same thing."


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Series Formula 1
Teams Williams