Car build by Williams' Jonathan FinchIt’s car build time at Williams F1 at present so the team’s factory at Grove is a hive of activity as design and manufacturing turn their complete attention to getting next season’s car ready. Dedicated to ensuring the complex process that is car build is run efficiently, effectively and in accordance with strict timelines is our Car Build Manager, Jonathan Finch.
Jonathan, when does a car build traditionally begin?
"As with most Formula One teams, a significant amount of investigative work has already been undertaken by the Aerodynamics Department and a small team of designers before car build commences, but generally car build starts in August and runs through to the end of the following February."
So the process actually starts before the prevailing season is over?
"Yes, and one of the biggest challenges in Formula One is achieving the correct balance between developing the current car to remain competitive and at the same time remain focused on next season’s car. The car build phase straddles the end of the current season, when teams are often fighting for position within the Championship, and also the closed season winter testing phase either side of Christmas."
Why is that? Surely concentrating on the season in hand is more important?
"During the car build phase, the wind tunnel, R&D, design, production and car build activities are heavily overlapped. This is a necessity driven by the need to produce a complete car from scratch in approximately 20 weeks. There is simply not enough time to design all of the parts, test them and to then put them into production. If we were to adopt this way of working it would take nearly 40 weeks to produce a new car."
Once the car is launched, there’s plenty of work still to be done before the first race, isn’t there?
"Absolutely. Once we have launched the new car, there is no time to rest. The winter testing programme is intense and designed to develop the new car and iron out any problems which may arise. At the same time, the Aero and Design Departments are filtering through new designs and upgrade packages which have to be introduced during the winter testing phase, signed off on the track and then produced in volume to support the race programme. In addition, during this phase the production and car build departments are endeavouring to build four new cars to the latest specification which is continuously subject to evolution."
So, this time of year is essentially one of the team’s most demanding?
"For sure, car build is a challenging time. The winter testing phase after Christmas leading up to the first race is particularly demanding on the Test and Race Teams and the assembly areas that combine to build and test the cars. Generally there are six European tests during this time, quite often only separated by four or so days which leaves little time to address any issues and re-build the cars accordingly.
"During this phase, the introduction of new parts and upgrades relies heavily on co-ordinated and focused teams able to cope with demanding and constantly changing situations. The car build phase is an intense, and at the same time, prolonged period of activity for which its participants ultimately only have one goal and that is to produce the most competitive car they can, but it takes some steely determination to tolerate the long hours!"