Ever wondered where a head of engineering or a technical director stand in the hierarchy of a Formula One team? Or exactly how a chief executive officer or sporting director fit into the chain of command? And what exactly does a team manager do?
Today, most of the teams on the grid employ well in excess of 500 people, working in a plethora of individual departments. The days of one person knowing every corner of the car, or making every single business decision, are long gone.
So how does an F1 team work in the 21st century? Needless to say, each team has their own way of doing things and their own particular structure, so there is no typical operation that can be used to illustrate the way they all work. But, working in broad brush strokes, there is plenty of common ground. Glance at the list of senior personnel that features on most team websites and the roles are familiar. But how do they all fit together?
At the top of the tree in any F1 team, at least on a day-to-day basis, is usually the team principal. Some, like Frank Williams or Vijay Mallya at Force India are also involved in the ownership of part or all of their operation. Others, such as Stefano Domenicali at Ferrari and Christian Horner at Red Bull Racing, are company employees. But whatever the basis of their position, it is their job to run the show to a greater or lesser degree.
The McLaren pit wall © LAT
There's a big difference in their role from team to team. There's a tendency simply to dismiss anyone in a management role as not doing a great deal, particularly if they haven't got a significant profile outside of the team but, as Ron Dennis explains, the management structure is critical to the success of a team's car.
"Any technical person left to his own devices will very often spend more than you have available," says Dennis, whose McLaren team famously employ a matrix structure, "so management plays a very key role in the design process.
"What we have now is an aerospace structure. It's obviously radically different to the pyramid structure represented by one designer. It has a very broad base, which gives you greater stability and great ability to respond to problems.
"We have experts in all the disciplines and experts under the experts. It's a completely refined process by which data is coordinated. It's a less precarious structure - it's more difficult to headhunt out of us and it's a far more cost-effective and time-effective way to run a grand prix team. It took a long time to implement and years to bed down - I'd say conservatively five years - but it works well now."
Most teams have several key management positions. In the case of McLaren, Martin Whitmarsh, the prime mover behind the matrix system, is (until March 1st at least) the F1 team's chief executive officer (CEO). Confusingly, he is also chief operating officer of the McLaren Group.
The Group is made up of automotive, applied technologies, marketing, electronics and racing, which means that in his COO capacity Whitmarsh has a 'top-down' view of the group's activities and reports to Dennis. When it comes to racing, he is effectively the senior day-to-day figure, with McLaren Racing manager Jonathan Neale his immediate junior when it comes to racing activities. The majority of those holding CEO-type positions are there to manage the team and put into practice the management style needed to get the best out of the personnel.
Of course, the bulk of the other teams don't have the complication of multiple groups. For the manufacturer teams, there will often be a single senior point man - for example BMW Sauber, where 'motorsport director' Mario Theissen runs the show and reports to the company board. In most cases, the top gun will also be a regular face on the pitwall and on the radio - some will be able to offer genuine, meaningful input.
There's a pretty wide range of backgrounds for the team principals. Mallya is a racing enthusiast and a very successful businessman whereas, say, Ross Brawn has a long history in racing on the technical side. Now he's more a man manager, which was how his role evolved at Ferrari, so in his Honda position he will probably not have been as au fait with every aspect of the car as his technical director or chief engineer.
Williams technical director Sam Michael © LAT
The majority of teams employ a technical director, whose responsibility will be to oversee the design and development of the car. Some, such as Toyota, employ two technical directors: Kazuo Takeuchi has replaced Luca Marmorini as the man responsible for engine activities, while Pascal Vasselon is the more traditional team technical director, as he has responsibility for the car itself. There was a time when as technical director you fixed the car yourself, but now it's more about managing people.
So what does the technical director do? In effect, he is the manager of every aspect of the car, from the start of the design process, through the construction and its development as a race car. The technical director will draw up the specification sheet for the new car, which he will start to put together from probably the first race of the previous season. That is the way you manage the various members of staff - for instance, if you are in charge of front-upright design, you can see the parameters and know what you need to achieve.
The technical director will also be in charge of allocating the budget and steering the new car through its cycle. It's a difficult balance, because if your commercial department hasn't brought in enough money it looks like the technical team hasn't done a good job, particularly when it comes to development.
In the past, the technical director was usually the chief engineer as well, but now some teams have found ways to separate the two roles. One way is to have the technical director in charge of the design-and-build process, with the chief engineer and race team effectively there as a customer. It cuts out the grey area of the same person designing, building and running the car, but not recognising the problems because he is too 'close' to the car. The technical director will still be at the track and contributing, but will not be driving the way the car is worked at the track.
The technical director will also attend meetings with the heads of department - the chief engineer, chief designer, chief aerodynamicist, head of electronics etc - as well as meeting with the team boss and commercial and financial directors. The individual department heads will be in charge of managing their teams, with the aero department usually the largest, and will usually report to the technical director or overall engineering boss.
The race team is a department in itself, with the team manager the senior figure. The team manager's job will be to deal with many of the practicalities - getting the race team and equipment to the circuit and making sure everything is in the right place. Then, on the weekend itself, it's down to the team manager to monitor things like the sporting rules, dealing with the FIA and knowing the timings.
BMW Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder © LAT
He will also be in charge of pitstop practice and making sure that the team is running as it should be. He's the alarm bell for anything going wrong. It's very easy, when the engineers have their heads down trying to solve a problem before the race, for timings to go awry - look at last year's Monaco Grand Prix, where Kimi Raikkonen's race was compromised by his tyres being changed too close to the start of the race.
The team manager will often be the one liaising with the team principal during a race weekend. As they are not working on the technical side, he will usually be on the right level to talk to the principal without getting into too much detail. He will also have some input into strategic decisions, although this varies from team to team, and will be in charge of dealing with any problems that arise, such as if, say, a driver picks up an injury that could threaten their participation in the race.
On the engineering side, the chief engineer will oversee the cars on a race weekend. Each car has a race engineer, a data engineer, a control-systems engineer and an engine engineer, as well as its mechanics.
The relationship between the race engineer, data engineer and the driver is particularly important within the team on each car. There will be information shared between cars, but once you're into a session you will have your programme to run through, and it's up to you to get the best out of the package.
The engine engineer's job is more to keep the motor running properly than anything else, because there are a limited number of things you can change on that score. You can change the powercurve a little, although that will often be within the remit of the control-systems engineer, so their job will be more about reliability and working with people like the oil analysts to maximise reliability.
Another important task with the race team is managing the tyres - as well as team personnel with those responsibilities, a Bridgestone engineer will be attached to a team to ensure that tyres are being run within operation parameters, with regard to tyre pressures etc.
So that's the car itself and senior management dealt with, but there are plenty of other, less glamourous departments. The financial and commercial departments play a major role in terms of bringing in the money and servicing the various sponsorship accounts, with the communications department directing the PR of the team.
Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli during a press conference © LAT
Commercial and PR activities will be agreed with the team manager before a race weekend and they will be designed to fit in with the race team's times. Everyone recognises that PR is important, but it's more of a source of tension for mechanics because you are always trying to do something, and if the driver gets whisked off, or a garage tour happens at an inopportune moment that can be frustrating. But it's part of the game.
On race weekends there will also be ancillary staff, such as motorhome personnel, kitchen workers and even security. Running an F1 team is a big operation. Although most attention is on the technical personnel and the guys who actually run the car, it takes an enormous amount of work across the board to get the thing there and keep everything running smoothly. The sport has certainly come a long way since a handful of guys with a March-Cosworth could get onto the grid.
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