Formula One teams transform their garages into exceedingly tidy apartments for each race, with storage space for items you’d never think to give its own little cubbyhole. We walked through Williams’ space, and here’s how they explained their garage/suite works on a race weekend.
While Williams asked us not to grab any photos inside the garage, as there’s a lot of top-secret competitive stuff on display, we did get the full run-down of how it all works together.
Settling Into The Weekend Home
F1 garages start as a blank slate—large open spaces with usually only bathrooms to worry about in the middle. Because Circuit of the Americas is designed specifically for Formula One, its garages are pretty roomy. For this weekend’s race, Williams got three all in a row. For other, older venues like Brazil, they’re not as lucky to get as much space.
The garages’ exact specifications get sent before they’re built out, allowing the team to map out where they’re going to cram everything. Then it’s left to “truckies”—the same crew members in charge of keeping the wheels in order—to build out the space, erecting temporary walls and unloading huge crates of gear.
So Much Data, It Needs Its Own Room
Walking into an F1 garage is like walking into an automotive-themed TARDIS. The sheer amount of stuff crammed neatly into every nook and cranny of the space is unbelievable. One of the first rooms you’ll encounter in the Williams garage, though, is for data.
Through the back hallway and to the right is a room with a row of monitors, stacked one above the other.
Many of the data engineers are assigned to monitor one specific task, although a few have more general overview roles. A team partner provides the team with a link back to the United Kingdom, where they can have other members of the team analyzing yet more data in real time.
Mercedes Gets A Room
To the left of the entry corridor is a space just for Williams’ power unit provider, Mercedes. Mercedes provides the team with experts on the complicated power units, which have V6 engines and a state-of-the-art hybrid systems. This is where spares are kept, too.
Spares On Spares On Spares
While two garages have Williams’ cars for drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, the third garage is all for spares. The front of the garage is taken up by F1's big Pirelli racing tires, which Williams keeps in color-coded warming blankets. The blankets don’t just keep the tires in their optimum temperature for use, but the different colors help the team tell which tires belong to which car.
Williams even hired a new person over from Ferrari this year to help with tire wear and use—not only to prevent embarrassing snafus with tire swaps, but to make sure they’re making the most out of each type of tire.
For the most part, though, the same truckies who build out the garage space take care of the tire space, organizing the wheel sets and making sure all tires are within Formula 1's stringent regulations over tire pressure and other things.
In the middle of the room are Williams’ aluminum gearboxes. Williams prides themselves on being the only team to make their own gearboxes in-house. The gearboxes were up on stands, and several team members were tweaking things on them. There wasn’t a calm area in the garage, apart from maybe the data room since the car wasn’t running.
Across from the gearboxes laid a huge carbon fiber floor for the car. Behind transmission wonderland lies yet more spares, plus the kit to fix, tweak and make other needed parts for the weekend. Every piece of bodywork they use must be perfect—down the smallest measurement—otherwise, the car’s aerodynamics could change and become harder to drive for the driver.
If they need a spare that’s already been made, it lives in a huge closet of carefully cataloged bins at the back of Williams’ garage space.
The Most Visible Part
The front of the garage is the space we see the most—the areas dedicated to the cars. Each car has a dedicated crew, with mechanics specializing in certain areas of the car. The number one mechanic gets guidance from the team’s race engineer on setting up the car.
In addition to the mechanical crew, Williams has a dedicated human performance specialist who specializes in fitness, nutrition and efficiency of movement. They ensure that drivers and crew are operating perfectly as well. We all know F1 drivers are fitness freaks, but those ultra-fast pit stops don’t happen without the crew being in shape, either. It’s paid off, too: the Williams team often has the fastest pit stop in a race.
Yet more data engineers sit along the pit wall, however, the ones who analyze tire wear have been moved back into the garage. It was too hard to glance over at the tires when cars pulled in for a stop from the pit lane, so now, data engineers who work with tires sit at a small kiosk of yet more monitors just inside the garage.
The pit wall is somewhat of an extension of the garages. There, the Sporting Manager who keeps up with all the minutiae of the FIA’s rulebook sits, ready to address any issues on track, such as slower traffic blocking a car, or contact. Strategists, Williams Head of Performance Engineering Rob Smedley and even more race engineers sit at the pit wall.
Race strategists don’t pull many strategies on the fly. They run many different simulations overnight on computer models to help them plan how to attack the next race.
Packing It Up
All of this has to come down for other groups to make use of the space. According to Williams Senior Communications Manager James Francis, the space is completely gutted and packed by Sunday at midnight after a Sunday race.
Much of their kit flies on to the next race, however, the non-car-design-specific components Williams considers “disposable” such as chairs and food get sent via sea freight. The car, however, gets flown out, as its design is constantly being changed and tweaked. The team keeps about five sets of everything they could need on a weekend.
Yesterday, for example, they tested out a new front wing. They also tested out a visual prototype of the halo head protection system. It wasn’t structural, but it was wrapped in their livery to see how it would look and function if adopted by the sport. Bottas took it out for two installation laps.
Either way, all good things must come to an end. Fortunately for Williams, they get to unpack everything they just packed back up from their suite do everything all over again at the next race.