MY WORKING LIFE
After 13 years in the trade, F1 mechanic Ole Schack prefers to shift down after a win, rather than drive to an after-party.
Ole Schack, front-end mechanic on Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen’s car, shifts gears to talk expensive steering wheels, pre-race tension and the Abu Dhabi GP.
How did you get into this, Ole?
Being an F1 mechanic had always been my boyhood dream, and in 2004 that came true. I trained as a regular mechanic, and I have pretty much done race cars all my life.
What’s a typical race day like?
The race day for us actually begins on the Wednesday when we start preparing the race cars. They take a lot longer to put together than they do to take away, so we prepare the race car, building them to the right specifications on the Wednesday and the Thursday. On Thursday we have a bit of pit-stop practice, then two practice sessions on the Friday, which is where we work out how we’re going to change the car for the race and for qualifying. Friday is our longest day because we prepare the race car itself.
And it’s not even the weekend yet...
Saturday morning is a bit of pit-stop practice again as the car is now complete and we get a chance to see how it’s doing; then we have a last final practice session before qualifying, which comes later on Saturday. After qualifying, the car is in what’s known as ‘parc ferme’ [closed park], so we can’t do a hell of a lot to it: There’s a race scrutineer in the garage looking at what we do, because the car that we race in should be the same as the one we qualified in. Because of that, Sunday morning is quiet because the car is still under park ferme, and we start gearing up for the race about two hours before it starts.
And when it’s all over?
Then comes the big one: Sunday night is the pack-up, so that we can get it all shipped up ready for home or wherever the next race is.
What do you do during the rest of the week?
If it’s a double-header we’ll be going straight to the next event to start again, but if it’s a European race and we’re back home at the factory, we’ll have a couple of days off so we can rest a bit and then we come in and prepare the race car for the next event. We normally pack the car up by Friday and have the weekend off. Late nights, long weekends and the thrill of winning championships, the finely tuned life of mechanic Ole Schack
How nervous is everyone before the race?
I can only speak for myself – it’s tense, I would say, rather than nervous, although I guess the first race of the season everyone’s always a bit nervous. The rest of the time, you can certainly feel an atmosphere because it’s what we’ve been here to do all week and we’re building up to it. It’s a good experience, though; a really good atmosphere.
What kind of incidents are most challenging? Whenever you have some kind of incident in practise three, because you’ve got to get the car rebuilt again for qualifying, which is two hours later. That’s the biggest challenge. Otherwise the biggest challenge is trying to win the race.
What was your most difficult day at work? We’re talking about 13 years of difficult days. No, I guess the hardest day for me was Hungary 2012, when my dad passed away.
F1 cars are notoriously expensive – can you tell us about a tiny component that costs a huge amount of money to make?
The steering wheels are very expensive because they are so time-consuming to make. With the steering wheel, the tiniest of differences can count, so we look after them very, very well.
How specialist are the mechanics?
We are specialist in so far as we’re front end, rear end or gear box mechanics, but as we’re all mechanics, we can help out everywhere. People do specialise, though, and you create a little mind-set relating to how you’re going to build the parts you put in the car. How does the team celebrate?
Unfortunately, we’ve got to pack up first and quite often that can be pretty late. We try and have a drink in the garage before we leave and then it depends on where we’re going next. If we’re going home, a few people might go out to a nightclub but I prefer my sleep, to be honest.
What was your best day ever?
Any of the four days that we won the Championship. The first one in 2010 was very, very special. To win it was amazing as we only led on the last day, when it really mattered. 2012 was another very special one because it was in Brazil and after turn number four, we were facing backwards with a damaged car and we had to get sixth place to win the Championship – and we just about managed it. Very tense.
How well would you fare if you went up against Max Verstappen in a race on a video game? Not very well. We wouldn’t be talking seconds between us, but minutes!
Are you able to fix the family saloon car, or is it a completely different ball game?
I’ve not done people’s cars for a long time, but I do fix my own car and recently fixed a colleague’s, so yes I can still use my mechanic skills – nuts and bolts are nuts and bolts.
What do you enjoy about the Abu Dhabi GP? It starts in the day and finishes at night, so that makes it different, and the atmosphere is different, too. As it’s last race of the year, I think everyone’s ready to have a bit of a winter break once we’re done. It’s nice warm place to finish.
After qualifying, the car is in what’s known as ‘parc ferme’ [closed park], so we can’t do a lot to it: There’s a race scrutineer looking at what we do