MERC BE­HIND THE SCENES

An F1 launch is when teams fi­nally go pub­lic with the fruits of their pre­vi­ous months’ labours. But rarely do they al­low sight of their in­ner work­ings in the fi­nal pre-launch hours. F1 Rac­ing got a glimpse with Mercedes

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AN­THONY ROWL­IN­SON PIC­TURES PAUL RIPKE, STEVE ETHER­ING­TON

We’re back­stage with Lewis on the eve of the launch of the new W09

LEWIS HAMIL­TON in­serts an in­dex fin­ger into ei­ther side of his mouth, stretches his face, pokes out his tongue and goes: “BLEEEEEEEEERRRRRRGGGHHH!”

“Love it, Lewis,” purrs pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Ripke. “Now, fin­ger up your nose please.”

“WHAT?! No way man. No way! I’m not putting my fin­ger up my nose.”

He re­lents and places the tip of his right in­dex digit on the very edge of a nos­tril.

“That’s it Lewis,” Ripke en­cour­ages, pop­ping frames with his Le­ica. “Th­ese will be great.”

The lev­ity is wel­come as the end of a long ‘me­dia as­sets’ haul ap­proaches for Lewis, Valt­teri Bot­tas and a host of troops from the Mercedes F1 comms and mar­ket­ing ma­chine.

This is the day on which much of the bounty with which the team will feed part­ners, jour­nal­ists and their own con­tent-hun­gry chan­nels is har­vested. Stud­ied por­traits, can­did asides, ‘hero poses’, video Q&AS for part­ners. All must be ticked off a very long list on this one locked-in day. And it’s no small un­der­tak­ing.

“THE DAYS OF NEW-CAR ROLLOUTS BE­HIND FAC­TORY DOORS SEEM LAUGHABLY DIS­TANT AND AMATEURISH NOW”

We as­sem­ble, cold and early, at a pur­pose­built pho­to­graphic stu­dio just off the M40 mo­tor­way in Ox­ford­shire, about 20 miles from Mercedes’ team HQ in Brack­ley. ‘We’ on this day com­prises Mercedes’ two race driv­ers, a stylist for each of them (yep, hair ’n’ make-up), a 15-strong TV crew, two stills pho­tog­ra­phers plus their as­sis­tants, sundry en­tourage mem­bers, cater­ers, three Mercedes F1 cars (2014, ’15 and ’17 cham­pi­onship win­ners)… and F1 Rac­ing.

It’s a grand gath­er­ing and serves to re­mind how im­por­tant is ‘the mes­sage’ con­veyed by man­u­fac­turer-backed F1 teams. Yes, the sport is still about rac­ing – men and cars fight­ing it out on track. More than ever, though, that ac­tiv­ity must serve wider em­pires. It must add lus­tre to brands. It must help sell.

The days of new-car roll-outs be­hind fac­tory doors seem laughably dis­tant and amateurish now. An F1 team’s launch and the ac­tiv­ity that pre­cedes it is a mighty so­phis­ti­cated un­der­tak­ing – me­dia en­gi­neer­ing, if you will.

That needn’t – mustn’t – equate to chaos, how­ever. In­deed, what’s most strik­ing about

th­ese 24 pre-launch-into-real-launch hours is how tightly scripted they are. That’s not in it­self a sur­prise – F1 is a rar­efied realm, where thou­sandths of a sec­ond re­ally do mat­ter; but what is eye-catch­ing is the ex­tent of fil­i­gree-fine plan­ning that has gone be­fore.

Mercedes’ ever-at­ten­tive comms chief (an exF1 Rac­ing staffer, no less) al­lows a glimpse of the 58-col­umn spread­sheet, ac­cord­ing to which the pre-launch-into-launch-into-barcelona-first-test plan is chore­ographed.

“Ev­ery five min­utes for the car [the new W09] is sched­uled,” he in­forms. “Tonight [the Wed­nes­day be­fore the first run, at Sil­ver­stone] is the fi­nal build and then it fires up on Thurs­day. Ev­ery­thing is right up against the clock.”

Im­mutable those dead­lines may be, but there’s a mood of quiet in­dus­try among Merc mar­comms. So long as the spread­sheet-hymn sheet is ad­hered to, noth­ing too un­to­ward will hap­pen, it seems. Some ‘events’, how­ever, can never be ac­counted for…

“There’s make-up on his Nomex!” cries one stylist, sud­denly, mid-morn­ing, as she frets over

“AN F1 TEAM’S LAUNCH IS A MIGHTY SO­PHIS­TI­CATED UN­DER­TAK­ING – ME­DIA EN­GI­NEER­ING IF YOU WILL”

a smudge of foun­da­tion pow­der on an item of driver kit. “Don’t worry,” chimes a col­league. “I have an­other.” And lo, a re­place­ment flamere­tar­dant un­der­gar­ment is prof­fered, still wrapped in its pack­ag­ing, while the orig­i­nal is taken away for a scrub. The thought oc­curs that if the me­dia and mar­ket­ing di­vi­sions of Mercedes F1 can op­er­ate with such seam­less ‘you-throw-itand-i’ll-catch-it’ ef­fi­ciency, how joined up must the rest of the team be?

Let the score­card be our guide: Mercedes’ on­slaught on For­mula 1 since their re­turn as a man­u­fac­turer team in 2010 has been noth­ing short of daunt­ing for their ri­vals. From that ten­ta­tive first sea­son with Michael Schu­macher and Nico Ros­berg, through to their (and Nico’s) first win at the 2012 Chi­nese GP, via Hamil­ton’s ar­rival for ’13 and on into hy­brid-era dom­i­na­tion, they have be­come the de­fin­i­tive mod­ern F1 team.

Af­ter four straight team-driver ti­tle dou­bles, this year they’ll gun for a fifth pair. Only Fer­rari and Michael Schu­macher from 2000-2004 have ever achieved that de­gree of dom­i­na­tion. Not that you’d sense this is a team on the cusp of record-equalling

great­ness. Co-or­di­nated con­fi­dence, yes; giddy an­tic­i­pa­tion, no. Hamil­ton, of course, has seen it all be­fore, over the decade since his first ti­tle with Mclaren in 2008: won­der-boy then, ma­ture global sport­ing icon now, and while he is a Zen-like pres­ence amid his acolytes, his sheer star­ri­ness adds a fris­son to the ac­tiv­ity of those about. This is, af­ter all, Lewis Hamil­ton, four­time world cham­pion and while Mercedes’ F1 ef­fort is the sum­ma­tion of 1,000-plus em­ploy­ees’ en­er­gies, late nights and tal­ents, the aces at the wheel are the poster boys.

And none more so than Hamil­ton, whose pol­ished ease in front of the lens – so ev­i­dent to­day – is the prod­uct of many years’ train­ing al­lied to the will and am­bi­tion to be­come some­thing very spe­cial: per­haps the most fa­mous rac­ing driver of all time.

Yet for all his em­i­nence, there’s no ev­i­dence of out­ra­geously diva-ish de­mands. He’s par­tic­u­lar about his choice of tunes while pos­ing for the cam­eras (Ken­drick La­mar is a must) and his coif­fure needs con­stant buff­ing. Be­yond that, not much. A re­quest for a break­fast omelette causes

“FOR ALL OF HIS EM­I­NENCE, THERE’S NO EV­I­DENCE OF OUT­RA­GEOUSLY DIVA-ISH DE­MANDS FROM LEWIS”

a mo­men­tary kitchen ker­fuf­fle (“We haven’t got any eggs!”) and, later, he rolls his eyes at one too-fa­mil­iar ques­tion for a part­ner Q&A (“Jeez, how many times have I an­swered this?”). But there­after he’s good as gold. In­deed, his dili­gent re­sponses to script prompts for part­ner ‘col­lat­eral’ of­fer some lit­tle-heard in­sights. Lewis makes an ex­tremely rare ref­er­ence to the racial chal­lenges he faced as he rose through the ranks – “Gen­er­ous peo­ple were pre­pared to be­lieve that a driver from a dif­fer­ent eth­nic­ity could make it” – then he of­fers an in­trigu­ing glimpse into his fu­ture: “I don’t think I have any­thing to prove as a rac­ing driver, but in the fash­ion world and mu­sic, there’s a lot. And in the hu­man­i­tar­ian field, too – giv­ing some­thing back.”

When Bot­tas’s screen slot ar­rives (timed to the minute, of course), his an­swers to the same set of ques­tions re­flect his lower alti­tude in the mo­tor­sport strato­sphere: “I still have so much to prove,” he says. “I still haven’t achieved many of the goals in my ca­reer.” Quite a state­ment from a man who’s driv­ing for the best team in F1, for which he won three times last year. And if it speaks of com­mend­able am­bi­tion it also ex­poses the al­most in­sur­mount­able chal­lenge ahead – one which any team-mate of Lewis Hamil­ton must face: beat­ing him. Hos­til­i­ties thereto haven’t quite yet com­menced – though they very soon will. It’s launch day to­mor­row and Bot­tas will be first to drive the W09. Af­ter that it’s test­ing, rac­ing, fight­ing.

Some time af­ter 6pm, both driv­ers melt into the night in chauf­feured limos, as the still-har­dat-it worker bees re­main glued to lap­tops and tablets. This exit-stage-right of the lead play­ers is planned, nat­u­rally: driv­ers need R&R; their sup­port­ing cast must con­tinue to en­sure that the show goes on.

So when the first W09 fires up shortly af­ter 9am on 22 Fe­bru­ary, 2018, and Bot­tas heads out for the in­stall laps of a barely-above-freez­ing Sil­ver­stone, it’s no sur­prise that Mercedes’ so­cial ac­counts are primed and ready – as are the nearly 200 me­dia as­sem­bled above the garages in the Sil­ver­stone Wing.

As with so much of the lat­ter-day Mercedes F1 en­gage­ment, ef­fec­tive de­liv­ery of a brief has been made to look easy. And therein, per­haps, lies the se­cret of their suc­cess.

Past ti­tle-win­ning ma­chines All smiles be­tween the driv­ers

“So whad­dya think, Lewis?” Bot­tas awaits first fire-up

Me­dia briefly aligned pre-launch

It’s ‘hero’ time for Lewis

New kit part­ner = new pics

New hel­mets are on dis­play too

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