A race to the finish
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport uses Spies Hecker products throughout the year. During the high-pressure and tight turnarounds between races, the speed of Spies Hecker comes into its own.
Formula One seasons can be gruelling, and 2017 is no exception: 20 races between March and November, spread across five continents. Despite this relentless schedule, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, the three-time World Constructors’ Champions, have to ensure their Silver Arrows race cars are primed and ready for each Grand Prix weekend.
For the team’s paint shop at their headquarters in Brackley, England, this means intense pressure to turn components around between races to meet freight deadlines. And when speed is required in the paint shop, Andrew Moody, head of paint and graphics at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, knows he can rely on Spies Hecker to deliver.
Spies Hecker, one of the three global refinish brands of Axalta Coating Systems, has been responsible for the paint on the high-impact, instantly-recognisable liveries of the team’s race cars for the past three years, including the cars of their triple-winning championship success.
After each Grand Prix, components are sent back to Brackley by truck or by air freight, depending on where the race is. Before arriving at the paint shop, every safety-critical component – nearly everything on the cars except aerodynamic or cosmetic components – is immediately sent through the ‘service’ process. Here, the components go through a rigorous progression of scanning, testing and x-raying to ensure there is no damage or wear that could affect the car at the next race. If passed, the components are then sent to the paint shop – this can be as late as Wednesday after the race. This only leaves Moody, and his team of 15 staff, three days to prepare the components, ready for the cars to be built on the Monday so they can be shipped back out in time for the next race weekend.
Moody explained, ‘Two weeks between races may seem like a long time, but in reality, it’s not. And when the races are on consecutive weekends, like we had with the Austrian and the British races recently, that entire process is compressed even further. This year we had the components back on Tuesday and we had to have everything ready by Thursday so the cars could be built in time for Friday’s practice sessions at Silverstone. Speed and accuracy were essential.’
‘It takes about 14 hours to paint the front wing, which is the most time-intensive component,’ said Moody. ‘The reliability we get with Spies Hecker throughout the season is great, but it is the speed of its products that is particularly vital because we don’t have time to accept anything less than perfect.’ The paint shop uses a variety of Spies Hecker products on the team’s race cars.
Moody said, ‘When time is against us, we use Permasolid HS Speed Clear Coat 8800 on parts we need to get done and dried quickly. Ideally we try to turn each component round in a day to the clear coat stage. When time is less of an issue, we use Permasolid HS Optimum Plus Clear Coat 8650, which is a hugely reliable clearcoat.’
But it is not just the pressure of the turnaround times that Moody and his team have to face between races. The components also change shape.
Moody explained, ‘The shape of the car is constantly changing. Some race tracks require a high downforce set-up, others medium or low downforce, so we have to adapt to different shaped components all the time. Before some races, the team may also introduce aerodynamic upgrades, and regardless of whether they are small or large, they will also add to the time pressure and pose the same challenges for my team.’
Those changes also have a big bearing on the livery, which has to look identical at every race. ‘A partner’s logo can’t appear smaller just because the size of a component has changed, so we have to take all that into account in a very short timeframe,’ added Moody.
To further complicate matters, the livery’s complex lines, stripes and spark effects run across multiple components. The 2017 Silver Arrows livery comprises 13 colours, none of which are commercially available: five shades of green, three shades of blue, four shades of graphite silver, and the main colour named Stirling Silver after Sir Stirling Moss who drove for Mercedes in 1955. This complexity means that it is essential that the design on every interchangeable component matches up with the adjacent panels perfectly in terms of placement, size, shape, colour and shading. And this is no easy task for the painters in the spray booth.
Moody explained, ‘We work with specially built jigs, which are essentially dummy parts that allow us to reproduce each individual component accurately in terms of its size and shape, and most vitally, also the colours, lines, shading and design. We are constantly creating new jigs as the cars evolve over the season. It is quite complicated and intricate to spray three panels that come together with multiple lines crossing the joins, in different colours and shading, and to get it right. This is where Permahyd Hi-TEC 480 really helps us as it allows us to mask directly after flash-off.’
Moody’s team works as quickly and efficiently as the Formula One cars they paint. In addition to all the work with the current 2017 race cars, they also have to prepare show cars, cars for testing, as well as paint everything from grid trollies and water bottles, to the engineering station on the pit wall and garage and hospitality boards.
With a vast amount of experience, the team meets the persistent challenges it faces throughout the season. But the worst part? ‘Knowing the components are in the factory and waiting for them to get through service, so we can start work on them. At least we can be confident that once we get them, we have the products and skills to allow us to turn things around quickly,’ said Moody.