F1 is a precision sport and that goes all they way down to the set-up of the garages, with teams laying out their working areas to the same specification for every race weekend, wherever in the world they are.
Races can be won and lost in an instant and this careful organisation not only ensures mechanics know exactly where to get the tools they want whenever they need, it can also save crucial seconds in race-critical situations.
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How many people does it take to build an F1 garage?
Around 20 people are involved in building an F1 garage at every race, arriving well before the rest of the crew to unpack huge shipping containers full of the temporary boarding and equipment required to turn a bare garage into a home.
Venues provide a minimum garage width but some are wider than others and often locations for electrical sockets and services may differ, or physical pillars may be in the way.
The teams create bespoke layouts with movable panelling to make it feel the same every time. The larger garages simply give a bit more space to manoeuvre and the boarding is designed to expand or contract depending on the venue.
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11, leaves the garage
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
How are the garages assigned?
Teams are typically allotted slots along the pitlane in the order of how they finished the previous season’s constructors’ championship, although that is sometimes changed to help fans see the bigger teams better.
There is no set approach to which driver goes on which side in a team’s garage and cars can sometimes be seen to have swapped around for different events, depending on what side is most easy to exit from.
When is the garage built?
Depending on the venue and the position of the race in the calendar schedule, the garage set-up team either arrives on the Monday before the race or even earlier, on the Friday preceding the week of the event.
There are five sets of garage panelling and internal equipment, with different sets sea-freighted around the world for different races. Other kit goes by air between races, arriving on the Tuesday, and there are also six trucks full of gear.
Every case of sea freight is carefully marked, with information explaining the set it came from, the specific box number and a full list of what it contains. Some teams even put a photo on the outside to visually show what is in it.
Before the set-up team even gets to the race they will already have sent in an external contractor to paint or pour a fresh floor, so that the inside of the garage is as smooth and clean as possible.
Once the team arrives, the race team coordinator is in charge of the build, with garage technicians leading a set-up team that typically includes specialists for pit equipment, fuel bowsers, tyres and other areas.
The job begins by laying out the wall panels, stickering the floor and hooking up the services such as electricity and hydraulic lines. This is all planned out with the ‘datum point’ as the front of the garage.
The depth of the boarding in the visible front section of the garage is fixed, based on a need to work on the car fully undercover, with enough space at the front to remove a front nose and enough at the back to fit a starter motor.
Once the set-up is done, the team does not just down tools. They will continually clean and tidy the area, while many are also involved in jobs such as fuel filling, tyre preparation and even part of the pit stop crew.
After the race – or sometimes even before – the pack-down begins in earnest and typically the entire garage is packed back away and ready for transportation within seven hours of the chequered flag.
Mick Schumacher, Haas F1 in the garage
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
What is the layout at the front of the garage?
The side and rear of the garage are lined with walls, which will typically have been carefully designed with team logos and branding, maximising sponsor visibility and also giving the garage its personality.
Working units are then fitted along the walls, giving mechanics easy access to tool drawers as well as housings for in-garage wheel guns. The units also provide clear work surfaces and viewing monitors are installed on the walls.
The car is designed with a minimal variety of fixings, so the drawers need only contain a small amount of tools – small spanners, a few socket sizes, pliers and screwdrivers – and all must be accounted for before the car leaves the garage.
Overhead, a huge modular gantry is fitted to hang the lighting, pneumatic air lines, air extraction system, a driver monitor and power sockets. It also houses the umbilical cord, which gets plugged into the car whenever it is in the garage.
This cord is possibly the most important item in the garage. It provides a direct link between the car and the data servers, which are in turn often connected to an engineers’ workstation at the centre of the garage.
Finally, most garages have a viewing area to the rear, allowing visitors to get in for a glimpse of the team working on the car whilst remaining out of the way in a safe location.
This area is usually fitted with timing monitors and communications attachment panels, so the VIPs can plug in headsets and listen in to the team radio and also to insight from the hospitality team.
Karel Loos, Alpine F1 race engineer and Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1
Photo by: Alpine
What is on the engineers’ workstation?
Teams manage their set-ups differently, but typically the workstation is for the key personnel working on the car, when they are not out on pit lane. This includes the team manager and the two car crews.
The crews that sit along this workstation include race engineers, performance engineers, aerodynamics engineers, a tyre engineer and a person in charge of engine management, start-up and operation.
The workstation itself contains monitors that can provide huge numbers of data feeds, with most engineers viewing the top-level telemetry information to monitor for performance and reliability,
What is in the back of the garage?
The back and sides of the garage are actually way bigger than the visible front section – and they are the hub of strategy and logistics. This includes everything from racks of headsets and data-logging systems to spare parts and storage bins.
There is a full composite workshop, which contains spare wings, floors and bodywork. This area is also where damaged carbon fibre parts of the car are taken for repair throughout the race weekend.
There is a huge spares section, as teams are permitted to have fully built-up rear ends, together with extra gearboxes, and there is also as a separate engine room for spare power units and components.
A lubricant analysis lab is also on site, allowing teams to check for vital early warning signs of damage using a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and other tools to evaluate trace elements in engine oil samples.
Last but not least, of course, is the fridge, kettle, coffee machine and snack table – for times when a quick feed is needed on the run and there is no time to head across the paddock to the team motorhome.
The rear area has more flexibility in set-up than the front, but while lay-outs often need to change to suit the space, the different sections must still be kept in familiar positions to optimise the efficiency of operations.
F1 trucks in the paddock
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
What’s in the paddock?
At the European ‘drive-to’ races, the trucks – which store extra tools and the ‘office-on-wheels’ – are parked directly behind the garages and the tyre stacks in their temperature-controlled blankets are housed between them.
At overseas races, teams operate from purpose-built permanent buildings so the tyre stacks and extra tools and test benches are either squeezed into the garage itself or housed beneath a temporary extension.
Behind the trucks is a ‘mingling’ space, only accessible with a team, official or media pass, and the famous ‘motor homes’ – which were once literally buses with awnings but are now mammoth constructions in their own right.
These motorhomes are carried in pieces to races on up to five different trucks and, like the garages, their set-up is run by dedicated teams who also arrive days in advance.
The motorhomes – or as Red Bull call theirs, the ‘Energy Station’ – typically have a central dining area laid out between vehicles on either side that house offices and even driver massage areas.
This massive behind the scenes effort may not directly win races, but the attention to detail in creating the right atmosphere to go racing can often pay dividends in the end.