Peak work in the factory enstone: in a few hours the containers that will arrive by air to Bahrain with the Alpine A523 ready to assemble. “If the engineers answer you with a scowl, that’s why,” they warn before the visit. A F1 it is a symphony orchestra made up of 13,000 components manufactured by hand in a plant like this, and which requires 400,000 hours of work, some 16,000 digital sketches and 18 months in advance before reaching the asphalt. AS visits Alpine’s Oxford facility to learn how the 895 employees (13.6% are women) design, manufacture, assemble, ship and fine-tune every millimeter that makes up the A523.
Design. The chassis is the responsibility of Enstone (the engine falls to another independent factory, so Renaultin Viry Chatillon). There the plans of the current car come together with the evolutions and improvements planned for each part of the season (with a margin of about three races). Parts are tested using CFD (computational fluid dynamics), a kind of virtual wind tunnel; or in the real tunnel with a scale model of 60% of the real size. Both systems are limited by the regulations of the FIA.
Production. In Alpine Around 90% of the chassis parts are manufactured, the rest are outsourced on an as-needed basis. Some elements are built by hand because they demand maximum precision. For example, radiators or exhausts. Two workers will have one ready in a day and a half, although any mistake will result in loss of power or even abandonment. The rest of the pieces are divided according to their material: metals (aluminum, titanium…) or composite (carbon fiber), as well as electronics. Any item undergoes extreme quality control before reaching the circuit.
Logistics. The car and all the equipment of the team (including the motorhome) travel to the circuits by air, sea or land. They can arrive at the European races with a fleet of 16 articulated trucks. The garage equipment does travel by ship to other continents because it is cheaper (important in times of spending ceilings). The cars must go by plane to allow them to work until the last moment in the ‘race bay’ of the factory, a kind of permanent box that receives the car on Monday after the Grand Prix and returns it on Thursday night. The shipment of material is as important as human resources: around 90 team members travel to the circuit, including dozens of engineers and mechanics.
In remote. From enstone each track session is followed. The busiest day is Friday, when the specialists in each area (from the brakes to any variable in the settings or the strategies) connect with the circuit through the remote garage. There are 24 positions and after free practice, the engineers analyze all the data they collect from the telemetry in real time. They can listen to conversations on the radio or even intervene. There are more than 200 sensors in each car that make up to 150,000 records per second: speeds, temperatures, pressure, acceleration. From the asphalt they arrive at the factory with a delay of… 0.25 seconds. With all these numbers, problems with the behavior of the car are solved, the driving is refined or the strategy is predicted.
The simulator. It is the most impressive room of the visit: a huge screen that covers 180 degrees, a real chassis that reproduces G forces and a ‘software’ that emulates the surface of all the circuits and the behavior of the car with a level of realism with which You cannot dream of the best of video games. In the simulator they study and predict the behavior of the car to reach the grand prix with advanced work. Before traveling, the starting pilots can stop by to do a session (about eight hours, as if it were a test). During the race weekend, the development driver is there doing ‘dirty work’: for example, he mimics the real set-up and tries variations to try to figure out which set-ups will make the car faster, or how it will behave with a temperature change. On the other side, in the control room, the engineers have the telemetry as if it were a real F1.