RedBull.com catches up with Infiniti Red Bull Racing Chief designer, Rob Marshall.
Infiniti Red Bull Racing Chief designer Rob Marshall likens parts of his job to being in Alice in Wonderland. We followed him down the rabbit hole…
Red Bull: Rob, a nice simple one to start with – what are your responsibilities in designing the car?
Rob Marshall: It not that simple! Adrian Newey is the chief technical officer. He does a bit of everything. Below Adrian are myself and Peter Prodromou. Prod is head of aerodynamics and responsible for everything in that field and I’m responsible for the mechanical side of the car – but there’s a big interlock: He’ll worry about mechanical stuff, I’ll worry about aerodynamics. While he’s responsible for the aerodynamic shapes, my lot are responsible for turning them into real structures: parts that can be manufactured; that are lightweight; that don’t flap around or fall apart. There’s a constant negotiation between what the aerodynamicists would really like and what we can realistically give them.
RB: Outside your office there’s a very big room full of very clever people – which ones work for you and what are they doing?
RM: There’s a reliability department, a composites group, stress testing, suspension and driver controls design, system design, transmission, hydraulics, car development, KERS development, mechanical develop, R&D test department… I have a flow diagram to keep track of everything…
RB: Does managing take up all of your time or can you still do hands-on design?
RM: Definitely. I try to do as little managing as I can, and concentrate on design. I still sketch in a book or draw on a whiteboard. Then I’ll photograph the sketch and email it to the group responsible with a note saying “can we try one of these.”
RB: Given the nature of F1, that seems a little low-tech…
RM: When you’re thinking about concepts, sketching freehand is much easier than modelling on a computer. When you start using CAD you realise how difficult what you’re trying to do really is. You almost need to bury your head in the sand and draw in simplified form – or you wouldn’t get past step one.
Sketching freehand is much easier than modelling on a computer.
RB: Are you allowed to calm and contemplative when working, or is the job always frantic?
RM: The reliability work tends to be fraught. When you have to fix issues that affect your ability to finish the next race, that’s very immediate. You have to put robust fixes in place, you may not have all the information, you may not have enough time to fix the problem as you’d like and you have to do a job that’s good enough. There’s phone calls at all hours from around the world and a clock ticking. That’s not very relaxed! It is exciting though.
As for conceptual design. That once went in cycles. It would be incredibly hard work from December through to March, and then tail off in the summer. Now it’s hard work all year around. The difference comes when you’re fighting for championships. You reach a point of the season where other people aren’t competing and have the luxury of turning that car off. If you’re in a title fight, effectively you’re fighting on two fronts, working on this year’s car and next. You’ve only got one brain but two cars to design.
RB: What do you do to relax?
RM: Sailing! It’s enough of an intellectual challenge to keep the brain busy – do something too simple and you just start thinking about designing cars again…