How An Against The Odds Rebuild Happened In Hungary
Following a reconnaissance-lap crash, Max’s crew had a desperate race against the odds to rebuild his car ahead of the race. They completed the job with 25 seconds to spare. This is how it happened.
At the best of times, it’s gut-wrenching seeing the car in the wall – and the lap-to-grid isn’t the best of times. Once it’s clear the driver is alright, thoughts turn to a wasted weekend. All that hard work and effort comes to naught if the driver can’t take the start. Sometimes, though, you get lucky. That happened to us on Sunday – albeit with the sort of luck you make for yourself.
In tricky conditions, Max locked-up and slid off into the tyre barriers at turn 12 on his way to the grid. There’s a moment of horror for the members of the crew still in the garage, watching on the monitors, and then, when Max gets going again, limping around with his front left wheel wobbling along at a drunken angle, there’s an incredible surge of activity – and also a little bit of hope that this may turn out alright.
I’ll admit, I thought the race was over – but I managed to reverse the car, get it out, and get going again.
“Basically, I locked up. I came off the brakes, tried to brake again, locked again and just went straight on,” recalls Max. “I couldn’t get out of it, no matter what I did, and the car went straight on into the wall. I’ll admit, I thought the race was over – but I managed to reverse the car, get it out, and get going again. We have a ‘never give up’ mentality – and the plan then was to bring the car to the grid and see what happens.”
At other circuits, Max may have gone directly back to the pits, in the hope of a more controlled repair process and a pit lane start – but at the Hungaroring, where track position is vital, the decision was taken to send him to his grid slot and assess the situation there. It didn't look good.
“I think Max went off three times on that lap to the grid and obviously the third one looked pretty terminal,” recalls Christian Horner. “We could immediately see that it looked like the track rod and certainly the push-rod was broken – the big question was had it done the wishbone as well? That would have been game-over. We decided to drive the car to the grid and do our best to repair the car there. The mechanics did an unbelievable job. What would usually take an hour and a half, they did in 20 minutes and completed with 25 seconds to go. It was great for them today because without them, that result wouldn’t have been possible.”
The Team’s Chief Mechanic grins at the suggestion of replacing a corner taking 90 minutes. That might be the case during a factory build, but with a hustle on in the garage, the crew could get through it in half that. “I’d say in the region of 40-45 minutes, maybe. But we only had 20 minutes and there was potential that we wouldn’t make the start of the race. We cut it fairly fine.”
The rules of the 2020 season weren’t helping Max’s crew in Hungary. Instead of the pit lane opening the usual 40 minutes before the scheduled time of the formation lap, this year that’s been cut to 30 minutes. Also, the first set of race tyres have to be fitted with five minutes to go, rather than the usual three, at which point the bulk of the crew have to depart the grid. With Max having left the garage when the track opened, that didn’t leave the crew much time to affect a repair.
The first problem was getting the car into its grid position. “We normally put it on skates at the back of the grid and skate it through to its position – but with no front wing, we couldn’t jack the car up so that was impossible to do, so we decided to push it. At that point we could assess the damage and saw the track rod was broken and the front-left push-rod was gone as well. I was on the radio, trying to get some spares to the grid slot to meet us there, and then it was effectively all hands on deck, trying as hard as we could to get it repaired in time.”
The social distancing rules for 2020 have cut the numbers of personnel allowed on the grid. Not so much to allow greater separation on the grid itself, but to ease congestion when the crews all thunder back into the pit lane shortly before the start, through the very limited number of gaps in the pit wall.
Where it was tricky was getting spare parts from the back of the garage onto the grid.
“Having fewer people on the grid itself didn’t impact the work because you can only get a certain number of people around the car and we maximised that – but where it was tricky was getting spare parts from the back of the garage onto the grid. In more normal circumstances, we would have people in the garage with grid passes, able to run out with parts. Without those available, we had to set up a ferry system, with people running to the gate and passing parts across to one of the crew already on the grid. There was a very busy few minutes of getting that moving – but the communications were good and it all got done.”
At this point, Max has jumped out of the car and had gone off to do the usual things the drivers do after driving to the grid. There’s a ceremonial role with the national anthem, a final discussion with his race engineer and perhaps a couple of minutes to gather his thoughts.
“I was very calm,” recalls Max. “I was thinking: ‘let’s see if they make it.’ If they don’t, then that’s it, race over and a whole disappointing weekend has been completed. But they did an amazing job, and actually, that got me fired up, eager to get back in the car and show them that the effort was not for nothing.”
Communication is one of our strong points, and we were well-prepared for what needed to be done.
“We were working very well as a team,” the Chief Mechanic recalls. “It came together fast because communication was good over the radio and everything we needed was there to hand within a matter of minutes. It isn’t necessarily something that’s rehearsed – but communication is one of our strong points, and we were well-prepared for what needed to be done.
“From my point of view, seeing the car with the wheels on with four minutes to go, and the guys back to their normal positions and relaxed, that was a relief. Actually, seeing the car leave the grid slot and then going through the first corner on the warm-up lap, with the driver saying everything is fine, that was an even bigger relief. And then he had a great start as well – and it got better and better from there really. It made it all worth it in the end.”
Rebuilding the front-left corner was only part of the job. The crew on the grid have a range of other things to do as well. They have their normal pre-race procedures – and, given the knock the car had taken, they were also X-Raying components that appeared undamaged. They also had to do the fine-tuning to the steering and suspension geometry, albeit without the usual array of precision tools that the luxuries of time and a level garage floor allow.
“We knew it was safe – but we also knew it wasn’t going to be ideal,” says Christian. “But Max didn’t report any issues at all with the car pulling to one side or anything like that, which was very good news.
It was amazing work from the crew – they rushed back in, got themselves composed and were able to do a two-second pit stop.
“It was amazing work from the crew – but then they rushed back in, got themselves composed and just a couple of minutes later were able to do a two-second pit stop. They’ve been absolutely phenomenal this weekend. Max paid them back in the best possible way with a podium finish – but he owes it to them because the result is very much down to the work done on the grid.”
“The podium is a reward for all the effort the guys have put in. Over the last three weeks really, and particularly this weekend because we’d had a pretty tough one up until Sunday.”
Max summed it up rather more succinctly on his slow-down lap, having finished P2. “The mechanics saved the day. You guys are legends! Thank you so much.”