Watching a Formula One race in person has always been on my bucket list. I haven’t made it to one yet, but couple of weeks ago at Sonoma Speed Festival, I was finally able to get a small glimpse of what these races are actually like.
By now, I’m certain most of us have watched numerous movies, shows, and clips all over the web about the astronomical effort that goes into getting a F1 race car started, but none of that can prepare you for seeing the action happen up close and personal, as I learned during the event. There were so many moving parts, so many people involved, and all for one driver, in one car, for about 10 to 15 minutes of seat time at the Sonoma event. But man, was it worth it to see.
Before I dive into the experience, let’s find out what make the W07 Hybrid as special as it is.W07/04 Hybrid
Although Mercedes has left an impression in the world of Formula One since its Silver Arrow days, the last decade has proven to be the most prosperous for the Petronas-AMG collaborated team, particularly with the W07/04 Hybrid.
The car was designed and developed in house under the direction of Aldo Costa, Paddy Lowe, Geoff Wills, and Mike Elliot to compete in the 2016 FIA Formula One Championship. The legendary roster of wheelman includes Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (the last car he drove prior to his retirement), and the collaborative efforts between engineers and drivers has resulted in the true pedigree of the car which can be understood through their stats, prior to the W07/04’s retirement in 2016.
The W07 had a total of 19 wins (10 for Hamilton and 9 for Rosberg), 20 pole positions, 33 podium finishes, and a record-breaking 765 constructor championship points in a single season, making it the second most successful Formula One car of all time, behind the 1988 McLaren MP4/4.
What made the car so successful was the integration of regenerative power from the hybrid system, which put power output at around the 900 to 1,000bhp mark, all while weighing in at a mere 1,547.6lb (702kg). Point blank and clear, the car had a clear power advantage over its competitors and that ultimately led to their successful regime.Prep
When I first walked into the air-conditioned garage, I couldn’t see anything other than the backs of hundreds of people surrounding the roped-off cars. Next to the W07/04 was the iconic Silver Arrow, which ill get to in a bit. But seeing them both there, being prepped, side by side with an entire staff of personal running around in organized chaos was godly.
‘This is what millions of dollars’ worth of engineering, staffing, logistics looks like,’ I thought to myself as I squeezed through the crowds to get some photos.
Nearing the back of the garage, I caught a glimpse of Esteban Gutierrez talking to some of their PR people, as he was mentally preparing himself to go out on the track. It’s always weird for me to see people from television in person, probably because I find myself wondering what their lives were like to get them where they are.
I firmly believe these people are gifted, because some of things they can endure are frankly unfathomable, which in turn makes me feel like I’m in the presence of sheer greatness. This specific moment was not any different.
As Gutierrez donned his fireproof suit, the security (yes, Merecedes-AMG has their own damn security) started herding people out of the paddocks to make way for the migration of the car to the line-up.
More than 10 people carefully maneuvered the car on a trolley to the starting grid, while another 20 or so followed with all of the required equipment to get it going.
Once they were finally at the starting grid, the puzzle pieces finally started to come together. The tuning guys plugged up their computers and started running software and numerous programs, monitoring every single corner of the car while the rest of the team took a more hands on approach. The tire guys plugged in the warmers, the body guys began looking over all of the carbon aero and safety equipment, and numerous other Petronas personnel carefully monitored everyone else’s moves to ensure things were going the right way.
They even had an umbrella man to keep Esteban from baking under the harsh Sonoma heat.
It took about 15 minutes or so get the car properly setup and lubricated before they connected the starter to the engine. After the vintage planes roared across the skies, Esteban took off. As he set into the uphill corner, I overheard a few people gossiping over whether he was going to break the existing 1:21.68 record set by Ferrari a few weeks prior, and I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way, the car is outdated.’
Well, it turns out I was a bit too quick in me premature judgments. After numerous practice sessions throughout the weekend, Esteban’s official lap time paved way for the new benchmark at Sonoma, clocking in a staggering 1:15.43. That’s over six seconds faster than Ferrari on the 2.52-mile (4.05km) course.
As Gutierrez pitted, the team surrounded him with excitement visible on all of their faces, as well as his own. I can only imagine how proud he and the team must have been, knowing they knocked out anything that’s ever made way around the Sonoma Raceway. But the excitement didn’t stop there.W154 Silver Arrow
Taking things in the complete opposite direction, the stunningly gorgeous Silver Arrow fired up shortly after they hauled the W07/04 back into the paddocks. The team surrounding this car was not as extravagant as the one prior, but if I’m honest, I kind of preferred it that way. It was kind of a reminder of where the roots of Formula One derive from.
There was no pre-warming of the tires, no computer tuning, not even an umbrella guy. Just a simple engine start, a few minutes of deafening revs, a ton of combustion smoke, following a seemingly slow rev-up as the driver drove away.
Watching the Silver Arrow race around the course almost felt like I was visualizing everything in black and white. This was the last of the pre-war Silver Arrows, and though it has significant racing history to back it, the engineering and design in itself was mesmerizing to say the least.
It was sleek yet massive, loud yet symphonic, and just had an unparalleled level of presence on the track. This is perhaps the most elegant race car I think I’ve ever seen.
Overall, this short-lived firsthand experience within both spectrums of Formula One has allowed me to tick off a couple of boxes on my list of things to see in my lifetime, and I can only hope that manufacturers continue to bring cars like these out to events for everyone to appreciate. It helps us have a better understanding of how technology innovates our future, not only in the realms of racing, but in the automotive sector at large.
This was a huge highlight for Sonoma Speed Festival, and we look forward to seeing more icons trackside next year.