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COLUMN - PUBLISHED ON JANUARY 17TH 2009
Jonathan Noble Jonathan Noble: Online
Jonathan Noble went to the McLaren launch expecting another standard car unveiling - but came away with a new appreciation for the toil that goes into every F1 design

  By Jonathan Noble
 
 

The cars are cooling in parc ferme, the back slapping is going on down in the pitlane and the drivers, soaked in sweat and champagne after the podium ceremony, begin their post-race media commitments. First comes the unilateral televised press conference for the world to see.

The previous 90 minutes of racing have produced an epic fight; full of drama, daring moves and a tinge of controversy. The world is waiting with baited breath for the men at the heart of the spectacle to give their version of events. Are they happy; angry or disappointed?

The McLaren MP4-24 is unveiled XPB

We never find out. All they want to do is thank the team, from the men on the pitwall to the forgotten workers back at the factory, for their efforts. Cue a collective groan in the media centre, and endless remote controls being hurled at television sets worldwide.

How many times have we all been left just a little frustrated by such a scenario? It's the bane of awards ceremonies and sports press conferences. We don't want these endless thank yous - we want insight and emotion. Even a bit of argy-bargy between rivals would not go amiss.

McLaren's launch of their new car on Friday, however, has changed my view on these comments. It finally hit home to me just why the drivers are always so keen to thank their teams at every opportunity.

Even for those who follow the sport closely, it's all too easy to see the quest for victory over a grand prix weekend as something that is fought out over three days of action. Yet, what we see at the race track is only a tiny snapshot of the work and efforts that have gone into getting the cars there. We all know that there are a team of workers labouring away behind the scenes to get these cars ready, but until you get inside the factory and up close to these anonymous heroes, seeing them hard at work first hand, you cannot really appreciate just how much toil has gone on.

In today's cost-cutting climate, McLaren had chosen to unveil their MP4-24 at the McLaren Technology Centre. But more than just a simple unveiling and a few quotes from the chiefs and drivers, the team had made special arrangements for factory tours beforehand.

I had been on a tour many years ago, just after the MTC had opened, as Ron Dennis proudly talked about the layout, the facility and his vision for the future of the team. It was an hour's walk around that left you in wonderment about the amazing edifice on the outskirts of Woking.

The McLaren Technology Centre

The pre-launch factory tour on Friday was very different. Dennis himself, for one, was far away in his inner sanctum, preparing to tell the world about his imminent standing down as team principal.

This time there was no talk about the technical genius of the factory. Instead this tour was about the work and effort that go into creating a car. From the wind tunnel, to the static testing rigs, to the race bays, to the auto clave facility and then the manufacturing department, there was a never-ending wonderment at the toil and trouble that goes into creating the car.

There were rows of desks filled with uniformed men and women - all tapping away at computer screens or working on tiny components that go on the car. From microchip boards, to suspension wishbones, to carbon fibre layering, to electrical wires - the effort was all too clear to see. And at times, the amount of effort put in, even for the most basic of parts, took you aback.

Take the chassis tub for example. As well as the months spent conceptualising and designing it, we found out it took 25 days (of 24 hours work) to lay up and produce the carbon fibre chassis tub; before the seven days of manufacturing and preparing the tub for the installation of suspension and other bolt-on parts. Then it would have to be painted before proper assembly and its shipment to the race bays - when finally it will begin to look like a car.

It was no wonder that Dennis often talks about the pride he takes in his team and employees. And little wonder too that in those minutes after Lewis Hamilton has taken his victory, he wants to make a special mention to the men and women back at base who are working tirelessly, away from the spotlight, to help him.

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  ABOUT JONATHAN NOBLE
Jonathan Noble is Group F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT. Having won the prestigious Sir Williams Lyons Award for young journalists in 1991, he started his career working for news agency Collings Sport.

Working across a number of sports, including motor racing, football and rugby, he was a contributor to a wide range of leading national and international publications including Reuters, the Press Association, the Daily Telegraph and The Independent.

He accepted a job at AUTOSPORT Special Projects at the start of 1999, and a year later became F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT magazine moving across to the website at the end of 2004.
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