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Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin

F1 Insight: Engineering the win with Silver Arrows and Andrew Shovlin

May 242018

At first glance the world of Formula One can be dazzling. A little like being caught in a spotlight. The speed, the glamour, the world stage; it all makes for a heady mix of competition and pressure, where highly focused athletes push some of the world’s fastest and most expensive machines to the absolute edge of their performance.

Look beyond the cockpit and podiums though, and you’ll discover a world shrouded in secrecy, along with enough technology to put a decent movie villain to shame. The panels of engineers and analysts crammed into each of the ten competing team’s pit garages are a direct result of the pressure F1 has cooked up in the race to get to the front of the grid.

Providing the crucial link between each driver’s 200mph office, and the back rooms of genius-level minds in the paddock, are the race engineers sitting in the garage. At Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, this group is led by Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin.

Affectionately known as ‘Shov’ to his team-mates, Shovlin has a 19-year F1 career under his belt to date. While you might not instantly know the name, you might possibly recognize his voice on the pit radio. Shovlin rose to prominence when he race engineered Jenson Button to the 2009 Drivers’ championship with Brawn GP; and then later worked with seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher as his race engineer in 2010.

Now overseeing the might of the team’s race engineering department at the factory, and at the track on race weekends, the likable 44-year-old Englishman is a key player in coordinating Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ current, and continued, success on track.

“Day to day I run the race engineering department in the team, but at the track I’ve got slightly wider responsibility for all the other groups that feed into the performance of the cars,” explains Shovlin. “That means having an awareness of how things change around you and how you coordinate everyone’s effort to result in staying ahead of the competition. We haven’t gone into any of the races this season so far knowing who will win, and you often get well into the race distance and still don’t know who will win; that is very exciting.


“At the same time you try to force the competition into a mistake while trying to run the perfect race yourself, which brings huge pressure. The thrill of winning a race which is wide open, is more than the thrill of winning a race that you have controlled from start to finish.”


As you’d expect that’s no simple task. Aside from the fact that the team carry the enviable accolade of being the most successful team of the hybrid F1 era – having scored an unmatched four consecutive Constructors’ and Drivers’ championships since 2014, along with 65 wins from 84 races in the process. The current car; the efficaciously named – Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ - has big wheel-tracks to fill. And that brings yet more pressure to stay cool, and get things right.


“During the year it’s a constant process of analyzing the race you have just been to, or preparing for the race you are about to go to,” continues Shovlin. “While there is a lot of simulation work that will take place two to three weeks before a race, things really begin to pick up on the Monday before a Grand Prix. We will have preliminary set ups and plans in place for our pre-event meeting on the Tuesday which will involve about 20 engineers. This will set the focus for the weekend and highlight what problems we need to solve or where we need particular attention.


“After that, we’ll travel out and get to the track on Thursday morning usually, by which time the cars will be reasonably finished in the pit garages. The drivers will normally be in the factory between every race too – so when we all gather at the track on Thursday, the second round of meetings can go ahead.


“Having the drivers understand the particular challenges of the weekend coming up allows them to get the most from their sessions on track. This year you can win or lose a race by missing something by a few hundredths of a second in any area. So at present the mindset is that unless you get everything absolutely right, you are not going to beat Ferrari or Red Bull. The difference between being on the front row or the third row is only a couple of tenths at most.”


Understandably then, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas need calm and collected voices to help them control the plethora of in-car systems, fathom what the team needs them to do, and of course keep nailing those fast lap times.

“You need to be very straight with the driver over the radio, and at the same time know what they want. Lewis likes to know more about what is going on around him, whereas with Valtteri there is less of that. Of course every driver does need an engineer that is calm. Someone who is able to think through scenarios, and come up with a solution that is the least risk. It’s very hard to do that if you are in a blind panic!


“Engineers learn how to keep themselves calm under pressure. Once you’ve done a few hundred races it becomes relatively easy. Believe it or not, the race situation becomes like an everyday work day. You also rely on the rest of the team to not panic when something goes wrong. For example if a pit stop doesn’t go to plan, then you trust your team mates to stay composed and recover the situation”


In a sport where almost everything can be calculated however, sometimes it can just come down to playing the odds. “You do have occasions where you get complete systems failure, and all you can see are the cars going past the pit wall. You just need to stay calm, but thankfully these instances are few and far between. What we have more often is a situation where you have to make a call that is more of a 50/50 risk.


“Races like Baku where the right decision depends on the future – for example whether there will be a Safety Car or not. And in that situation even when you have the probability in front of you - and it’s exactly 50/50 - you just can’t be absolutely sure!”


With the first handful of races already consigned to the history books, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport heads to the next race, hosted on the glittering streets of Monte Carlo, in trademark style. Even with a 26-point lead in the Constructors’ standings over rivals Ferrari, and current first (Lewis) and third (Valtteri) places in the Drivers’ standings belonging to them, it’s still all to play for. After all competition and racing is what draws every team member to F1.


“Formula One is just a fantastic place to become an engineer – it’s exciting, and fast paced. The challenge that we are facing this year is so tough, that you kind of forget about the glamorous side of the sport, it just becomes about the car, the driver, and the racing; which is what we love about the sport and why we got into Formula One in the first place.”