In pursuit of perfection: A behind-the-scenes tour of the Mercedes factory

Sam Cooper
Mercedes factory tour. Brackley, September 2022.

If there was one term to describe a visit to the factory that houses the Mercedes F1 team, it is ‘no stone left unturned.’

The Mercedes factory, which is home to the last eight Constructors’ titles, is based in Brackley, a town of 15,000 in the English county of Northamptonshire.

30 miles north is the team’s power unit base where the engines are manufactured but, for the most part, everything comes from here.

This part of the country is somewhat of a Formula 1 mecca. The Silverstone circuit is just 13 miles away with Aston Martin based close by. Haas reside 10 miles to the north west while Red Bull’s base is 25 miles to the east.

But it is here, on the third exit of a roundabout shared by a Tesco supermarket, where for the last eight years, near perfection has been created.

I was invited along as part of event with Eight Sleep, a sleep fitness company who have partnered with Mercedes to provide the drivers, as well as the crew, a better night sleep to optimise their performance.

Even before you have passed through the security checkpoint, Mercedes’ immense attention for detail is noticeable.

The road sign, which is usually reserved for simplified drawings of petrol stations and picnic tables, bears the three-pointed star logo that is recognisable across the globe. In the centre of the roundabout is a hedge trimmed to bear the same badge.

The base itself consists of several silver-clad buildings with a car park, which to my surprise featured brands other than Mercedes, separating them.

On the left is the team’s dyno while further down the road is the simulator that Lewis Hamilton and George Russell spend most of their time in when at base.

But for my first stop of the day, it is was to the large building that is home to the wind tunnel but also Mercedes’ hospitality area known as the Silver Arrows lounge.

As you walk up the spiral staircase, Nico Rosberg’s car is hung above you by some presumably very strong wires.

The theatre room at Mercedes' base. Brackley, September 2022.

Upon your entrance into the lounge, Hamilton’s car from the 2020 season sits before you as a reminder of just how enormous the cars were even before the 2022 shake-up.

This particular model, still painted in dust, was only used in one race, the 2020 British Grand Prix in which Hamilton emerged successful.

Behind it, a wall has been replaced by a glass cabinet displaying the various trophies the team had won over the years, a theme that would develop further as the day went on, and every available surface is displaying some kind of car part from the steering wheel to pieces of the engine.

Hamilton’s race suit is hung on the wall and both of the drivers’ helmets form part of the decoration on one of the many bookshelves.

After a visit to the theatre room which would beat many of my local cinemas in London, it was time for the factory tour itself.

Mercedes have gone the extra mile in their pursuit of perfection

If you ever seen a James Bond film, you will no doubt be familiar with the kind of bases the movie’s antagonist resides in.

Polished white walls, machines bigger than most buildings and unnamed workers wandering around in pristine lab coats with one menacing goal in mind.

The Mercedes factory may be lacking the men in white coats and the smell of mischief in the air but Blofeld would not feel out of place if he were forced to call this his home.

The factory itself is at the back of the Brackley base, the furthest possible place from prying eyes. Once you step inside, it is almost like stepping into a zoo.

A Mercedes tyre. Brackley, September 2022.

A white corridor is flanked by glass windows looking into the various departments that exist to create a race winning car.

The first room on the right is home to the carbon fibre team which makes up 80% of the car. Outside there is a shelf displaying various pieces of the car such as part of a front wing which are deceiving to look at.

Having lived in the world and grown used to the weight-size ratio we all abide by, it takes a moment for your brain to adjust as you lift this portion of the wing which is as easy as picking up a few sheets of A4 paper.

Next up is the room where the cars are built and aside from the machine room, which we will come to later, it is perhaps the biggest room in the factory.

The space is divided into three sections, on one side is Hamilton’s team, on the other is Russell’s, and at the back is the legacy department which works on the cars used for extracurricular events.

The Mercedes steering wheel. Brackley, September 2022.

On the day of the visit, the team are preparing to ship the cars out to Singapore so each is in various stages of being dissasembled. Access to the room is restricted to only those with a yellow badge strapped around their arm, as if the cars were in quarantine.

Down the corridor is the testing department or to give it is colloquial term, the ‘Make It or Break It’ department. In here, huge machines have been constructed all with the same purpose. ‘How much pressure can we put on a part before it breaks?’

When you see a car going round the track on any given race day, you will now know every single piece has been tested to extreme lengths to ensure its safety.

We headed to the loudest room in the building, the machine shop where huge devices work all day and all night to create parts and pieces used for the car.

The giant blue machines are twice the height of a human and make any talk under the volume of shouting inaudible.

As we head out of the machine room and our ears readjust, we go towards the more peaceful side of the factory.

The reception is on the ground floor of a spiral staircase and as well as also housing many pieces of memorabilia, Hamilton’s car from the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi race is there with dust and medium tyres still attached.

The side of the Mercedes car. Brackley, September 2022.

Upstairs, you will find Toto Wolff’s office and another floor is the design centre of the team – with a wide-open office plan and dozens of people with several computer screens in front of them working hard on either parts for this year or next year’s car.

To the side is the race support room where 30 engineers gather during a race weekend to assist the on-track team in departments such as strategy and car management.

Each is hooked up with a radio and while this usually remains secret to the team our tour guide informed us that during one season, Renault accidentally broadcast all of their secret info to every other team in the paddock. This being F1, no one told them.

One of the final stops on the tour is one of the newer departments which is the Esports room. With black walls and purple neon strips, the room is every teenager’s dream with six rigs set-up for an optimal gaming experience.

In recent years, Mercedes has expanded their ventures into Esports and now has a driver line-up complete with engineers to assist them.

As we head back to the comfortable surroundings of the lounge, there is just time to stop in one of the most sci-fi rooms there.

Almost hidden away, is a long narrow room that houses a row of printers but there are not the standard ones we all have at home. They use lasers to mould this yellow substance into pieces such as the wheel gun.

The exhaust of the Mercedes car. Brackley, September 2022.

It is truly a sight to see something tangible being made from this off-yellow sludge and if T-1000s ever appear, we will know where they came from.

As we head back out into the imperfect world, the whole factory puts more meaning into whenever a driver has an early crash and immediately apologies to the team back at base.

They will know more than any of us just how much work goes into getting a car ready for a race and how devastating it can be to see that cut short.

The Mercedes factory is nothing short of a work of art. A purpose built centre aimed at towards building perfection, an objective they achieved for eight years running.

The 2022 season may not have panned out as they may have liked but even an afternoon’s glimpse behind-the-scenes gives you the impression that they will not be caught on their heels for long.

The trip was made by Eight Sleep, who have teamed up with Mercedes to provide the team with an optimal sleeping performance. You can find more details on their website https://www.eightsleep.com.

Pictures provided by Chris Smith-Langridge/Eight Sleep.