How some of the F1 teams are planning staff rotation during 24-race 2023 F1 season

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton with his race engineer Pete Bonnington at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix. Sakhir, March 2022. Staff

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton with his race engineer Pete Bonnington at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix. Sakhir, March 2022.

Senior staff from some of the F1 teams have revealed how staff rotation will be a critical part of planning how to tackle the 24-race calendar in 2023.

F1 is embarking on a record 24-race calendar next season, including a return to China as well as taking in three stops in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, given that almost half the weekends of the year will host a Grand Prix somewhere in the world, the F1 teams are facing the prospect of staff burnout – meaning rotation of crews will be necessary throughout the season.

It’ll be a year of some experimentation for the teams as they figure out the best way to tackle the bursting F1 calendar, with some team representatives discussing the topic of staff rotation during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.

Staff rotation ‘new ground’ for the F1 teams

“Yeah, it’s going to be interesting,” Williams’ chief engineer Dave Robson told the media.

“It’s new ground for all of us. And there are pros and cons to rotating some of the key engineering positions.

“I obviously can’t speak for the other teams but I think we will probably see different approaches. We have introduced some rotation, so you will hear different voices talking to the drivers at different races. We’ve been doing that for the last season and a half in preparation for an extended calendar. And I think with the calendar it’s not just the number of races, it’s the way they’re packed in. So it’s very difficult.

“If you travel to all the races, then you spend very little time in the factory and that’s not very helpful for developing the car. So yeah, I think rotation is probably going to be important for the long term future of the engineering team and the mechanics so I think we will have to get into some rotation, it’s just a matter of how we do it, what’s the most efficient way.”

Red Bull carrying out pit stop practice in Singapore. Marina Bay, September 2022.
Red Bull carrying out pit stop practice in Singapore. Marina Bay, September 2022.

Haas’ head of trackside engineering Ayao Komatsu said the American squad had already begun experimenting with crew rotation as preparation for possible contingency situations during the 2023 season.

“It’s so important to have integration between trackside people and factory-based people as well,” he said.

“If we don’t rotate, trackside people don’t see the factory and then communication becomes an issue. And we’ve started a little bit already this year in certain positions, and then we see the benefit already.

“So we’re going to continue to improve on that as well so more of that, but also at the same time it’s contingency, you know, it’s not very realistic to think that 24 events, if you don’t have any backup personnel, and they can do all 24 races without any illness or whatever.

“So it’s important, both in terms of having that contingency in place so that when something unexpected does happen, we don’t drop the performance at the trackside, but also at the same time just improve communication between trackside and factory and it’s positive. So yeah, we’re definitely looking into a slightly different model next year.”

Mercedes: The challenge will be with race engineers

While the majority of the mechanics and engineering crews can be somewhat interchangeable without affecting the performance on the circuit, Mercedes’ technical director Mike Elliott pointed out that the drivers are likely going to want their usual race engineers around them.

With drivers forming symbiotic relationships with their engineers, such as Lewis Hamilton with Pete Bonnington or Max Verstappen with Gianpiero Lambiase, Elliott said that’s an extra hurdle for the teams to think about.

“I think with the technology we’ve got around us, it’s not like the race engineers couldn’t be involved, they’d just be involved from the factory, for instance, and then at least you’re not doing the flights etc and the jet lag you get coming to places like this,” he said.

“So I think there’s a balance you can strike. I suspect most of the drivers probably want their own race engineers because they’re used to dealing with them, there’s a relationship that happens between the engineer and the driver, which means that you’re picking up on all the signals that are not spoken, you’re able to pick up on the body language and use that to your advantage.

“I think if you’re working with a complete stranger, that’s difficult. And I think it’ll be dependent on the team to work out how they get around that and that’s probably going to mean that whoever the driver’s dealing with is not a new face. It’s somebody they are used to working with.

“I think what’s important is finding that right balance between having people that are fresh and are able to do their job to the best they can do it but also having the continuity you need across engineers. So I think there will be a level of rotation that needs to be put in place and it’ll be different across different roles and probably trying to match that to the needs of the individuals as well.”

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