It’s easy to spot the times when the demands on riders and crew to perform at their best are the most intense, but what about those at the factory who take a more long term ? Jody Egginton, technical director of Scuderia AlphaTauri, reveals his pressure points.
Formula 1 is a circus. This description isn’t always benevolent, but it’s apt: it blows through the city with a lot of fanfare, usually bringing chaos in its (conditioned) wake, thrills a crowd with noise and spectacle, then disappears from the overnight, usually with the promise of being back bigger and better the following year.
The analogy extends to the people: F1 has its track masters and its clowns. It has jugglers, fire-eaters, the occasional human cannonball, and those brave enough to tame wild beasts. There are even guys who spin plates. They are the technical directors.
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The pressure points of a technical director are not like those of the rest of the team because their responsibilities are exercised over larger time scales. On any given day, they could be involved in discussions on current race debriefs from the last race, making decisions on next year’s AT04 and even approving plans for commissioning infrastructure in three or four years. After lunch, they’ll be doing other things…all the time spinning those plates.
Being the technical output decision maker for a technology-enabled organization is a huge responsibility – and that burden of responsibility can be heaviest on a small team. Larger teams have more people and therefore more delegated responsibilities. For example, the technical director of a lead team may leave most race engineering issues to the race director.
A smaller organization faces the same challenges but with fewer staff, and the technical director will be present in all departments. “With the way we’re organized on this team, your fingers are in a lot of pies!” said Egginton.
The team formerly known as Toro Rosso, based just down the road from Imola in the town of Faenza, have every chance this year of recording their best Constructors’ Championship result. The AT03 looks like a very confident rig and in Pierre Gasly the team has a rider who is approaching the top of his game.
This weekend the team has an excellent chance to improve on the seventh and twelfth places of Gasly and his teammate Yuki Tsunoda at Imola last year. And while Egginton may be directly involved in team decision-making this weekend, there’s always another hub to deal with…
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How is the pace different for a technical director compared to your old jobs in race engineering?
As a race engineer or chief engineer, your pressure points rise and fall with the preparation for a Grand Prix. You have one Grand Prix going down and preparing for another. In this work, you are always under a certain basic pressure: it is much more constant. There are peaks though depending on where you are in the development cycle, where you are with formulating the budget and laying out next year’s car.
At this time of year, where is your main focus? Are these upgrades for the AT03 car or have you already turned your attention to 2023?
Both! We already have plans in place for next year and these are subject to constant revision. We also have a good vision of a development plan for this year’s car, but those plans are also changing rapidly because we are learning a lot with the new cars. Maybe something is going better than expected in the wind tunnel or not as well as we hoped, maybe the design office is pushing one project harder than another.
It’s about constantly moving parts with the resources you have, studying the budget to see how many parts you really want to make. It also ties into next year’s car, because as we learn here, we transfer that knowledge in there.
Regarding the allocation of resources, one of your predecessors compared the role of technical director of Faenza to that of being King Solomon: not everyone can have everything they want and you have to decide . Is that how you see it?
It’s pretty accurate! We’re a data-driven organization, but the reality is that decisions have to be made based on what’s going to give us the best performance. What can we do to achieve our short, medium and long term goals? It’s a matter of judgment, because in many cases, no decision is the worst decision.
Inevitably, some people won’t be happy with your decisions, but that comes with the territory. In the end, if the team evolves and the car accelerates, everyone is comfortable. Problems arise if you make those calls and things don’t improve.
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Once you’ve made a tough decision, can you forget about it and move on or does it play in your mind?
It depends on the decision. With some things you may need to reconsider your position and you need to minimize the number of times you disrupt the process. That’s why it’s so important to have a group of experienced technical engineers on the team to work closely with them and close the loop.
I need to understand what happens without micro-management: I shouldn’t try to do their job for them because a) I can’t do it as well as they can and b) it’s pointless. have a structure if you don’t use it.
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I am responsible for vehicle performance, aero, automotive design but I am also responsible for the technical budget and IT. It’s a wide range of topics and it’s interesting and fantastic, but that means the lines of communication have to be kept open – because I’m not an expert in many of these areas. That said, at the end of the day, I am responsible. If the car fails to meet expectations, for whatever reason, the responsibility lies with me!
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We hear about the long delivery times for an F1 car. How long does the design process take? When do you start making decisions? What are the big decisions?
We start with a concept car and a small group of people setting up the car and there’s a loop between that group and the aero department and another between them and our engine partner and so on. The layout moves around but eventually you hit your chassis freeze date and then there comes a point in the wind tunnel where you don’t want to make any major changes to the wheelbase anymore and you start freezing that.
To get to that point, you need to have a good view of the car aerodynamically, you need to have decided on the chassis and wheelbase concepts, and you need to know what you plan for the mass distribution.
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The AT03 chassis release date was intentionally aggressive to give aero guys the maximum amount of time possible. We had a few lines in the sand in May-June last year, then for the chassis in early August just before the summer shutdown. As the second half of the season progresses, you have more lock points for a launch car, launch body, etc.
If you are aggressive on deadlines, it means you have less time to manufacture the part, which means you may have to rely more on outside contractors, which increases your expenses. You have to make those calls and know what the ripple effect is, and I spend a lot of time learning how a decision can impact what we do down the line.
The initial choices are not made by one person – but in our team, the way the team is structured, I own the auto parts and the development budgets. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure the money is spent properly.
There has to be a point in the season when you stop developing the current car. Is it a simple decision? With Pierre Gasly racing very competitively in the top six throughout the second half of last season, it must have been tempting to keep pushing and chasing more glory.
It’s easy to talk about it now but when the journalists of the time asked me, I didn’t want to commit myself to anything! We had a steady stream of updates that we were happy with for just about every race at the start of the year, and then we finished development at the end of June as planned.
It was tough with Pierre riding so well and I had a long internal debate with myself but honestly I was comfortable with the development plan we had in place – I knew we were doing the right thing.
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We often see you on the track. Are you a passive observer or are you still involved in the daily running of the team?
I did fewer races on the track last year, but whether you’re on the track or in the ops room, you’re still on top. The Race Engineering Group and the Vehicle Performance Group report to me and if there’s a call to make, I’m happy to do it if they can’t come to a consensus.
But you employ the smartest people possible and let them do the work. I believe that if you have the right debate, get people working together, and give them the freedom to use their expertise, all that you are – as a CTO – is the glue that holds them together. If you have to keep jumping in, something is wrong, but if I just listen and occasionally make a suggestion in the general discussion, then everything is fine.
For more information on the 2022 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix program, read it for free here