From concept to race track in just eight months. That’s the task that was presented before Ryan Wood and his team at GDS Engineering.
GDS has been manufacturing seamless walling systems for the motorsport industry since 2012. Customers include prestigious teams in series such as Formula E, BTCC, the World Endurance Championship, GT Racing and more.
Formula 1 however is an entirely different arena. The pinnacle of motorsport stretches to every corner of the globe, racing in 22 different countries over the space of nine months. That means each and every team requires six individual and identical sets of equipment to ensure it can be sent out ahead of time.
This is done via sea freight, which is cheap and more environmentally friendly than sending large, bulky items via air freight. The only things a team wants to send via air freight are those that cannot be replicated six times, such as the car itself.
However for Formula 1’s newest team, the Haas F1 Team, that simply wasn’t an option.
Given it’s status as F1’s youngest team and one which operates on a far smaller budget than its rivals, the funds to replicate its equipment six times over simply haven’t been there, meaning the team has had to send not only its cars, but its entire garage and hospitality set up via air freight to all 23 races.
This has been the case since the team began operating back in 2015. This places a huge strain on the team, which unlike its rivals, cannot always begin building its garage setup on the Sunday before a grand prix. For example, when there’s a back-to-back event, Haas must wait until after the race to pack down its equipment on the Sunday night, freight it to the next destination and only then can they begin building, which often meant they would be forced to build on Tuesday or even Wednesday – when rival teams are already working on their cars.
Last October, the team approached GDS Engineering and tasked the Brackley-based company with designing an all-new garage setup, consisting of what’s known as the ‘Front of House’ – i.e. the main garage you see on TV, as well as its ‘Back of House’ garage – a lot of which you don’t see apart from the paddock facing entrance and its hospitality suite.
“Those lucky enough to have the opportunity to access a fully functioning F1 garage during a race weekend will know just what goes into them. It’s not always apparent from TV just how massive they are and what’s going on behind the scenes,” explained GDS’ production director, Ryan Wood.
“They’re a warren run of rooms, all hidden away from prying eyes. There’s a dedicated tyre area, an engineer’s area, a mini repair shop, catering facilities, etc, all of which need to be separate from one another and that’s where GDS walling comes into play.
“Our MaxiPremium walling – the original seamless system – can be erected in minutes, with an entire garage consisting of over 100 panels, put up by just two or three people in a couple of hours. Taking it down is even quicker,” he added.
Ryan headed up the entire project with his team at GDS, which has rapidly expanded, relocated to new premises and invested in new machinery to cope with the scale of the project. Although GDS has plenty of experience in F1, supplying the Williams F1 Team, FIA and Pirelli with walling systems, the Haas project dwarfed these.
“On the face of it, a garage looks quite simple. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. These have to travel from race to race, pack down in hours and most importantly work for the team. There’s a lot to take into account when designing something like this from scratch.
“Not only is there the garage itself, but the overhead pods which give life to the car, a central island for the engineers to operate from, a paddock facing entrance, radio walls to display, store and charge almost 100 headsets, garage catering solutions, hospitality walling and so much more. This then has to be repeated six times over!”
According to Haas, shifting all this to sea freight will save roughly 4T of equipment being flown around the world, which is not only environmentally friendlier, but will save the team millions per season – in fact it’s estimated the entire project will pay for itself in 12-18 months.
It’s this fact that meant GDS were asked to deliver the project in record time. Something on this scale would normally require 6 months of development work, a further 6-8 months of production followed by weeks of testing before it’s rolled out.
That 16-week lead-time had to be slashed in half to just eight. In fact, the first deliveries to Haas took place after just 7 weeks, with the team receiving their first back of house and hospitality sets in December to make the sea freight deadline for the Australian Grand Prix.
It was the front of house system – GDS Engineering’s first in F1 – that presented the biggest obstacles. An entirely new concept had to be designed in just a handful of months.
“We wanted to deliver something to Haas that wasn’t just a copy and paste of their old garage or something we’d done in the past. This needed to have that wow factor, but most importantly it needed to be practical. With a build target of just 3-4 hours from rolling out of the container at the track to a fully functioning F1 garage meant we had to completely rethink our system.
“We opted for a modular system which meant large parts were already assembled and could just be wheeled into place,” Ryan explained.
“We worked with a company local to us, Dura, to design custom toolboxes and cabinets for Haas which would contain everything the team could need, from servers to fuel lines, power outputs to data cables and a whole lot more.
“We had to engage with their marketing department to understand their needs. This resulted in the integration of an almost five-metre seamless screen on each side of the garage to display various content from sponsors, data feeds and race footage.”
The entire project has been a steep learning curve for everyone at GDS, but that hard work and dedication paid off at the weekend, when the front of house made its debut at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Although the project remains ongoing, with further developments taking place through to the end of the season, Haas remain on target to get everything into sea freight before the first race of 2024 in record time.