A day in the life of…
Mark Slade, Trackside Engineer
What are you responsible for in your job? What does that involve, what do you do, who with?
I am responsible for the immediate performance of the car on track. I try to ensure it is configured to the optimum specification laid out by the engineering team at the factory and that it meets Nico Hulkenberg’s expectations. To do this, I liaise closely with various departments to collate the information, then brief Nico’s performance engineer, controls engineer and Power Unit engineer, plus the team of mechanics in the garage. And of course Nico himself.
Describe a typical day in your job.
The role is split between a factory and a track day. I don’t spend a huge amount of time at the factory due to the number of races we now have, but when I am there I will either be analysing the last race or looking forward to the next one. This will involve learning about the new specifications of parts and their respective predicted performance gains, how we can make use of them, and then providing the most relevant information to key people to ensure the build of the coming car is as good as possible. I also speak to Nico on a regular basis, keeping him up to speed with the latest developments and our expectations from them. He gives very constructive feedback and his views are always insightful; he is very much part of the race preparation.
When I am trackside, the set-up days are a continuation of the work we do at the factory, but I am much more connected to the garage and the mechanics. On Friday we concentrate on improving performance, learning the tyres, looking at aero performance and assessing a wide range of factors. In essence, we try to put the car into the best window. On Saturday our focus shifts more to qualifying. We assume the car has reached peak performance so we need to work on run timing and putting together the laps at the right time. In the evening our focus switches to strategy, ready for race day. On Sunday we do our final checks and make sure the driver understands the strategy and can deliver in the race.
How did you get the job? What is your background and why did you take this job?
As a kid I loved motorsport. I watched it on TV and from about age 12 I decided it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a race engineer. I grew up in Aberdeen so there seemed to be very few immediate avenues into F1, but I studied mechanical engineering at university and was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Reynard scholarship afterwards. I started in the drawing office, but I was in the right place at the right time and got some good design and trackside experience. Shortly after, I joined McLaren as a design engineer, working on engine integration. Due to my experience on the fuel system and engine management, when refuelling was introduced in 1994 I went trackside, working as a performance engineer. Then I became a race engineer in 1998, working with Mika Hakkinen. He went on to become world champion that year and the following. I stayed with McLaren, working with Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen. I also worked with Adrian Newey, which was a big honour and I learnt a lot from him. I left to join Renault in 2010, but I had an opportunity to work with Mercedes and specifically Michael Schumacher for 2011, which was too tempting to resist. I returned to Renault – or Lotus as it had become – in 2012 to work with Kimi again and have stayed ever since.
What is your most memorable moment…
There have been so many that it’s difficult to choose one, but winning the first world championship in 1998 with Mika was pretty special. I was also partly responsible for the race strategy at McLaren so any wins we got on strategy stick in the mind, for example, David Coulthard’s win in Melbourne in 1997, which was McLaren’s first race win since 1993. I also remember the hard races, such as Abu Dhabi 2012, which we won with Kimi. Equally Abu Dhabi 2017 felt like a championship victory. We threw everything at that race to get a good championship position and even though the result was nothing special, it was enough to get the outcome we wanted.
And the worst part of your job…?
Waiting at Heathrow baggage claim at 1am on a Sunday after the race, then the bus drive back to Enstone. And then getting up at 7am to be at work the day after…
The best part of your job then…
Working with a great team of very motivated people, who have the drive to get the best results we possibly can.
What do you do after work? How do you unwind?
I spend time with my family, I walk my dog and I listen to music. Music plays a big part in my life - I like rock music, in particular Tom Petty.
What do you do before going to sleep?
Watch a bit of TV, have a glass of wine and read a book. The last book I read was Any Human Heart by William Boyd, which was a very well observed and well written study of one man’s life.