Formula 1 racecar drivers are heroes in the eyes of millions of fans around the world. But behind the scenes is a team of engineers, designers, and production experts relentlessly competing on precision to eke out crucial tenths of a second in racing performance. Here is a look inside in the marketing strategy of the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team’s hightech factory in Hinwil, Switzerland.
“With around 360 employees, we are a mid-size enterprise and, like countless other such firms throughout the world, we compete with large companies,” says Axel Kruse, who has been Operations Director at Sauber Motorsport AG in the tranquil Swiss village of Hinwil since 2005. “At the same time, we’re a high-tech company with extremely fast innovation cycles. The product lifecycle of our vehicles is just eight months, compared to around six years for serial models like the VW Golf. We not only have to bring new racing cars to the track every season, but also optimize them for the track conditions at each of the 21 individual races in the current calendar.”
By relying not just on its innovations but also on their fast and precise implementation, Sauber serves as a blueprint for companies striving to retain their competitive edge.
Sauber Motorsport: Strong partnerships, strong core competences
To survive in this harsh, competitive environment, smaller companies in particular need strong partners and, at the same time, play to their core competences. At the end of 2017, Sauber Motorsport demonstrated once again how it manages both. The Swiss race car engineers not only won over the renowned Alfa Romeo brand as a title sponsor, thanks to their commercial and technical cooperation with Fiat Chrysler, but also gained access to the current development stage of Ferrari’s F1 engine.
By using the most powerful drive and gearbox technology for the new Alfa Romeo Sauber race cars, the engineers were able to trumpet their own strengths shine on the racetrack. For Sauber, however, a partner’s strength is not simply a matter of size. That’s why its engineers work not only with Alfa Romeo and Ferrari specialists when developing and building a new F1 race car, which consists of around 5,000 individual parts; they also collaborate with several smaller partners from the region who meet the racing team’s requirements for flexibility, reliability, premium quality and speed.
Maximum quality and implementation speed thanks to selected suppliers
“Our network of selected suppliers from the region works like clockwork precision, ensuring maximum quality and implementation speed for years,” says Kruse. “In extreme cases, we order a component after closing time and install it the very next morning.” It often suffices, he adds, to provide a design file to produce a finished product using 3-D printing overnight. For the most part, however, Sauber manufactures as many required components as possible in its own race car factory—and all parts relevant to safety, such as the suspension, cockpit, steering column and brake pedal.
Wind tunnel in Hinwil: Headwind becomes tailwind
Although the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team is one of the last purely private teams in the Formula 1 racing circuit, the Swiss contingent consciously doesn’t seek its success as a “satellite team,” which is often entirely dependent on an established racing team. Instead, it relies on its own competence and expertise to compete with the large group teams. One core element of the team’s strategy is its wind tunnel in Hinwil, one of the world’s top F1 facilities. There, Sauber’s aerodynamics experts test results of simulations produced on the company’s own high-performance computers with around 5,800 processors and compare them to models facing wind speeds of 300 km/h. The aim is to achieve the highest possible downforce with minimal drag through a precise positioning of the front and rear wings, thus combining maximum top speeds and high acceleration values with optimum cornering speeds and the shortest possible braking distances. Under extreme racing conditions, it can be decisive for a driver entering a corner, for instance, whether he can hit the brakes a few tenths of a second later than his opponent.
While this is happening, around 500 sensors – not including the equipment in the drive unit – ensure that the engineers at the race can follow the current condition of the vehicle in near real time. Sauber race cars are made of ultralight, high-strength fiber composites that are “baked” in state-of-the-art autoclaves in the Hinwil high-tech factory. The process requires maximum precision. High-tech manufacturing techniques and laser scans by the quality engineers ensure that any necessary deviation between the information in the computer-aided design (CAD) dataset and the finished product is just a few thousandths of a millimeter.