Almost a third of Formula 1’s technical directors are French. How to explain this “French touch” in a fundamentally British sport?
At the head of the technical department of their respective teams, French engineers are actively involved in the success of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
As illustrated in the slideshow above, Pierre Waché (Red Bull), François-Xavier Demaison (Williams) and Jan Monchaux (Alfa Romeo) hold the coveted position of technical director. Although his compatriots Loïc Serra (Mercedes) and David Sanchez (Ferrari) are not in the strict sense, they occupy very high positions in the hierarchy (the former is the director of performance, the latter the chief engineer in charge of the concept of the car). ).
In the army of engineers that make up a large team, where twenty nationalities are discussed, how can this strong French representation be explained?
Among the many factors that are taken into account, the quality of the engineering and aeronautical schools of the Republic is not the least. Many have trained F1 engineers: SupAéro (Monchaux), ESTACA (Demaison, Laurent Mekies, Frédéric Vasseur), ENSMA (Sanchez), INPL (Waché). More specifically, the excellence of the fluid mechanics training provided in France is appreciated at a time when technical directors are often trained as aerodynamicists.
“The presence of aerodynamicists at the head of the technical departments is also explained by the fact that we are insatiable, always looking for challenges, never satisfied because we can always do better”. explain to F1i Franco-German Jan Monchaux.
“The rhythm of aerodynamics is different. The car presented in February was frozen in December, and the aero is working at that time in races 3, 4 or 5. Given the expectations of the F1 system, which calls for the aero to add performance ideally in all careers (if anything much more than the other key departments), we always want to do better. However, you have to admit that aerodynamic changes are generally easier to implement, because they rarely challenge the topology of the car during the season.”
“The aerodynamics never stand still… Maybe they are indispensable features for the technical director, who also cannot be completely satisfied and has to make sure that the team has a similar approach.”
Symbol of this excellence, the poaching of the head of aerodynamics of Mercedes Éric Blandin (passed by Ferrari and Red Bull) by Aston Martin.
Back then, although less true today, the involvement of a major tire manufacturer in motorsport has allowed dozens of engineers to gain rare experience in a highly sought-after field in Grand Prix racing.
“Rock [Waché] and I, says Loïc Serra, we come from the Michelin school, which trained us. The interaction between the tire and the track is not taught in school, we had the opportunity to learn it at Michelin.”
Far from being limited to the design of F1 cars, French technical excellence is found in the operation of Grand Prix racing cars.
At Ferrari, Laurent Mekies is the sporting director, while Guillaume Roquelin (known as “Rocky”) has long been Red Bull’s chief circuit engineer. At AlphaTauri, Guillaume Dezoteux holds the position of Head of Vehicle Performance. Among the track engineers currently attached to a driver, we can also mention Julien Simon-Chautemps (who supervised Kimi Räikkönen until last year), Pierre Hamelin (Pierre Gasly), Gaëtan Jego (Nicholas Latifi), etc. And if we include engine manufacturers, the list goes on.
In short, even if it is viscerally British, Formula 1 also runs on tricolor petrol!