Mark Luckett is the Chief Mechanic of the Race Support Team (RST) at BWT Alpine F1 Team. Overseeing the team’s past cars including Alpine’s A521 and Lotus’ E20, which are used in the current Young Driver Test programme alongside various marketing events throughout the season, Mark’s role involves high organisation, preplanning and coordination. His career with the BWT Alpine Formula 1 Team spans over two decades, including a large period of time on the Race Team between 2005-2009 when Enstone won back-to-back championships under its Renault guise. In his current position as Chief Mechanic of the RST Mark focuses his years of experience on helping to cultivate the latest and greatest drivers and engineers of Enstone.
Arriving at the BWT Alpine F1 Team factory Mark starts his day checking his emails and Microsoft Teams messages, catching up on any updates from the overnight shift, and preparing his job list for the day ahead. His current focus is to ensure that everyone and everything in the RST is on schedule for Alpine Academy driver Victor Martins’ first Young Driver Test in the A521 at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
The Race Support Team has evolved over the years to encompass the team’s Young Driver Test programme as initiatives like the Alpine Academy have grown. Where there were once only a select number of test dates per season, staffed with a skeleton crew of a test team, now the RST oversees an extensive test programme that helps develop our young drivers and train the mechanics that work alongside them.
What does the Race Support Team do over the course of a season?
“The Race Support Team is fundamentally for the young drivers in the Alpine Academy to give them testing time in F1 machinery. We do plenty of running with Jack Doohan to get him prepared and make sure he’s on top of things should he need to step up in his role as BWT Alpine F1 Team Reserve Driver. The RST also runs the marketing events which happen throughout the season such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the driver experience days we offer to our sponsors where they have a training day in a series of formula cars.
Our key secondary role is to get the RST mechanics and engineers up to speed, so if anyone from the Race Team is out for any reason we have trained personnel who can fill in. At our last test at Silverstone, we had a group of Aerodynamics Engineers from the team join us to give them some trackside experience. We use the software systems as they would be used over a race weekend which allows the engineers to practice looking for the data, looking at the systems, and doing their reports before they go trackside and have to do it for real.”
Since the RST is in planning mode for the Monza test, Mark spends his day chasing parts, following up with the servicing department, and preparing the travel logistics for both the coming test in Italy and the subsequent test at Paul Ricard in France. He organises the truck staffing and movements, ferry crossings, flights and hotels with an eye diligently trained on the clock to ensure there is enough time to complete everything that needs to be done before the car hits the track. Ahead of the Monza test the RST has to prepare a different bodywork spec than what they ran at Silverstone, so delivering resized graphics to the paint team to ensure the branding remains consistent on each car is a key task of Mark’s day.
You’ve just gone through Silverstone; you’re preparing for Monza. Run us through the life of the car. Coming back from Silverstone, what happens to the car?
“At the end of the event, we go through and log the mileage of every component on the car. Each component has a service life and a complete life so at the end of the event, I’ll run all the reports for all the services, look at the mileage we’ve done over the last event, what mileage we’re expected to do at the next event, and from that produce a service report from which we decide what needs changing, what needs stripping and so on.
The car will come back to the factory and be unloaded, fully stripped, and the body work will be painted and updated for the next event. All the mechanical and electronic sides will be refreshed and prepped for the next event. Then we get the build here, which is putting it all back together again. We sign off the gearbox, hydraulics, and electronic systems, everything except the firing up of the engine which cannot be done with our Power Unit engineers from Viry.
Once that is all done we can pack everything up, get the car into the truck and get it to Monza. Then on track at Monza is when we fire up for real with the Viry engineers.”
The BWT Alpine F1 Team hosts two factories, one in Enstone, UK that is responsible for the bodywork of the car, and a second in Viry-Châtillon, France that is responsible for the Power Unit. Within his role as RST Chief Mechanic Mark receives the key information about the test car from Viry and coordinates the next steps with his team at Enstone. From cooling specs to performance, the feedback Mark receives from Viry advises the next steps for the RST in the UK.
On a regular day, how many people do you oversee?
“At the factory here in Enstone the RST itself is small, but I also work with other departments such as the Paint Shop, Graphics, Subassembly or with the Truckies. The main car build takes priority of course but the test car also needs servicing regularly so in my job it is important to build good relations with the other departments. In case I ever need something quickly I have the connections to push something through when we are in a time crunch. At the circuit, there are eighteen of us including the engineers from Viry, and for a normal day's running, I plan what needs to be done minute by minute from arriving at the circuit at 07:00 through to 08:45 when we’re ready to send the car out on track. If the team is not ready at that point, we need to know why and figure out what needs to be done to correct it. There’s a lot of scheduling and planning involved and lots of moving parts both at the factory and on track.”
Due to the fast pace of Motorsport, Mark has to navigate lots of last-minute changes to travel schedules and ensure all of the correct car setups make it to each circuit for the drivers that will be testing at that time. Car builds will vary for each driver depending on pedal sets and steering wheels therefore this kind of coordination requires extra care and attention.
In preparation for the coming test at Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Mark will oversee Victor Martins’ A521 seat fit while the team prepares different pedal and steering positions to ensure he feels comfortable and safe. Mark and his team will use this information and the information collected by engineers during Victor’s A521 simulator work to build the car to the agreed specifications.
How does the test programme benefit the wider F1 programme?
“One of the key benefits is preparing the young Alpine Academy drivers. Because they only get the opportunity to clock mileage in F1 machinery in one or two Free Practice sessions per season you’re asking a lot of a young driver to go straight from a junior category into an F1 car and perform. With the test programme we can take a young driver and give them 500 kilometres in a day and over 2,500 kilometres in a season before they make that step up. It gives them the confidence because we run through all the procedures, they have experience using the DRS system, working out tyre management, practicing starts and burnouts and getting up to speed with the procedures. We create sensor failures for them to fix whilst they are on track, testing them whilst they’re driving to get them thinking or we call for a Safety Car and see if they can hit the restricted lap time. There are so many things we can test them with which helps prepare them for the future.”
Having joined the Enstone team in 2002 under its Renault name as a gearbox mechanic at the factory and making his way up through the test team before joining the Race Team from 2005-2009, Mark has a wealth of trackside knowledge to pass on. He takes great pride in the work he is doing with the Race Support Team to train and prepare mechanics and young drivers for their next steps.
As with most jobs in F1 your day-to-day work is always varied – what is your favourite part of the job?
“I think there’s two parts – track side and getting the young drivers up and completing the programme. We’ve had big programmes before and got to a high standard, ready to go racing. If you look on the grid, there’s quite a few drivers that have been through our Academy now and have driven for us – seven or eight of them that have driven through our Academy in total. It’s good to see the success of it. I also love getting the mechanics and engineers ready. We’ve had a lot of staff move on from us and into the Race Team. It’s really satisfying to know that our staff can go straight to trackside with the Race Team and be up to a certain standard, then on their own merit they perform to the standard required by the Race Team. I know that I've done my job there and I know they’re ready to go as soon as the opportunity comes.”
Constantly foreword planning, Mark finishes his day by checking in with the RST to ensure they are happy with the next steps of the build, prioritising his own tasks to set himself up for the following day ahead of Victors’ coming test at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.