05-07-2017

Jacob Krzywak

F1 World Championship attract millions of fans both watching television broadcasts and enjoying  at the race tracks each year. The most prestigious races have been organized regularly since 1950. Open-cockpit-one-seat race cars take part in the races. The roots of this discipline are in Europe but it spread all over the world (South and North Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia). During the season there are a dozen of races (grand prix), which take place on separated and closed street tracks.

Such large logistic-technological undertaking requires very precise preparation and engagement of  a number of specialized companies. One of them is Riedel, the company famous for acknowledged worldwide intercom solutions. Riedel is responsible for delivering and operation of communication and race control systems. Riedel works for the racing teams and also for the Federation which organizes the races.

I would like to welcome you to an interview with Marcin Jakowczyk, who represented Riedel company in F1, was responsible for the proper functioning of all communication systems. Since 2015 he also worked directly with the Mercedes AMG F1 team.

Jacob Krzywak [Multimediav]: Formula 1 – One name says it all. For the most of motorsport enthusiasts appearance in the service box is their wildest dream. You managed to do more than a peek into the box. How has it happened?

Marcin Jakowczyk [Riedel Communications GmbH & Co. KG]: I found myself there thanks to my work… and a lot of determination to get this post. I got to know the Riedel company and their products when I was working for M.Ostrowski (which is the distributor of the brand till today). Oftentimes I browsed through their website and their portfolio seemed very interesting,  especially the international projects such as Formula 1, Eurovision, large sport events etc.  It was all very tempting to me

Is the application process difficult?

Not necessarily difficult, however it is expected to have certain experience in the industry and engineering approach to problem-solving.

I applied two times, because, due to some personell changes in the relevant departments, I  haven’t heard back immediately at my first application. In the following weeks, I decided not to give up and give it another try, with an even better preparation and improved knowledge in order to become even more attractive for my dream employer.

I focused on computer networks and telecommunications. I had been gaining experience by testing LTE technology for Nokia in Wrocław and by attending  evening Cisco courses.

After some time I received some  job offers from few companies in audio industry. Then, as I already had my mind focused on the choice of a new direction, I decided to have a look at Riedel website again.

And it happened, It appeared that they were looking for an engineer who would work in a project related directly to Formula 1. Later it was easier – I applied and got the employment offer. To be honest, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I looked at the Formula 1 calendar and saw 20 countries  I had not been to and said that I wanted to do it. Now or never!

What was your age at the time?

I was 27. I really regret that I had not made such decision earlier. I got the job in July 2014, and instantly was thrown in at the deep end. After one week I went to tests in Silverstone. There I received my first duties related to technical support.

What exactly did you deal with?

I worked in a division called Team Support, which is a group of people who are responsible for managing the communications within particular F1 teams. At the beginning – mid 2014 – I was assigned to Caterham Formula One Team. It was the team from the bottom of the table which was facing financial problems. A nice adventure, my beginnings in Formula 1. I learned about the specifics of the job, I witnessed the struggle of a small team with such a big undertaking. In 2015 I was offered to move to supporting  Mercedes AMG F1 team. This was a leap from one side of the table to the other because Mercedes won Formula One  Constructors’ Championship, and repeated this achievement in the next two years. It was a great nobilitation for me – the opportunity to work with the team of champions.

Communications systems support for teams – is this the thing
that Riedel deals with in F1?

It is one of many areas of our work. Riedel in Formula 1 is omnipresent. Apart from teams, we provide  and operate the system of Race Control. We also provide IT services, integrated camera system for observation of the track. We equip communications system for Safety Cars, communications systems and the distribution of signal for broadcasters, track staff and many more.

Is the structure of such communications system very complex?

Each team consists of tens of people working track-side during the race, and another hundreds supporting the race remotely from the factory… and of course the drivers. Our task is to provide means for the most efficient communication between all these people. For instance, in order to coordinate the work of the mechanics and call them to pit stop,  we use Tetra-based digital radio system. Engineers at the track and those from the factory use intercom system Artist, which gives them access to numerous communication channels. Depending on the function, each engineer has individually configured intercom panel, which gives him access to the channels which are relevant to him. Intercom is cleverly integrated with radio system and headsets so that at any time you can move away from your desk and remain in contact with the team thanks to the wireless system. The richness of interfaces and the capabilities of Artist system are humongous… . We constantly make effort to show new ideas to our clients and many of them are used in F1.

What was your  workweek like?

It is good that you are asking about the week because the majority of Formula 1 spectators associate the events only with weekends. For us, everything starts usually from Monday or Tuesday.

Tuesday  is the first day when we  set up the equipment. ‚Setting up’ does not mean an ordinary installation. Our main task is connecting to the infrastructure , (cables and fibers) which  had been prepared a week earlier. On Wednesday we finish the setup and begin our testing procedures.

We have to be sure that everything works perfectly before the team starts using the system.–The first engine fire-ups in the garage, systems tests etc, it all takes place on Thursdays. Thursday is also the day of official tests of our system with the client. Together with the team we check all the channels and add new users. It is also the day when we connect our system with television system, which is operated by a special cell in F1.

We prepar for them the signal from the driver’s cockpit and the box. This is the internal communication that you can sometimes hear while watching the race on TV. Thursday is technically the last day of tests because on Friday, Saturday and Sunday there are practice sessions and the race itself.

On Sunday the event comes to an end and then we begin packing down, filling special reports, collecting feedbacks from the people responsible for communications in the F1 team. In Mercedes  it usually took a little longer because after the race was over and before we started packing down there was time for champagne and photoshoots 🙂

It sounds very professional…

Indeed. In Formula 1 there is no room for mistakes. Everything must be minutely planned and carried out. Personally, what made the biggest impression on me was the logistics of the event. The way it has been prepared is extraordinary. When you think that you have a back to back race , ie. one week – say, on Sunday there is a race in Japan, next week there is another in Russia, and in between there is a typhoon – then it is a challenge. After the race, no matter how bad the weather is, all infrastructure is loaded to special containers and sent by airfreight to the next location. There are lots of documents to be filled as well. We also have to move to the next location – crossing few time zones, long flights can be really fatiguing and there is no time nor place for complaining because one has to set up, test and connect all the system back again. There are also advantages of such form, this job makes you feel a bit like  a rock star.

Did you find time for rest between the races?

Yes. Between the races I worked in the company’s headquarters where I waw filling the reports and contacting the service, so one can say I happened to be at home:) Additionally, between the end of the season in the beginning of December and the beginning of tests in February/March I was in Wuppertal, servicing and preparing the equipment for the next season. If you ask about free time and holidays, surprisingly there was time for that too. The best thing is that the calendar is very clear and we know it at the beginning of the year. Thanks to the work on the weekends we had a week off frequently during the month. When I could coordinate this week with my fiancé, it was something good.

I also could have short holidays during the season. Normally when you work at the office then you have 20 to 30 annual leave days but we had as many breaks as there were between the races. To illustrate: the first race of the season is always in Australia, then there is a week gap. You can come back to Germany, which means you spend 24h on the plane, and then you come back for the preparations for the race in Malaysia which is another 14 hours in the same direction. So, naturally, coming back home was pointless. This way I saw Indonesia, United States and some more.

When did the time for change come?

The time came when all of the things that evoked such a huge emotions in me in the beginning became monotonous. I started to wonder, what I want to do next and what goals I should set.

Work in F1 perhaps involves a lot of dedication.

Definitely. If you want to follow this career, you have to do sacrifices and compromises, indeed. I perceived the episode in F1 more as an adventure than a life path. Professionally, I saw myself in more engineering and designing areas. That is why I started to look for new opportunities.

I knew that our R&D department progressed vitally. I knew the director of R&D and talked to him about new possibilities. I had an experience in testing telecommunications systems, so a similar post was created for me in the company. I must admit  it was the bullseye. Due to work in F1 I could transfer the knowledge and experience of practical use of the devices to the lab, where bits and bytes matter. It often happens that developers focus on low level aspects, having no broad perspective on the project. My task is to bridge the gap between the two – the end user of the product and the programmer.

On what project did you start work after the transfer?

Last half of the year was filled with working on the new product – Bolero system. I must admit that it has been a very interesting experience. You know, on one hand traveling is addictive and I like it, but… on the other hand when the traveling becomes too intensive, at some point you can be fed up with it. Now in my opinion, there is a good compromise because I still travel and meet interesting people, and with that I mostly work from the office. While working on Bolero I was involved in internal technical trainings thanks to which I had an opportunity to learn how our company functions practically. Finally I managed to meet the majority of our employees 🙂

Don’t you miss F1?

Well, I ticked that off on my bucket list. Work in F1 has been a wonderful adventure and without any doubts a vital point in my career, but I am happy that it is already behind me. I think that I left good impression farewelling with Mercedes. Up till today I’m in touch  with F1 engineers.

Did Thomas Riedel also show up at the realizations?

A few times in the year he joined us. Thomas is strongly connected with motorsport (not only F1). He knows most of the people dealing with motorsport in Germany and around the world. He often is being asked by the media to publicly expresses his opinions in regards to motorsport. His opinion matters in those circles very much.

I guess we will have to dissect our talk into two parts. In the second I suggest the talk on the new Bolero project? What do you think?

I suppose, it is a good direction 🙂

Thank you for devoted time and for the talk. It was inspiring for me.

I am glad. Thanks!