Axalta Coating Systems a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, takes a behind the scenes look at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport paint shop in Brackley, England, to see how different it is to a regular body shop.
Those who are not insiders could be forgiven for thinking that a Formula One team’s paint shop is simply a glorified body shop, and while some things may be the same, the reality is that the two operate very differently. Axalta has been an integral partner to the team for more than four years, providing the paint on the previous championship-winning Silver Arrows cars.
As the only team in the pit lane to have a livery with complex colour gradients and fades, the team of ten painters in the Paint Shop, led by Andrew Moody, Head of Paint and Graphics for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, has a massive amount of work to do on each component. “We know the exact colours we will be working with all season,” Moody says. Between the main basecoat highly reflective silver colour, called Stirling Silver, to the black, there are four additional silver tones, graded one to four, none of which are commercially available. These have to be applied in such a way that the fade is imperceptible, and then there are three different greens and two different blues for the glow lines.
“There are around 100 different components in rotation at any given time, plus all the spares that go to each race, so we are faced with a unique set of challenges, not least of which is scale. We mix Stirling Silver in 12 litre batches on our two Intelligent Head scales and we use Axalta’s colour management software. When we get down to 3 litres, we mix another 12 litres. This would be ridiculous in a normal body shop, but for us it’s essential,” says Moody.
The painters follow a workload sharing platform approach – everyone in the team is a qualified painter who is comprehensively trained. They have to be able to move from one job to another, which means that for a front wing, for example, three or four of the team may work together prepping it. Then two painters may do the airbrushing and two or three may do the clean and polish.
While the finished look of this year’s car, the Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+, is incredibly important, Moody and his team are always thinking about the weight of each component. “For us everything is ultimately about weight and aerodynamics. The acceptable tolerances for an aerodynamic part may be 0.3mm, which would be miniscule for most refinishers, but any more for us can cause real issues,” said Moody.