Will Pickford, Programme Manager, F1 Motorsport, Castrol

What inspired you to begin your career in Formula 1?

I am a long-standing staff member of Castrol’s Technology Centre in Pangbourne, 20 years in total. I spent five years as a track side engineer and ran an unbranded Formula One programme previously at Castrol. I’m now back in the industry again and looking after the new Renault Sport Formula One Team partnership because I have lots of experience running high performance programmes such as this. 

What do you do in your current position?

I oversee all technical components of the Renault Sport Formula One programme. There are three components to the job: research and development of bespoke fluids and oils, manufacturing of the fluids and the logistics that go behind delivering fluids to the Renault Sport Formula One Team on time.

Another important aspect of my job is building and maintaining relationships with the key technical contacts. I speak to Bob Bell, Chief Technical Director at Renault Sport Formula One Team regularly for example. We set performance targets together, expectations and work out what resources are needed to make things happen. 

What are some of the main considerations when developing a fuel for Formula One?

The challenge in Formula One is always speed. Formula One is very focused and fast-paced so we have to keep up with those demands and do our job on time. There is a natural rhythm to this job and sometimes we have to make things happen yesterday which is not always easy without a lot of additional effort. That’s where we plan well ahead to ensure the team understands resources and priorities to get ahead of the curve. 

The pressures and demands of Formula One seem demanding. What time pressure is the team working to?

We joke that I often ruin my team’s week because of this. Not only is it fast paced, it also changes direction very quickly. The team might be targeting one thing one week, and that can be turned on its head the next, depending on varying factors. That could be a hardware requirement the team has flagged track side or tweak in performance output. Sometimes you can’t plan for that, which is the nature of the beast. 

Formula One is all about peak performance. Is it the toughest job in the industry?

Formula One can sometimes come across as glamorous but the effort we go to, is phenomenal. You must be passionate and committed to it. We’ve found it’s not for everyone. You should have a genuine interest in it to make it work as a career. 

What attracted you to Formula One? 

From a young age, I enjoyed engineering. In school, I focused on engineering subjects and I was brought up spectating motorsports. Choosing a degree in automotive engineering felt like the natural progression.

Looking back, I intend to work with road cars but I was lucky to get the opportunity to be involved with motorsport at Castrol. I would have studied motorsport engineering if the course existed when I was younger. The do exist now. You might think it’s difficult to get into Formula One and perhaps unstable in terms of employment, but I’ve been brought back into it three times now with Castrol. 

Is there something about high performance and being the best of the best that pulls you back in?

Absolutely. I suit a fast-paced operational decision-making role. That’s what I enjoy. I have worked in slower moving parts of the industry and you always learn, but those times have reinforced the love for what I do in motorsport.

For me, it’s the most challenging but also the most rewarding. 

What logistics go on behind the scenes in Formula One?

Planning takes a lot of upfront work. Scheduling is tight because fluids must turn up in the right place at the right time. Failure to do that is not an option. We are working on a global circuit with 20 international events. For each race, you manage different customs issues and clearances. Air, land, sea – it’s a big logistical challenge to ensure it happens seamlessly.

We also account for Renault Sport Formula One Team and FIA approval on all fluids. We push the limits of performance and therefore regulations in Formula One. If approval fails, we go back to re-blending and re-submitting. It’s up to the line to get fluids to the team. If anything goes wrong, the team gets disqualified so the Castrol team joins track side every race to look after fuel control and condition monitoring. 

What’s it like to experience operations track side?

We have up to two of the team at every race. They work with Renault Sport Formula One Team very closely over several days, answering questions, analysing performance and oversee quality control. There are many risks to consider such as fuel contamination.

It’s thrilling to be there but also a big responsibility. I enjoy understanding hardware through what you can see in the oil performance from the engine, gear box and wear metals. You’re constantly tracking against data and expected gradients and flagging things so the team can react quickly. 

What does the Castrol partnership bring to the Renault Sport Formula One Team?

We have some of the best technology in the industry. That includes a huge supply chain to source materials and access to a wide range of different ingredients not easily accessible. We also have a lot of expertise to draw on, for example experts in Industrial where we take inspiration from. I encourage my team to tap into these resources available to us.

The Castrol philosophy is optimal performance at all times, offering bespoke solutions to deliver engineering excellence. We push until it breaks and take things beyond the limit. If you take it to that point, we know where the limit of performance is.

It’s still early in the relationship with Renault Sport Formula One Team. We’re the new kids on the block and getting to understand how both teams work so we can do great things together. 

How has Formula One changed over the years?

The changes have been significant. The industry used to work to a model of one engine per day. Today’s regulations only allow four engines per season. To perform that way, you have to think of power per litre, working to downsized turbo engines with compact units but significant power. Oil has to last longer, way beyond that of a road car. We work to the extremes of design limits. These are highly tuned pieces of machinery. 

What advice would you give someone looking to follow an engineering career path into Formula One? 

Have drive and passion. Pursue your knowledge and interest in Formula One and always look for those opportunities. I always encourage engineers to break out of the road car mindset.

The engineering challenge of Formula One is interesting but so is the operational side. 

Find out more from the Castrol & Renault technical teams