MECHANIC: Andy Stevenson, the most exciting job in F1

Andy Stevenson

Andy Stevenson has arguably one of the most exciting jobs in world motorsport.

Sporting director for the Aston Martin Formula 1 team, Stevenson has three decades of experience at the pinnacle of the sport.

He is also the man at the helm when it comes to the practicalities of the operation, which is currently experiencing strong investment as its owners look to propel it towards the front of the field.

Stevenson is, at heart, a mechanic whose love of travelling propelled him into the F1 spotlight.

He’s a race winner with the squad, having been part of the Jordan team which made its debut in 1991, and has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, battling through difficult seasons, but never losing the passion he developed along the way.

“My introduction to Formula 1 was James Hunt winning the world championship,” Stevenson told Speedcafe.com.

“I think there’s a lot of people in the UK suddenly then, when it looked like he was going to win the world championship, you could then see Formula 1 on TV.

“It grew from there, but I didn’t have a huge passion for it until I actually went to a race. Then it was just so exciting to me.

“It looked like to me [like] the most exciting thing in the world; there was apprehension, there was reward, there was failure, all the emotions were there in one place, and you could feel them.”

Growing up, Stevenson had an interest in all things mechanical, and developed a love of travel. But it wasn’t immediately apparent that motorsport would be his chosen vocation, and he initially looked at the aeronautic industry.

“All the way through school, growing up as a kid, the two things that I were interested in was engineering and travel,” he said.

“The first thing that I sort of aimed towards was aeronautical, but then was lucky enough to be invited along to a Formula 3 race, I think it was at Thruxton, by a friend of mine whose father owned a Formula 3 team called Magnum Race Cars.

“Having visited there and sort of been on the inside with the team, I said ‘right, that’s it, that’s the profession for me’, so I started working virtually straight out of school for Magnum Race Cars for a year.”

During that year he was introduced to Eddie Jordan, who had his own team running in the junior formulae, and was soon offered a job.

He joined for 1987, and has essentially never left.

Stevenson’s journey into motorsport is somewhat unusual in an industry where nepotism and dynasties are commonplace. His father raced dirt bikes in his younger years and was an engineer by trade, but otherwise had nothing to do with motorsport.

After a year with Magnum Race Cars, arriving at Eddie Jordan Racing was an eye-opening experience under the employ of the eccentric Irishman.

“The first days with Eddie were quite strange, because he wanted to test me out,” Stevenson recounted, who was told during his interview “I don’t like this guy, I don’t want to see him here.”

“My first day at work with him, he said ‘you won’t last long,’ which is always motivating when you turn up to a new job!

“He said, ‘yeah, you won’t be here for long,’ but I do enjoy now reminding him, because we’re still very good friends, that I lasted longer than he did.”

To that point, Stevenson’s career had been building engines at Magnum Race Cars, and a bit of race car preparation.

At EJR, he was thrown in the deep end working in Formula 3, but was soon able to prove himself.

“I did a season of Formula 3, then an opening came on our Formula 3000 team with, there was Martin Donnelly and Jean Alesi at the time.

“I worked with another one of our mechanics here, who’s actually still here [at Aston Martin] as well with Jean Alesi and we won the International Formula 3000 Championship.

“That was sort of the catalyst to Eddie to build the Formula 1 team,” Stevenson added.

“He sat all eight of us down who worked for him at the time and said, ‘I’m going to go to Formula 1, do you want to come with me?’

“We all said yes.

“Then into 1990 we ran Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Eddie Irvine, and Emanuele Naspetti.

“We didn’t win the championship there, I think we finished third in the end with Irvine, maybe – Frentzen was right up there with results, but not so high up in the championship.

“Emanuele, he struggled a little bit. He really did go on to perform well in later years in Formula 3000.

“So, we did the Formula 3000 Championship at the same time we were building the Formula 1 team, which was really exciting times – we were going from a staff of about eight to the dizzy heights of about 30, I think when we did our first Formula 1 race.”

Stevenson was a founding member of the Jordan Formula 1 team

In short order, Stevenson’s career had seen him building engines at Magnum Race Cars to working in Formula 3, Formula 3000, and then Formula 1 in quick succession, all without any formal mechanical training.

“I worked in a garage at weekends and always had a passion for anything mechanical,” he explained.

“Like lots of people in this industry I’ve spent my whole life taking things apart and trying to put them back together in a better way.

“When I was much, much younger, still at school, I used to spend weekends with a friend of mine who raced Motocross.

“To be fair, he taught me a lot of my skills.

“He was an incredible Motocross rider, but was a very talented mechanic as well, but he couldn’t do both at a weekend.

“So I would do the spanners for him and he’d race the bike, quite successfully as well, so I think I owe him quite a lot for teaching me the basics of putting things together correctly and always looking for improvement.”

Stevenson looks back with pride on that time, especially for some of the more sophisticated work they did – such as swapping the location of the fuel tank and air filter on the bike for better weight distribution.

It was where the seeds of his perpetual competitiveness were planted, and have continued to grow from ever since.

“You do really have to take the job seriously,” Stevenson said of the lessons learned in the early part of his career.

“Whilst we enjoy ourselves and have a lot of fun, what you are building is a very fast piece of machinery.

“Something I always have done and always will do is work very methodically.

“I’d always have a set way of building the car, so you could always run through your mind a bit like turning your brain into a computer; you’re always doing everything the same way so you don’t have to think about it, then you could always go through in your mind to double check and you would know, because you went through the set process.

“If you didn’t follow those processes, then alarm bells would ring in your head.

“It’s always very, very important not to underestimate the job in hand and focus and be methodical with it.

“It’s funny to say that because you would even put that into practice in a pit stop,” he added.

“The pit stops are quicker now, but in my day we used to refuel, but we were still doing the wheels and tyres pretty quickly, but you would still do it in a methodical way.”

The key, however, is a love and passion for the job and the sport.

Motorsport is a gruelling career, with long hours common place. It’s a competitive environment, meaning there’s no room for cruising through doing only enough to get by – if you’re not pushing ahead, you’re falling behind.

“There’s absolutely no point turning up because the requirement for you, the efforts that you’ve got to put in, if you turn up to a race weekend and you’re only feeling like 80 percent, or you’re only 80 percent interested, [because] that’s all you’re going to get out of it.

“That’s no good to anyone, you’re in the wrong profession.

“You’ve got to love what you’re doing,” he continued.

“The moment you fall out of love with it, then I’d suggest that you go and find something else.

“But that certainly hasn’t happened to me. I see lots of people around me exactly the same. It’s an incredibly rewarding job.”

Even 35 years into his career, Stevenson admitted he is still learning, developing, and refining, spurred on by the anticipation that those efforts can be put into practice.

“I still get the excitement of every single time we’re preparing to go on the next trip,” he explained.

“It’s heads down and away we go again, which is really good.

“Then, longer term, you’re going for championships, but race by race it just keeps delivering.

“Then, at the end of each season, if the season didn’t work out, you’ve got another season ahead of you.

“If the season previously did work out, you can’t rest on your laurels, you’ve just got to keep pushing.

“It’s a very challenging job and extremely rewarding job as well. I mean that just from a personal point of view, not financial or anything, it’s just day in, day out, you actually get a lot of satisfaction.”

Stevenson has remained with the team through Jordan, Spyker, Force India, Racing Point, and now Aston Martin

Today, Stevenson is sporting director at Aston Martin, having risen to firstly chief mechanic and then on to his current role in 2005.

It’s a job he enjoys, though sees him working with the nuts and bolts of the team and sport itself moreso that the cars these days.

Even still, he reasons the job today is largely the same as what it was when he worked on the Jordan 191, though concedes they’re rather more technical in the modern era.

“It’s quite similar,” he said of the role mechanics play today.

“There’s more of them now on a car, there’s more people involved because there’s more specialists.

“Back in the early days, you used to have to turn your hand to a lot of the parts of the car whereas now we have people that are more specialised in smaller areas, just because things are more complicated, more intricate, so it takes longer to put them together.

“But the fundamentals are still very much the same; a good mechanic now would’ve been a good mechanic in the early 90s.

“The skill sets are very similar, the attitudes have to be similar as well.

“Like say, is anybody who wants to get involved, they’ve got to be there because they love it, because it can be a tough sport as well.

“When things aren’t going well you’ve got to have that passion to bring you through the difficult days and rely on the experience of others that will know things will get better when heads drop.

“It doesn’t take much to lift everybody; one or two good results.

“We were fortunate last year, we were in a championship battle for third – not to win, but for third in the championship, which is a big thing in Formula 1.

“We were fighting hard with McLaren and Checo [Sergio Perez], you probably saw the race, Checo spun on the first lap – the emotion, you couldn’t have gone from one end to the other in the short period of a grand prix, it was from ‘we’ve just lost everything’ to ‘we’ve just won the race’. Amazing.

“That’s what’s so great about the sport, you just never know until the chequered flag – anything can happen and you’ve got to keep pushing all the time until you can push no further.”

Having been though the difficult times with Jordan, in its latter years, Spyker, and Force India, Stevenson now holds an enviable position at Aston Martin.

With strong investment coming into the team, which has recently broken ground on a new factory, the future is bright for the Silverstone-based team with whom the F1 veteran has spent his career.

“There’s no place to hide, we just, we have to deliver now,” he said of the challenge ahead.

“That’s what’s really exciting; we’re being given the tools, we’ve got the backing to do it, and we’ve got the experience and we are gaining more experience as well.

“We’re hiring some fantastic people from within the industry, that’s going to make us one of the strongest Formula 1 teams in the world.

“We can’t say, ‘oh, we’re under resourced, we’re punching above our weight’, all that’s gone,” he added.

“It’s simple; we’ve just got to go out there and we’ve got to achieve the results. No more, no less.”

Join the discussion below in the Speedcafe.com comments section

Please note: Speedcafe.com reserves the right to remove any comment that does not follow the comment policy. For support, contact [email protected]