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Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport masterclass

Spies Hecker takes a behind the scenes look at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Paint Shop in Brackley, England, to get a masterclass on how it runs and how similar – or different – it is to a regular bodyshop.

As four-time FIA Formula OneTM World Constructors’ Champions, it stands to reason that everything Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport does– from building the smallest engine piece to designing the largest aerodynamic component – has performance and precision at its heart. The paint that brings to life the stunning 2018 livery that the team’s race cars sport is no exception to this level of excellence.

Spies Hecker, one of the three global refinish brands of Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, has been an integral partner to the team for more than four years, providing the paint on the previous championship-winning Silver Arrows cars. The brand was granted exclusive access to Andrew Moody, Head of Paint and Graphics for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, to see how similar – or different – their challenges are compared to regular bodyshops.

The same but different

Those who are not insiders could be forgiven for thinking that a Formula OneTM team’s paint shop is simply a glorified bodyshop that works on much more expensive – and fast - cars. While some things may be the same, the reality is that the two operate very differently.

Andrew explains, “As you would expect, much of what we do in the Paint Shop is competitively sensitive. For example the precise process and the application techniques we have honed over the years are closely guarded secrets, but I can share some interesting details that refinishers operating in a general bodyshop might find surprising.”

Fade to black

As the only team in the pit lane to have a livery with complex colour gradients and fades, Andrew’s team of ten painters in the Paint Shop has a massive amount of work to do on each component. “We don’t have to worry about what colour car we may have to handle on a given day – we know the exact colours we will be working with all season,” Andrew says. Between the main Permahyd® Hi-TEC 480 basecoat highly reflective silver colour - a colour developed by the team with Spies Hecker in 2013 called Stirling Silver, named after Sir Stirling Moss who drove for Mercedes-Benz in 1955 – 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. Add to that, three different greens and two different blues for the glow lines, and the extent of the complexity starts to become apparent.

Consistency in everything

“It takes about 150 hours to paint a race car, with the nose and rear wing each taking about 12 hours, so the speed of paint application and its reliability is essential. Add to that, there are around 100 different components in rotation at any given time, plus all the spares that go to each race, and 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 using the Phoenix colour management software. When we get down to 3 litres, we mix another 12 litres. We don’t activate it ready for use until we need it, so that it has a decent pot life. This would be ridiculous in a normal bodyshop where they will often work in grams, but for us it’s essential. We do this because consistency is everything,” says Andrew.

Each painter in Andrew’s team has four different spray guns - one for primers, one for basecoats, one for clears and one for spot repairs – and regardless of the painter, each variation has the same setting, which was tested in conjunction with the Axalta Refinish Academy in Welwyn Garden City, England. The painters also work with Job Element Sheets, in effect the Paint Shop’s instruction manual, that detail the what, how and why of every single process. But the focus on consistency doesn’t stop there. Each spray booth has cure cycles pre-programmed for primers, basecoats and clearcoats, so that everything is handled in exactly the same way, regardless of which painters are working on a given component.

“For a normal bodyshop this regimented approach may seem strange but setting up everything in this way stops any variation across any of the processes,” says Andrew.

Teamwork

Andrew’s team 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, as Andrew explains. “Eighty percent of the team can do all the jobs, and fifty percent of the team are able to do the speciality work, like airbrushing.” In practice this means that for a front wing, for example, three or four of the team may work together prepping it using Priomat® Wash Primer 4075, then either Permasolid® HS Vario Primer Surfacer 5340, a high-solids primer surfacer, or Permasolid® HS Performance Surfacer 5320, a fast drying 2K HS sanding surfacer. Then two painters may do the airbrushing and two or three may do the clean and polish.

But it’s all about the weight

While the finished look of the Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ - this year’s car - is incredibly important, Andrew and his team are always thinking about the weight of each component. “For us everything is ultimately about weight and aerodynamics. Carbon fibre can be tricky as it is porous, so, we have to get an eye-catching finish with the minimum weight of paint, and Spies Hecker really delivers for us. The acceptable tolerances for an aerodynamic part might be 0.3mm, which would be miniscule for most refinishers, but any more for us can cause real issues,” says Andrew.

So, while the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Paint Shop is not a typical bodyshop, it faces intense pressure to turn things around and to ensure accurate colours. And as Andrew concludes, “I am sure one important thing we share with many bodyshops across Europe is that we rely on the excellent reliability, consistency and speed of application from Spies Hecker. And all this regimented process is completely worthwhile when you see the two cars looking fantastic on track on a race weekend.”

About Spies Hecker

Spies Hecker, one of the global refinish coating brands from Axalta Coating Systems, develops optimum and practical paint system solutions that can make bodyshop work easier and more efficient. With 135 years of success behind it, Spies Hecker’s high-quality product systems, customised service and targeted training demonstrate its partnership with the refinish industry. The Cologne paint brand is one of the world’s leading vehicle refinish brands, and is available in over 76 countries worldwide.

Spies Hecker – simply closer.

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Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport masterclass