Mercedes-AMG Petronas, the reigning World Constructorsâ€™ Champions based in Brackley, England, is passionate about the Spies Hecker paint used on its race cars and team trucks. Spies Hecker is one of the three global premium brands of Axalta Coating Systems (NYSE: AXTA), a leading global manufacturer of liquid and powder coatings.
â€œItâ€™s important that the race cars look great on the track and that our sponsorsâ€™ logos are displayed clearly. But what is exceptionally critical for us are the weight of the paint, the speed of its application and the ability of the entire paint system to be used over and over again, all season, season after season, with the same great results. Spies Hecker delivers that for us,â€ says Andrew Moody, Head of Paint and Graphics, MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula Oneâ„¢ Team.
This season â€“ which sees 21 Grands Prix over eight months – the W07 car, in addition to new external body parts and wings, is sporting a new design in the instantly-recognisable colours from 2015. The 2016 race car has eight colours, none of which are commercially available: three shades of green and five shades of the main colour, called Stirling Silver, after Stirling Moss who drove for Mercedes in 1955.
Thousands of hours and thousands of parts
With such an intricate livery on the car, Moody and his team face tough challenges. â€œIt takes about 150 hours to paint a race car, with the nose and rear wing each taking about 12 hours,â€ says Moody.
Over the course of this season, they will paint literally thousands of panels and components, sometimes as many as 150 in one week. â€œThe speed of application and reliability is essential; we don’t have time to accept anything less than perfect,â€ he says.
Work to smooth
Each part, particularly the aerodynamically-sensitive parts, requires a huge amount of attention to detail. The substrates of the race car vary depending on whether they are of a structural or of a cosmetic nature, and this impacts how the part is painted and its bake cycle. But regardless of the part or of the substrate, two things always hold true.
â€œFor us everything is about weight and aerodynamics. Carbon fibre, for example, can be tricky, as it can be porous. So we have to get a lovely finish with the minimum weight of paint. The acceptable tolerances for an aerodynamic part might be 0.3mm, which would be miniscule for most refinishers. That can be hard to determine visually in the spray booth, so we have a â€œwork to smoothâ€ rule,â€ explains Moody.
The team in Paint and Graphics use a variety of Spies Hecker products on the race cars, which can all be used by bodyshops in their everyday work. The team often start with PriomatÂ® Wash Primer 4075. PermasolidÂ® HS Vario Primer Surfacer 5340, or PermasolidÂ® HS Performance Surfacer 5320 are then used before the application of PermahydÂ® Hi-TEC Base Coat 480.
Moody says, â€œwe finish the components off with one of two Spies Hecker clearcoats. PermasolidÂ® HS Optimum Plus Clear Coat 8650 is a hugely reliable clearcoat and we use it on many parts. But for parts we need to get done and dried quickly, we trust the new PermasolidÂ® HS Speed Clear Coat 8800. Itâ€™s a fantastic High Solids clearcoat thatâ€™s very, very fast.â€
To ensure the race cars remain as aerodynamically sound as possible, 80 per cent of the sponsorsâ€™ logos are airbrushed onto the paint, including the iconic Mercedes-Benz star on the front of the nose.
â€œAirbrushing the star is a fantastically creative skill, but we need repeatability, consistency and accuracy. The star takes nearly an hour to complete, and there are 30 different stages in the process, but only four colours: blue, brown, white and black.â€
Work doesn’t stop after the race
After every race, the Build Department strips the cars and then the individual parts are sent to Moodyâ€™s team in the paint shop. The parts are checked carefully and then usually repainted.
It may seem rather excessive to refinish the entire car after every race, but as Moody explains, there are valid reasons for it. â€œConsider qualifying or racing somewhere like Abu Dhabi or Bahrain, where there is a lot of sand in the air. Given the speeds at which the cars go, the paint can almost look sandblasted after a while on track. Or, if a piece of gravel hits our car, it can take a piece out of the body, or can cause craters and nicks in the paint, which certainly will interfere with our aerodynamics. It goes back to how aerodynamically important it is to â€œwork to smoothâ€, even after a race.â€
Not just race cars
Spies Hecker paint isnâ€™t reserved just for the race cars though. There are eight team trucks that are painted with Spies Hecker about every two years. And Moodyâ€™s team paints hundreds, if not thousands, of garage and hospitality boards, as well as everything from grid trollies and water bottles, to the engineerâ€™s station on the pit wall.
Joachim Hinz, Spies Hecker Brand Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, says, â€œwe have a long-standing relationship with Andrew Moody and his team so we understand the pressure they are under and, in turn, the requirement that our products must meet, day after day, season after season. Weâ€™re very proud that we can deliver the results they need so that the team can deliver on the track.â€