Could you cut it?

Formula 1 may be the ultimate teamwork experience, as from the speed of the pit stops and pressure of timely tyre changes to the tactical decisions relayed to the drivers, the need to work cohesively and at close quarters is essential. Of course, it takes decades to hone skills to join a team behind the multi-million dollar sport and, unsurprisingly, few are willing to lend out their high-tech automobiles to plucky corporates looking for an exciting trackside teambuilding event.

Thankfully, it’s possible to get the same experience at a fraction of the cost with Team Building Asia’s Flat Out Formula 1 activity. The event requires teams to build, test and race their very own Formula 1 cars. From fabrication to the final flag, participants are required to muster every ounce of team spirit and determination to succeed. 

In fact, there’s only one small difference between Flat Out and the real thing – the cars are made of cardboard. Although, in many ways, the cardboard car has distinct advantages over the high-tech materials used on the professional circuit. Card may not perform as well in crash tests but it’s certainly easier to replace and, most importantly, even amateurs can turn out a fully working vehicle in less than a day. 

Becky Lai, sales and marketing manager for Team Building Asia says: “The basic concept is to build a working replica of a Formula 1 car and then race. It’s an exciting proposal for anyone and one of our most popular activities. Building the car isn’t easy, though. It requires careful planning and a lot of teamwork to get right.”

Technology firm Hewlett Packard recently put its team skills to the test, taking part in the activity in Guangzhou. The participants were split into teams and each group was given a briefing, which included plans for the design of the car. While much of the car has to be constructed by the team, the base and wheels are provided.

Lai says: “The project takes around three hours to complete. We can make a shorter session if the client desires and we’ll pre-cut the cardboard. In the full event, though, it’s just like sheet metal. There are no guidelines or markings on the card itself. The team has to work it all out themselves. It can be very challenging to build.”

With the schematic in hand, the Hewlett Packard teams got to working on constructing the car. The essential components needed to build the vehicle include the driver’s cockpit, engine box, left and right panel and sills, bonnet and nose cone. The team also has to attach front and rear aerofoils to improve the car’s aerodynamics.

Perhaps due to time constraints, teams have to forego the important wind tunnel testing, engine mapping and practice laps of the professional teams. More significantly, the race marshals are often unable to check for illegal aerodynamic additions. 

With the major components constructed, the parts were then attached to a prefabricated wooden chassis. Cardboard wheels and an axle gave the car movement, while a steering column enables the driver to have control.

Once the cars are race ready, then comes the all-important decoration. Lai says: “We give the teams their branding, which usually involves company logos. There are other additions, such as balloons, that can be added and we always like to see a well “pimped” ride.”

Although each team is given the same material to create its car, the end results are usually very different. Lai says: “Often, the cars that are falling apart at the start line are the ones that win. The teams that don’t build well seem to put in more effort during the race, so it’s often funny to see a car that is really badly built taking home the prize.”

A variety of companies and organisations have taken part in the past, with many unexpected groups taking to the exercise. The staff of luxury brands, for instance, are reportedly excellent and, often, the women perform better behind the wheel than the men. Lai says: “I’d like to make sure it’s on record that the women are better drivers than the men.”

After Hewlett Packard’s teams completed their parade laps, they prepared for a series of hardcore heats. On arrival at the pit stop, the driver was swapped and the whole team turned the car 180 degrees to leave the pit stop and continue the race. This is where gains in time were made or lost, depending on time management, efficient teamwork and a drive for success.  

Lai says: “There is often a lot of cheating. Of course, we don’t have engines, so the cars have to be pushed. Cheating usually happens when the teams don’t swap drivers at each end or sometimes they don’t actually cross the line before turning the car. We haven’t had any disqualifications yet. We’re ever vigilant, however, so participants have to be careful.”

Performance in the heat races means only two teams can make it to the final, with one overall team succeeding to the champagne podium finish. While there can be only one winner, the tangible accomplishment of building a car and the rush of competing in a race is rewarding for everyone. The cars may be made of card, but the teambuilding experience is as genuine as it gets.


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