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Life in the fast lane

Andrew Patterson has made a career out of his passion as a mechanic, travelling to work on Formula 1 grids around the world for Williams Racing. He spoke to Jack Malcolm about his journey to F1 from quarantine after a recent trip back home.

Gisborne-born Andrew Patterson,27, said it was hard work that got him to the biggest stage of motorsports racing.

His job as a travelling sub-assembly technician for the Williams Formula 1 team has sent him around the world.

As a “Gizzy boy” from a “small town on the other side of the world,” he never thought he’d get the chance to work in the most prestigious racing competition in the world.

“When I was younger, I was told I couldn’t do it because I needed a university degree, or this, or that,” Andrew said.

“I wish that when I was growing up that people could tell you that ‘it’s achievable,’ but the great experience I’ve had is (that) I can tell people it is achievable.”

Motorsport was always a part of Patterson’s life. His parents, Nigel and Nicky, owned Bensons Auto Clinic and he was there every school holidays “from the moment I knew what I was doing”.

He said when he was young, he was eager to get his hands on anything he could and learn the process.

“I understood the concepts. . . we had our own race cars.”

Nigel is an accomplished streetstock car driver, holding two national titles in his class and earning Gisborne Speedway’s competitor of the year in 1991, ‘93 and 2002.

“I have my dad to thank for the introduction to motorsport,” said Andrew.

Patterson attended Te Wharau School as a young boy — you can find his tile (number 79) on the Pakiwaitara project. He went on to Ilminster Intermediate then Lytton High School.

He raced ministocks around Gisborne Speedway as 12G, before he moved to production saloons the year before his family relocated to Te Kauwhata, a small township next to the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, at 16.

“I did have aspirations to be a racer, but it became clear very quickly that I also enjoyed being a mechanic and that was going to be my career.”

Patterson said he took the same pathway a driver would, working his way up through the different racing leagues before he got the opportunity to work in F1.

His passion was forged in the Hampton Downs workshops, a job he got by asking the owner if he could get some work experience.

“He told me to come in next week.”

Through that first position, he was able to grow his connections and started to progress up through the different homegrown racing categories.

“There’s plenty of opportunity to learn what you need in New Zealand.

“I quickly realised just before I turned 21 that if I wanted to make it a career, England is probably one of the best places in the world to do that.”

Patterson has worked for several Formula teams, starting in the junior categories before making the step up to Formula 3, building Mercedes powertrains (assembly of every component that pushes your vehicle forward).

His department serviced the engines of the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as well as the everyday Mercedes customer.

Patterson made the move to Williams ahead of the 2020 season. He said having to travel constantly to races isn’t for everyone, but he loves the excitement of being in the midst of the travelling circus that is F1.

Last year he was in the pitlane for six races, with six more on the calendar for the end of this season.

His team is split into two groups, with a trackside team at the race while a secondary team is based at the Williams home base in England offering remote support.

“The pressure is quite high at times, but when you work together, it feels less stressful.

“I’ve unfortunately not had too many races with a crowd but you still feel the energy.”

His team builds and maintains the “driveline”, which includes components like the driveshaft, brakes and clutch.

The main component his small team looks after is the gearbox, a highly complex part required to change gears over 3600 times at some races, that can engage the clutch, unhook one gear and engage another in the space of just two-to-three milliseconds. A human blink, by comparison, typically lasts 100 milliseconds.

As mechanics and technicians, they work with the engineers who are constantly designing and improving the car’s components for them to assemble.

Williams has an in-house “one-stop” shop running 24/7 to design and manufacture over 100,000 parts a year, from titanium to carbon fibre.

Next year new regulations in F1 include a design overhaul and salary caps for the first time, and he said the team was already hard at work designing and perfecting their 2022 car.

It’s a lot of work keeping two race cars in peak form, but it’s made easier by the workplace, said Patterson.

“The team suits me. I love it. It’s got this great family feel about it, you always feel included.”

“I’ve created such great friendships within the team, it’s just like going to work with all your mates.”

Currently in MIQ after coming home for his brother’s wedding, Patterson said it will be all hands on deck when he’s back in action, with the car on its way back from the Hungarian Grand Prix awaiting a full rebuild over the three week summer break.

Between his busy work schedule and the travel time, Patterson’s only been able to make it home three times since leaving six years ago.

With his family still based in Te Kauwhata, he said he hasn’t had time to make the trip over to Gisborne, but he tries to keep in touch with his old friends over social media.

Looking back on his journey, Patterson was humble in wanting to share his story as inspiration for the next generation of kids.

“I never thought I’d be getting an interview of any sort. If anything, I want to be able to tell kids who have dreams that there’s nothing that can stop them.

“Anything’s possible. . . I’m nothing special. I work hard and love my job and I believe anyone can do it.”

‘FAMILY FEEL’: Andrew Patterson at work with the Williams Formula 1 team. He says the team suits him. “You always feel included.”Pictures supplied

  1. Donald Cameron, Santiago says:

    That’s awesome Andrew, I’m from Gisborne currently living in Chile and one of my English students is a huge fan of the Formula 1 and tells me about the races every week. I will tell him about your journey and to keep an eye out for you while watching the racing, especially the Williams team. All the best. PS I also enjoyed going to Speedway when younger and when dad was doing first aid duty with St John there.