The Life of a Race Team Composites Technician: Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s Sam Leeks

"If you’re passionate about something in your life, you should go for it - be selfish about it, but don’t forget others on the way. I wouldn’t be where I am without my friends and family, however; following your goals in life can seem a selfish task. If you have a goal and want to achieve it, you have to go and do it. If you don’t try, then you can’t look back and say at least I gave it a go.”

Sam Leeks is a Race Team Composites Technician at Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN team, having joined the outfit for the start of the 2021 Formula 1 season. A fascination with carbon fibre during a school project has evolved into a rewarding career that she adores, allowing her to combine her two biggest passions: composites and F1.

“I look after all the carbon fibre - bodywork, repair work and most of the aero stuff,” Sam tells Females in Motorsport. “If we’re doing aero updates or changes on the car, that’s my responsibility.”

Part of her role requires her to travel to the races, where Sam’s role can vary greatly to what she does when at the team’s factory in Switzerland. At the circuits on the grand prix calendar, Sam looks after Antonio Giovinazzi’s car and the front wings during the track sessions.

“During the sessions, my focus is on Giovinazzi’s car,” she says. “When we’re out of session, it’s important that we help each other out. Basically, I like to make a mess with carbon fibre...which means I tend to get glue and carbon dust all over my uniform when we’re grinding and using glue! I have several holes in my t-shirts, but that’s life!”

A Race Weekend

In Sam’s job, she travels to the F1 races and will usually fly out with the first group of mechanics at the start of the week.

“Wednesday is generally a fairly relaxed day,” she says. “We get all the parts out, check that there’s no damages, start to build assemblies and get stuff ready. Thursdays are very much the same but the cars will go to the bridge and be measured. There’ll be some changes to be made which I’ll be responsible for.”

Sam’s role also entails pit stop and single-crew practice, forming part of the vital team that services the cars during a grand prix weekend.

“I’m still learning to do the front-left tyre on and off on my own,” she says. “It’s definitely something new. “I did pit stops at Williams - front wing flap adjust which is what I’m doing here for normal pit stops. It’s fairly second nature but the wheels are definitely something new! I can’t say I’m the quickest but I’m getting there. It’s all about muscle memory and practice.”

After this, the team will have the car ready for FP1 on Friday. This generally means a late night on Thursday, ensuring that everything is ready for the hour of running the following morning.

“The aeros and engineers will make a decision on what set up they want to do and cooling options,” she says. “Stressful is the wrong word but it can be last minute that we get the information. It has to be ready for Friday. We have to be reactive.”

On Fridays, Sam is stationed in the garage and her responsibility is the front-left of Giovinazzi’s car - getting it off the rack and putting it on the car, doing the blankets and looking after the composites.

“When the car comes into the garage, I put the fans on and start the process of taking the wheels off and checking the vehicle over,” Sam says. “I’m looking for even small damages that could’ve been caused by a loose stone or general wear and tear.

“I do find it hard to describe what I do sometimes. What I do is equivalent to a bedtime routine. You don’t think about what you’re doing! I don’t know everything and I’m always learning. Coming back to F1 after leaving in 2016, there’s still a lot of similarities for me, but I’m doing different jobs. I’ve never done wheels on/off the car before. Some stuff is second nature.”

The three practice sessions are fairly similar for Sam and the processes will depend on what the aerodynamicists want to do and whether there are any incidents.

“Qualifying is more hectic and there’s less time,” she says. “There’s more pressure to make sure the car is ready to go within seconds. The turn around is very quick. This has also been a challenge for me, learning how to put the blankets on top of the tyres correctly and keeping them warm. You look at mechanics and think it looks natural but when you’re not used to it, it takes a while.”

Once qualifying has finished and checks have been completed, there isn’t much more Sam can do until race day comes. With this, she’s made it her mission to run every race track on the grand prix calendar.