The Pass Masters

It's safe to say that over the years our live demo team have faced a fair few challenges.

From Max driving the car up the ice and snow of the Hahnenkamm mountain in Kitzbühel to DC putting the RB7 through its paces across the wild expanse of the desert at Wadi Rum in Jordan we've tackled all kinds of terrain, but the team's most recent test might just have been one of the most difficult yet.

At first glance, running one of our cars up a mountain pass in Switzerland might look straightforward, but when that pass, the Tremolastrasse, is an ancient roadway of uneven cobblestones made treacherously slick by melting show, and when it's bounded by either perilous drops or dry stone walls close to the road, then it suddenly becomes a proper test of grip, of set-up skills, and most of all, of driver nerve.

And in that regard we called on a man who is not only familiar with the locale but one who, as a former F1 driver and a WEC and Formula E champ, knows a thing or two about dealing with pressure situations – Sébastien Buemi.

Built between 1827 and 1832 on an old Alpine route first used by the Romans, the Tremolastrasse connects the town of Airolo to the Gotthard Pass, snaking 12.7km up through a series of switchback turns to a summit 2,106m above sea level. These days, the cobbles are largely avoided by drivers, with the vast majority using the Gotthard Tunnel instead.

It really did take him out his of comfort zone.

That's not the kind of easy solution we like, however, and with an undaunted Sébastien signed up and ready to roll, we loaded up our double title-winning RB8 and set off for Switzerland, a country that banned motor racing for more than six decades following a tragic accident at Le Mans in 1955.

To make sure that Sébastien would have the best shot at making a clear run up the pass, the crew had to make a painfully early start, rising at 4am to begin preparations.

And when they arrived they were greeted by freezing temperatures and a dusting of snow at the top of the pass that, as the sun rose, quickly melted. That naturally led to the crew bringing out the wet weather tyres, but even then the risks were evident, as Support Team Coordinator Mark Willis explained.

"A combination of cold, wet and shiny cobbles made the grip levels very difficult," he said. "Each one of those would have been difficult to deal with individually. Put those together with very tight bends and the poor visibility that comes with driving an F1 car and the whole experience was very difficult for Sébastien. It really did take him out of comfort zone."

The comfort zone was reduced further by bright sunshine that meant no filming could take place between midday and 2pm. Thus, when opportunities did present themselves, Sébastien had to be right on it.

"We had two big challenges: the road and the weather conditions," said Sébastien. "The road was so narrow that I had to flick the car to get it around the corners and the temperature was so low that in the morning we even had some snow at the top of the Pass. It wasn't an easy task. A Formula One car isn't made to drive around corners like we have on the Tremola and the fact that we sit so low in the car made it even more difficult to drive."

It was an amazing experience.

In the end, Seb completed multiple runs up the pass, with each on-the-limit blast up the snaking, bumpy route being filmed using drones and chase vehicles. The crew finally began pack down at 8pm, just as the light faded and the temperature began to plummet once more. But Seb had conquered the Tremolastrasse, the footage was in the bag and one of the team's toughest challenges had been completed.

"It's great to do something that takes us and the F1 car away from its preferred environment," said Willis of the challenge. "Very cold temperatures combined with high altitude meant that it took us a few runs to understand how the car was reacting to the environment. Once we understood this we could adapt and adjust our normal routine to suit. This, with the forever changing stunning views, meant a very long day went very quickly."

The final word goes to Sébastien: "It was an amazing experience, something I could only dream of," he said of the Tremola run. "The road is very special; it has such a big history. Racing in Switzerland has been forbidden for many years, so to have the opportunity to drive an F1 car in Switzerland and on one of the most beautiful roads was amazing. I'll remember this for a very long time."