As its longest-serving staff member Reece Witchell holds a special place at BWT Alpine F1 Team.
He joined the former Toleman outfit in 1983 and has been a constant presence ever since, through five changes of team name and four Drivers’ World Championships.
Known to most people in the team by his nickname “Rico”, Reece has spent most of that time specialising in composites, based in the factory supporting the team from its Enstone base. He is currently a team leader for composite trim and assembly.
What makes his commitment to the team even more special is the fact that his daughter Rebecca also now works at BWT Alpine F1 Team, ensuring that the Witchell family link will continue.
Reece was a teenager living close to the original Toleman factory in Witney when he landed a chance opportunity to join the still young team.
“I just went down to see a couple of friends who were working at Toleman at the time,” he recalls. “They'd only just entered F1 two years earlier. And my future boss then came up to me and said, ‘Do you want a job? Can you push a broom?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Start now then.’ And that was it. And I was off!
“In the school holidays I used to work at a garage doing servicing and car restoration on a Daimler Dart and an old Humber. So, I’d always been interested in cars, and F1 was the epitome, the top end, so I jumped at that.”
Reece was soon asked to give up his broom and was put to work in the fibreglass department making bodywork parts. With composites becoming an increasingly important part of F1 car construction he then moved into laminating, learning his craft on the job, and working his way through various roles.
In 1991, the by now Benetton team acquired a new base in Enstone. There was a period of transition when the original Witney site was also still in use, and Reece was one of the last to make the move in October 1992.
He’s seen big changes at the Enstone facility since then: “It's expanded with different departments moving around and walls being knocked down and bigger areas created. And we've expanded around the outside of the main factory as well.”
Reece saw the team develop from humble roots as Toleman through the Benetton, Renault, Lotus eras, before the return to Renault ownership and subsequent move to Alpinefor the 2021 season.
“The name has changed, but the business is still the same,” he says. “Technology has got better and bigger, and more expensive, with different methods and processes. It's all changed to keep up with new technology, so it's evolved a lot.”
Reece has also seen many drivers pass through the team under its various names, including some future all-time greats. Back in 1984, a Brazilian rookie called Ayrton Senna came to Toleman.
“He was a young lad then obviously,” Reece recalls. “He wanted to see how the car is made, and he used to come to the factory and help out making parts. He wanted to know how you made it, constructed it and how it was bolted on the car, and what the strengths were and things like that. He was always into it, seeing what goes on.”
In the autumn of 1991, Michael Schumacher joined Benetton, and three years later the German won Enstone’s first FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
“He also wanted to come in and have a look and have a chat with everyone and see how things were made,” says Reece.
“He didn't actually get his hands dirty and have a go! But he was always looking in and seeing how it was done. He was a fantastic driver. Winning the world championship was amazing. There were lots of tears.”
Schumacher won a second title in 1995 before leaving. It was a decade before another talented youngster called Fernando Alonso put the team – by then known as Renault – back on top.
"Alonso was very much like Schumacher or Senna. Off the track he was really nice, but when he got in the car, he was hyper focused. If you saw him coming in your mirrors, you'd move out the way!”
The team has had mixed results since Alonso’s 2005-06 title years. However, as Alpine it is currently challenging for podiums once again. And Reece is now working alongside daughter Rebecca, who joined last year.
“I thought F1 was amazing,” she says. “When I was little, I think I always wanted to be in that world. It was kind of inevitable. We always said that was going to happen eventually!”
Rebecca studied for a degree in Construction Project Management, and then earned a Master's in Fire Scene Investigation. Lots of potential career paths were open to her, but she fulfilled her ambition when she successfully applied for a job at Alpine.
"The interview was terrifying!,” she says. “I work in project delivery. Basically, I create all the works orders for every part on the car. It's got some resemblance to my degree in terms of scheduling things, and making sure they get to where they're supposed to be on time.”
She enjoys being known around the factory as Reece’s daughter: "There are a few people that went to mum and dad's wedding, or to my christening. So, some people have known me since I was a baby, and I don't know who they are! So that's always a bit weird.
“It fascinates me that my dad could be in the same job since he was 16. But the team has very much been our entire lives as well. I see him every day. I have to say when he's not there, it's very quiet! I can't go and pester him.”
Reece meanwhile says he’s never really thought about leaving Enstone for a job elsewhere, despite new F1 teams coming along over the years and looking for experienced personnel.
“I've not been tempted to move away because it's all the same game,” he says. “You can move over to another team, but they're all doing what you're doing, although it may be in different surroundings. And I've worked here so long and been loyal to team, so I don't really want to move.”
In May, Reece was honoured for his 40 years of service in front of the whole Enstone staff at a special ceremony hosted by team principal Otmar Szafnauer. So, what’s the next big career landmark for him?
“I'm 57, so I'm due another 10 years,” he says. “I can go to 67 before I retire, so I should reach my 50 years. As long as my health holds out, and I'm still capable of doing my job, I'll stay!”