Formula 1 racing has fans all over the world — including in the Netherlands, where a man named Alex has loved F1 for two decades. His second love is design, and these two interests go neatly hand-in-hand in his Mini F1 Drivers community and business. Alex creates wonderful mini figures of Formula 1 cars and drivers via 3D design and printing, and was kind enough to take some time to tell 3DPrint.com about his love for F1 and the process of designing his Mini F1 Drivers.
“My love for F1 started some 22 years ago,” Alex told us. “Over the years, I got to know the sport better and better. Now, I can’t imagine a life without F1. After the last race, I start counting until the new season! And weeks between races just fly by. It’s like living in another time-zone 🙂 “
Alex ha had a history with Photoshop and Illustrator, which he thoroughly enjoyed using to design. In about 2005, a friend gave Alex an old laptop that had SketchUp on it, and so began his odyssey into 3D designing. After discovering some of the limitations of Sketchup, Alex moved on to Blender — “next to F1,” Alex says now, “it has become my biggest passion.” The design program fit into Alex’s desire for more options while also being pretty user friendly. He taught himself the ins and outs of Blender, and says that he is “at a pretty decent level now, since I can make pretty much anything I want.”
Tying back to his first love, ‘anything he wanted’ quickly translated into learning to create models. He discovered some of the challenges of designing to 3D print and faced them head-on:
“You have to make an outer shape. But an inner one as well. Solid models would be too expensive to print. Making them hollow within the material-specifications is part of the trick. And it’s not as easy as it sounds. It also has to be able to bear a certain load. Thin arms will break for example. And the powder that’s enclosed while printing, must be able to escape. And it has to look good. All within the same style… It’s a challenge. But it’s super-exciting to be able to make these kind of items… 3d-printing must be every designer’s dream!”
3D printing certainly turned out to be Alex’s dream — or at least enough to turn him on to some of the possibilities now open to him as a fan of Formula 1 and a 3D designer. In March 2013, Alex created his Facebook page to begin to showcase the F1 mini figures he was designing, and to offer a community to other fans. The page, Alex says, is “everything I love! I can make 3d, it’s about F1, I can talk to fans and to be honest, I’m very lucky that people like [the figures] so much.”
A natural progression from showing off his work was to respond to the rising requests from his page’s fans that he sell them — and so later in 2013, Alex opened up his shop at Shapeways. Once launched, Alex began to realize both the joys (the models were selling!) and some of the pitfalls of offering his products on a commercial market.
“In my enthusiastic sprint, I just happened to forget that you just [can’t] print someone else’s logos… Just a minor detail. I was already selling them! And some day a team told me that I couldn’t use their IP. Of-course. I closed my shop. Simple as that. And since then, I have been working on new ‘legal’ versions. But it’s a lot of work, and one only has so much time and hands.”
After the relaunch of his shop, without using proprietary logos, Alex has been doing well with his Shapeways project and has continued to develop his design skills and expand his line of Mini F1 Drivers. He started making his first car (“nr.44, go #TeamLH,” he says) and is widening his material options. While most of his models are printed using Shapeways’ sandstone material, he found that it was better to use metallic plastics for the rims, so they would look better. Throughout all the changes with his shop, from materials to content issues, Alex notes that Shapeways has been good to work with:
“And by now, Shapeways has proven to be the right company for me. They are fast when responding, give useful feedback, they’re very helpful! Their service is great. They are very willing to work together with their community to make amazing products… Shapeways feels like my second home now!”
Alex also notes that he is working toward obtaining official licensing for his shop and is “planning on starting an official business.” He has talked a bit with an F1 team since he had to remove the original patented content, and while the work ahead of him may be a challenge, it seems to Alex that the process is well worth it. With more fans and some communication with F1 racers, growing further to create more official products seems a natural, if huge, next step for Mini F1 Drivers.
One huge step forward for Alex is on the horizon already: “A crowd-funding project is in the making!”Alex does promise that “by the end of this month, there should be some more news,” so we’ll be keeping an eye out for any future announcements! Check up on Alex’s progress through his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, and have a look at some more photos of his models below.
What do you think of the Mini F1 Drivers? Let us know over at the 3D Printed Mini F1 Drivers forum thread at 3DPB.com.