Wednesday, December 31, 2008

(Almost) Too hot to handle

Although the driver looks like he is sitting outside the cockpit temperatures can soar almost out of control during the two hours of a race. Formula One cars don’t have the luxury of air conditioning, and the close proximity of the engine, which sits directly behind him, as well as the lack of air circulating in his cockpit, means that temperatures inside can often reach more than 10 degrees centigrade higher than the outside temperature. When you think that most Grands Prix take place in the middle of each country’s summer, it is not difficult to understand just how uncomfortable the temperature can be. In addition to the closeness of the engine, the cockpit is made hotter by the heat of the front-wheel’s brakes, which can often reach 1,000 degrees centigrade. Also impacting on the cockpit temperature is the driver’s seating position. He’s very close to the floor, which can get hot if it rubs along the ground. McLaren star David Coulthard climbed out of his car at the end of the 2000 Malaysian Grand Prix with a huge heat blister on his bottom thanks to the heat that was generated through the floor of the cockpit. Drivers also get very hot because of all the other clothing they must wear. The safety regulations require drivers to wear fireproof underwear, a triplelayer racing overall, plus gloves, boots, a balaclava and helmet – all of which make them even hotter.

Coping with the pain – driving with injuries

Formula One racing drivers are a different breed. All they can think about is winning the race. That’s why they often drive through the pain barrier in their quest for victory. If drivers were ever worried about hurting themselves, they certainly wouldn’t even get in their cars. But if the issue is only pain – bad bruising, sore arms, or sprained muscles, for example –nothing, short of a doctor telling tell him not to race, will stop a driver from getting back in the car after a big crash.
The most famous example of this was in 1976 when then world champion Niki Lauda was nearly killed in a fiery accident at the Nuerburgring in Germany. He was given the last rites at the hospital that day, but somehow fought back and amazingly returned to the cockpit at the Italian Grand Prix a few weeks later, still with bandages covering his wounds. He went on to finish fourth that day.

Coming back from F1 injury

When most of us pick up an illness or an injury, we try to spend as long as possible away from work as we recover. Drivers, however, have to get back to work as quickly as possible. If they are forced out because of an injury, they must do everything possible to get back fast. Being fit allows drivers to recover from injury much faster than ordinary people, and because they’re so devoted to their jobs, they don’t mind suffering some pain in the quest for victory. Don’t forget also that they have fulltime fitness trainers who work with them 24 hours a day to get them back in shape.
The worst thing for a driver would be to think that he lost the World Championship because he spent too long recuperating from an injury. When races are going on, drivers really hate spending race days at home; that’s why they often won’t watch the race if they’re not taking part.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Michael Schumacher – the fittest of them all

Michael Schumacher is regarded as the man who took Formula One fitness to a new level. When he burst onto the scene in 1991, people were surprised that he could climb out of a Grand Prix car after two hours of racing without a bead of sweat on his forehead. Then stories began to emerge about how devoted to his fitness he was.
Schumacher likes to get his body trained between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. so that it is used to exerting itself during qualifying – rather then readying itself for a meal. After tests at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, he will often watch movies on television while doing head exercises with huge weights attached to a special helmet. He also plays soccer at a semi-pro level.

Working it out

Once upon a time, drivers wouldn’t think twice about smoking, drinking, and eating what they wanted – and their only exercise would be getting out of bed in the morning to go to the race tracks. Nowadays, however, one of the first luxuries a Formula One driver has added to his house when he starts earning big money is not a new television or stereo; it’s his own personal gym. As the sport has become ever more competitive, so drivers have got fitter and fitter. Today, Formula One drivers leave absolutely nothing to chance and they often have their own physical trainers and dieticians to make sure that they are in the best shape possible. Some of the sport’s current top stars, like Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber, have hardly any body fat on them at all and are as fit as any other major sports star.
A Formula One driver spends anything between two and five hours every day in the gym, and some do even more. They spend this time on cardiovascular exercises, like rowing and cycling, which helps build their endurance over Grands Prix distances, and muscle building, which helps make them strong enough to drive Formula One cars. In addition, the top half of the driver’s body needs to be able to cope with the forces they experience when they drive; during some corners, for example, the weight of the head can multiply by four times through g-forces. For this reason, drivers focus their exercises on their necks, arms, back, and stomach.
As fit as they must be, however, Formula One drivers can’t become so obsessed with their muscles that they turn into strongmen. Their physiques must be compact so that they fit in the cockpit; in addition, too much muscle makes them too heavy to be quick.

Fit to Drive: Getting in Shape

Everybody knows that lazy people always prefer to drive to their local shops rather than walk, but driving a racing car is certainly something only the fittest athletes can do. Formula One drivers may not look as big and brawny as some other athletes, but the stresses and strains of performing at 200 mph on a baking hot summer’s day means that normal people would collapse from exhaustion after just a few laps.
The huge g-forces, where bodyweight is increased to three or four times normal, that drivers experience when they brake or go through high-speed corners can literally knock the air out of their lungs. And although drivers have to be quite light (being large and heavy makes them slow), they have to make sure that the top half of their body is strong enough for the forces needed to drive the car. At more than 150 mph, it takes an effort of 20 kg to turn the steering wheel – certainly more than the road car sitting outside the front of your house.
Tests carried out on Formula One drivers have shown that their heart rate can soar to 185 beats per minute at the most stressful part of races. This is the same kind of rate that fighter pilots experience in the heat of combat.

No rest for the weary: After the race

The public may have the image of a Formula One driver flying away from winning a Grand Prix to spend the time before the next race lounging about on his yacht in the Mediterranean. The truth, however, is very different. The commitments of a modern day Formula One driver are immense, and some have been known to spend only 20 days at home during the entire season. The massive testing schedules, sponsor commitments, media opportunities and personal business work mean that there is almost no escape from their day jobs.
But it is a small price to pay for doing something that they absolutely love. Although most drivers would prefer to spend time at home relaxing with their families, they also know that it is important to show up for sponsor functions because, at the end of the day, they would not be racing without their sponsors.

’Round and ’round we go: Racing without rest

The concentration levels needed to fight for the lead of a Formula One race are probably the same that footballers experience when taking a penalty in the World Cup final, or tennis players go through when serving to win the Wimbledon tennis championship. But there is one big difference between Formula One and most other sports: A Grand Prix driver has almost no chance to rest when he’s out there in action.
While football players can eat oranges at halftime, and tennis players get to sit down and drink water between each set, racing drivers cannot suddenly choose to go to the toilet halfway through the race or pull over at the side of the track to take a breather. Once the driver is strapped in, that’s it until the chequered flag comes out at the end of the race. Although drivers do have a water bottle in their cockpits, they still have to drink plenty of fluid before the race starts. In fact, drivers get so hydrated before the race starts that you often see them nipping off to the toilet before the race. And believe it or not, once the race is underway, they may even go in the car if nature calls – and they don’t expect to clean up afterwards! Drivers sweat so much during the race that they get very dehydrated, which means that the first thing they want to do when they get out of the car is to find a bottle of water rather than punch the air in delight. After winning the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix, David Coulthard said that he did not go to the toilet again until the next morning – despite drinking all evening as he celebrated his victory.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Focussing on the job rather than the fans

Don’t be surprised if a driver brushes past you in the build-up to the race instead of politely stopping to sign some autographs. It isn’t rudeness. It’s concentration. By this time, drivers are beginning to get completely focussed on the race ahead; even the slightest distraction can put them off. Drivers often find that if they stop to sign one autograph, they’ll suddenly be besieged by hundreds of fans and won’t be able to escape for several minutes. So wait until the pressure is off; then drivers often have little problem in signing hats, photograph, or books. Just remember that there is a time and a place for everything.
Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve has perfected a routine for letting people know when he is or isn’t in the mood for meeting and greeting. Before a race, he puts his crash helmet on in his motor home and then strides purposefully across the paddock. The protection of his helmet (and his earplugs) means noone can catch his gaze and he can focus on what he does best – driving his Formula One car very fast.

Psyching up for the race: It’s a mind game

Most people find it difficult to keep their concentration level up at the best of times. Think about how many times maybe you’ve started day-dreaming in a difficult exam or let your mind wander when the pressure is on at work. Formula One drivers can’t afford the luxury of “spacing out”, especially when the lights go out to signal the start of the race. That’s when they really earn their money, and they can’t afford to let a single opportunity slip through their fingers.
Even when the driver sits on the grid, with the fans cheering him on, television crews wanting to interview him, and pretty grid girls holding up his race car number, he rarely thinks about anything other than the Grand Prix itself. In his head, he’s thinking about how to get his start right; where the best place to overtake is if he gets the jump on the cars ahead when the lights go out; and what to do if his car is slow away.
Once the race is underway, the driver thinks constantly about how fast he needs to drive, where the best places to overtake are, whether he needs to look after his tyres or be more economical with his fuel so that he’s better placed at the end of the Grand Prix. It’s no wonder that at the Monaco Grand Prix, with more than 2,000 gear changes during the race and the entire track lined by barriers, drivers are absolutely shattered at the end. They certainly deserve a drink of champagne if they win!
Keeping concentration levels up isn’t easy to do; that’s why drivers often sit in a quiet room before the race starts so that they can get in the mood. Beyond their own preparation and determination, the teams help their drivers as much as they can, through the radio systems that they used so effectively in practice. The best teams constantly tell their drivers about the positions of other cars, just how fast they need to drive, and when they’re scheduled to stop for fuel and new tires. The teams also use pit boards (special boards with numbers on counting down the laps to go, the time difference between cars in front and behind, and instructions like to slow down or come into the pits) to advise the drivers, although these aren’t always foolproof. Sometimes drivers have misread their pit boards and come into the pits too early or run out of fuel because they didn’t think they needed to stop.
It’s very important that drivers never lose their concentration, even for a split second. One of the most famous occasions when a driver slipped up was in the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna was leading the race by a huge margin with only a few laps to go. His arch rival for the championship, Alain Prost, had just got up to second place in the race. Senna was so worried, despite his massive lead, that he lost concentration and clipped the barriers –crashing out of the race. Senna was so upset, he didn’t return to the pits. Instead, he locked himself away in his nearby apartment until the next day!

Race Day Rituals in Formula One

Here’s a run down of what the driver must do on race day.
  • Warming up: If the weather conditions are different from the rest of the weekend, a warm-up may be scheduled for Sunday morning. This enables the driver and team to get the final feel for the car before the race.
  • Meeting sponsors: At every Grand Prix the team’s sponsors have their own hospitality boxes where employees or company guests are entertained throughout the weekend. Drivers usually have to meet and greet these guests early on Sunday morning and often must take part in a question-and-answer session. Meeting and entertaining sponsors on race day may seem very distracting for the driver, but it is just a normal part of being a Formula One star these days.
  • Making an appearance in the merchandise stand: Although the driver will be thinking solely about how his car is and the race by now, the team may require him to make a small appearance at their merchandise stand. This appearance gives fans a chance to see the driver and get an autograph. Of course, while they’re at the merchandise stand the fans will also probably buy a cap and T-shirt, too. This is just another part of the business of Formula One.
  • Attending the drivers’ briefing: The driver may have had a short time to himself by now, but then he has to attend the official Formula One drivers’ briefing. During this briefing the race director runs through the procedures for the day and advises drivers of any specific problems with the track or the running of the event. This briefing also gives drivers a chance to get their own questions (about driving etiquette or safety concerns, for example) answered. Drivers must attend this briefing. Any driver who misses this briefing is handed a huge fine and may even be thrown out of the race.
  • Participating in the drivers’ parade: After the briefing, the drivers are taken out into the pit lane and on to the circuit where they climb aboard a special truck that has a special open platform on the back. This truck takes them on a lap of the circuit where the fans can see them in person (rather than only their crash helmets) and a few lucky marshals can get autographs. This parade also allows the track commentator to get a last interview with the drivers before the race.
  • Taking final reconnaissance laps: Shortly before the race, the teams will have had their cars released from the parc ferme (the holding area where the cars have been locked up all night) and, half-an-hour before the scheduled start, the pit lane will open to allow the drivers their final reconnaissance laps. This marks the countdown to the race proper before the drivers form up on the grid.
  • Racing: This is the main attraction of the day – for both the fans and drivers.
  • Attending post-race functions: If a driver has been successful and finished in the top three, he is escorted up to the podium where a local dignitary hands him his trophy and where he gets to spray (and be sprayed by) the champagne. From there, the drivers are taken to a special press conference, one for television and one for the written media, before facing more television cameras and journalists out in the paddock. Even drivers who haven’t finished in the top three are often be chased by reporters who will want to know what went wrong or what they thought of the race. After the journalists have returned to the media centre to write their reports the drivers often sit down with their teams for a final post-race debrief to work out how well they did, how they could have done better, or how it all went wrong!
  • Getting home: Because drivers’ schedules are so packed they like nothing more than getting home straight after the race. That is why, as soon as they can, they head for the local airport to catch a commercial flight home or jump into their own private jet. This is often the only time that the pressure is off and a driver can relax, even if he is completely shattered from his job on the track that day.

Lending a helping hand: Working with team mates

Drivers must work well with their team mates so that they can get through as much work as possible. Sometimes the different team mates can work on different set-ups, evaluate different types of tyres, or try out each other’s set-up. Although the two drivers may be very competitive against each other, there are times when they have to put these differences aside to actually help the team.

Getting the car just right

Sometimes the driver and team find that they’ve found the perfect set-up straightaway in practice, but this doesn’t happen very often. Even when it does happens, it doesn’t mean that the driver and team can sit back with a cool drink and watch the other drivers at work. They still have a lot to do themselves: They must work out their tyre choice for the weekend, and they can prepare other things for the race – like brake pads – or even try out new components to see whether they can make the car go even quicker. One of the most difficult challenges is when the driver says he is happy with how the car feels, but his time is very slow. In these circumstances, the team may have to make adjustments that make the car quite difficult to drive in order to bring the speed up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Back to the track

The driver returns to the track with his new set-up. If he finds that the problem hasn’t been cured at all he may return to the pit and ask for the necessary changes. If oversteering is the problem, for example, and changing the downforce didn’t help, the driver may suggest that the front-suspension be altered to see whether that makes any difference. After several more laps –and several more pit stops – the driver may finally be happy with the performance of his car.

Working through problems in the garage

After the car is pulled back into the garage the driver speaks to his race engineer to let him know his feelings. (The driver speaks to his team through special radio systems that allow quick communication.) The race engineer talks through the options with the driver and the two may, for example, simply decide that he needs a little more downforce on the front of the car. Decisions must be made quickly during practice because practice time is limited. It’s also important that the driver be happy with the car before qualifying or the race.

Arrival and initial laps

The driver gets dressed into his racing overalls and turns up at the garage, putting his balaclava and helmet on just before he climbs into his car. When the session starts he often goes out onto the track for a reconnaissance lap before returning to the pits. This lap allows the driver and team to check that the car is working fine and that nothing is broken and that there are no fuel or oil leaks. The driver then goes out for a handful of laps to see how the car feels at speed. During these laps he may find, for example, that the car is understeering (the front of the car slides more than the rear in corners) so he returns to the pits to tell the team what he thinks.

A typical practice session

To make sure that the car’s ready when it counts, it’s vital that the team and driver work perfectly together in practice. The driver must communicate well with the team, letting them know just how the car feels and whether any changes they’ve suggested have made a difference. The following sections explain what goes on between a Formula One driver and his team during a typical practice session.
Sometimes drivers only do short runs with light levels of fuel to simulate the conditions of qualifying. At other times, the team will fill the car up with petrol and will want the driver to run for more than 10 laps to work out how the car feels in race conditions.

Wednesday for F1 Driver

Another day of testing, although a driver may be able to fly home this evening to get ready for the following week’s Grand Prix. Big teams usually have one or two test drivers who help ease the workload on their regular drivers, because there’s no point getting their stars completely shattered before the next race.
Despite everything else he has to do in his life, being fast in a racing car and working with his team is still the most important part of a Formula One driver’s job. At the end of the day, a Formula One driver is the single person who determines whether the team wins or loses. He is the one risking his life out on the track, he is the one who decides how the car should be set-up, and he is the one who gets the credit – or the blame – for how things go on Sunday afternoons.

Tuesday for F1 drivers

ess than 48 hours after the Grand Prix, the Formula One driver is back in the cockpit, working hard on developments and improvements for the next race. The teams will be experimenting with new parts or different set-ups to try to make the car even quicker. Testing a Formula One car is a relentless job, and the track usually stays open from 9 a.m. until darkness. After that, the driver usually spends a few hours with the team, working through a technical debrief of the test, before dinner and then maybe an interview with journalists. (Many drivers prefer to do major interviews at tests because there’s a lot less pressure on their time; the only time anyone gets to speak exclusively to Michael Schumacher is at a test.)

Monday fro F1 Drivers

If a driver is lucky he’ll wake up in his own bed on Monday morning –but it’s back to work straight away. Even though he’ll be tired and maybe a bit sore from the race, he has to go to the gym for a few hours to make sure he stays in shape. Monday afternoon, if he hasn’t been called up for a sponsor function, he’ll fly out to one of the European tracks to get ready for that week’s testing schedule.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday for F1 Driver

Race day is by far the most important, and busiest, day of the week.While in the past, drivers could just turn up a few minutes before the race started, jump in their cars, and then head off home as soon as the chequered flag came out, that’s no longer the case. And if the driver can’t get a helicopter into the circuit he could find himself having to get up even earlier to beat the traffic jams caused by the fans.

Saturday for F1 Driver

Saturday is a very important day, because what happens today decides the grid for Sunday’s race. The driver attends two practice sessions in the morning and then a warm-up before he actually qualifies his car. He has to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect with his car because he has only one lap to get his time in – if he makes a mistake and spins off the track or suffers a mechanical problem he could find himself starting right at the back of the grid. If qualifying goes well and the driver’s time puts him in one of the top three positions, he attends a special press conference, broadcast all around the world. After this press conference he must attend more debriefs with the team and then even more press conferences. If an evening function has been planned for Saturday night, he must attend that, as well, although these don’t run too late because the driver must get a good night’s sleep before race day.

Friday for F1 Driver

Practice starts very early on Friday morning, especially if the driver’s team has signed up for the extra two-hour test session. The driver usually gets to the track at about 8 a.m. (after having already spent maybe an hour in the hotel gym) and runs through the day’s programme with the team. (See the next section “Keeping Busy during Practice” to find out what goes on during these sessions.) The driver spends most of the rest of the day in practice and technical debriefs, when the team evaluates the set-up of the car and its performance. Afterward, he attends even more press conferences. Amidst all these other responsibilities, the driver completes the first qualifying round, which decides the running order for Saturday’s main qualifying session. In the evening, he usually attends another sponsor function, which can run on quite late.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday for F1 Drivers

The Formula One driver flies into the racetrack and spends some time with the team, checking that his car is OK and working out strategy for the weekend. He usually attends at least one press conference, and signs autographs for the many autograph hunters chasing him around. In the evening, the driver usually takes part in a sponsor function or press dinner, before escaping at about 10 p.m. to go to bed.

Why there are no women F1 drivers?

Formula One is a male-dominated sport. Most of the mechanics, engineers and other staff are male and there has been no female racing driver since Italian Giovanni Amati tried to qualify for races in 1992. It has often been argued that it is only prejudice that has prevented female racing drivers being successful in Formula One, but that is only part of the explanation. The physical demands of a Grand Prix car calls for massive upper body strength, something which women’s bodies are not designed for. It has also been argued that the cold-blooded aggression needed at the top level of the sport is helped a lot by male testosterone.

Important Characteristic of F1 Drivers

Yes, it’s true that any one who can fit into a Formula One car can drive a Formula One car – provided, of course, that they get the necessary instructions. But Formula One drivers aren’t just anybody, and it takes a special person to drive a Formula One car well. These are the main qualities a successful driver must have:
  • Physical strength and dexterity. Formula One cars are hard to drive at the limit. The massive G-forces experienced during cornering and under braking, as well as the incredible heat inside the cockpits, mean that drivers have to be very strong. The races also last almost two hours, meaning stamina is vital.
  • Mental alertness. Racing drivers are well aware that at 200 mph they cannot hesitate for a split second if they are to avoid crashing. Formula One stars have to maintain complete concentration for almost two hours, which pushes their minds to the limit. They have to look out for changing track conditions, they have to feel the changing characteristics of their cars and they have to look out for warning flags, pit signals and their rivals. It is tiring just thinking about it!
  •  Quick reaction times. One of the first lessons any driving instructor teaches you is to keep a safe distance from the car in front. This distance allows you enough reaction time to get out of trouble if an accident occurs or somebody brakes heavily. Formula One drivers have to throw that rule straight out of the window (if they had one) every time they climb into their Grand Prix cars. In the fight for victory they have to drive right behind their rivals’ cars at 200 mph. If a problem occurs ahead of them – like a spinning car or a piece of debris on the track – they have to rely on their super-quick reaction times to get them out of trouble. This skill not only enables them to keep their cars on the track, but also to stay out of trouble so that they can finish the race.
  •  Endurance. Being a good Formula One driver is not just about performing at the top of your game over one lap; it’s about performing at the top of your game for every single lap of a Grand Prix distance. Most races last about an hour and a half and during that time there’s no let up – except perhaps a few seconds to catch your breath during a pit stop. Drivers have to cope with the pressure of racing, avoid accidents, keep up to date with team strategy, and be able to endure the bumps, bangs, and the heat over this entire distance. This pressure is so intense that most drivers lose about 3kg of bodyweight through sweat in a normal Grand Prix.
  •  Being able to perform consistently at the top of their game without making costly mistakes. If you make a mistake pulling out of a junction in your road car at best you stall the car or, worse, cause an accident. Racing drivers can’t afford to make such mistakes and they have to get every single aspect of their job right when they’re driving at the limit. Although today’s semi-automatic gearboxes and computer controls make stalling a car more difficult, drivers still have to ensure that every time they turn the wheel or step on a pedal, they do so at exactly the right moment. They can’t afford to brake 10 metres too late or hit the accelerator pedal when they were meant to hit the brakes. The result may not just be a harmless spin; it could be a crash that puts them out of the race or even costs them the World Championship. Just as the driver expects the team to never get it wrong when they prepare his car, the team has the same expectations of the driver. If the driver makes a mistake that puts him out of the race he can expect a rough time when he walks back to his team garage.
  •  An appreciation for adventure and speed: Formula One drivers are incredibly competitive and love the thrill of racing. That is why many of them love racing their friends in karts when they are not at Grand Prix weekends. They also love taking part in adrenaline-based activities – be it parachuting, wind-surfing or cycling. They are, after all, some of the bravest sportsmen in the world.
  •  Courage: Formula One racing is not a sport for the shy or the timid. To race wheel-to-wheel with somebody at almost 200 mph takes incredible bravery – especially when they fully understand that one mistake could result in a crash that could injure or even kill them.
One of the skills of the best Formula One drivers is the ability to use so little of their brainpower to drive the car at top speed that they can concentrate on everything else that’s going on around them. Some drivers, like Michael Schumacher, are able to race at full speed and still watch the big television screens that line the circuit to see how their rivals are doing. Or they may watch for clues about tyre wear by looking at their rivals’ wheels. It’s no good being blindingly fast if you have to use all your brainpower just to keep the car on the road.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Formula One Driver's Role in the Team

So the driver just shows up on race weekend and, on the back of the work of all those people described earlier in this section, gets the glory and the girls? Well, the bit about the girls may be true, but a driver’s job doesn’t begin and end with driving the car in the practices, qualifying, and race. When not spending a few hours each day in the gym, he is either testing the car and working with the engineers to improve it, or he’s attending some sponsor function, making small talk with the people who pay the money and their guests, and often flying between countries to fit it all in. Drivers get the odd day off between races but not nearly as many as you might imagine. The very best drivers don’t simply drive the car fast, they inspire the whole team. Their attitude and personality can make the difference between a team of engineers and mechanics going through the motions to one that is buzzing at a winning pitch.
Michael Schumacher is renowned as a driver who motivates the entire race team. A typical test day for him at the Ferrari test track near the factory involves testing the car from around 8 a.m. to mid-day, then taking a lunch break that may include an impromptu football match with the mechanics, before getting back in the car and running until the daylight fades. In between lapping sessions, he’s back at the pits running through data with his engineers. At the end of the day, he has a full debrief that could last up to two hours, after which he may retire to his on-site private gym for a final flourish of physical training.
The best drivers drive the team on, always pushing everyone within it, being highly demanding behind the scenes but never publicly critical. They have a way of bringing out the best of those working around them. Some drivers never seem to achieve the success that their obvious driving talent suggests, and usually it’s nothing to do with bad luck but some shortfall in behind-the-scenes commitment and application.

Why a team mate is a driver’s biggest rival

Each Formula One team has two race drivers. The fact that these drivers are working for the same team and the same boss and representing the same sponsors suggests that they are working together towards the aim of team success. Even the term team mate suggests this. In reality a team mate is a driver’s deadliest rival – in most teams at least. Because motor sport in general, and Formula One in particular, is so machinery-dependent it’s not strictly possible to compare the individual performances of drivers from different teams. Is the guy who’s winning a mega-star in a competent car or a competent driver in a superlative car? And is the guy he’s beating actually a far better driver?
Everyone has their opinions, but no-one really knows for sure. But because team mates drive the exact same car, any differences in their respective performances are assumed to be down to those drivers and nothing more. Myths are often destroyed when a new team mate arrives in a team and puts the incumbent driver’s performance into a new perspective. Either the new guy regularly beats the guy with the big reputation, or he arrives with a big reputation himself but is seen off by the incumbent driver who wasn’t previously as highly rated. All this has a direct bearing on the salary a driver can command the following year; it can also affect the status of the team that he drives for in the future. Once a driver has been consistently out-performed by a team mate, it is rare that his Formula One career ever fully recovers. Formula One is a dog-eat-dog world.

Team orders and why they’re banned

Since the start of the 2003, Formula One rules have prohibited teams from interfering with the race order between their two drivers. This rather bizarre rule came into being as a result of the outcry against the Ferrari team at Austria in 2002 when their number two driver, Rubens Barrichello, had led all the way, with team leader Michael Schumacher in second. In the last few metres of the last lap, Barrichello lifted off and surrendered the win to Schumacher because he had been instructed to do so by the team over the radio.
The Formula One governing body felt that this action made something of a mockery of the sport, and created the ruling. But realistically, how can such a ban ever be imposed? Although teams are no longer allowed to scramble their radio signals, making it possible for the race director to listen in to team communications at any time, sporting rules cannot legislate for pre-arranged orders or “unfortunately” slow pit stops for the driver assigned to finish behind his team mate. The most effective way of ensuring no team orders is by having the front-running teams extremely closely matched so that any given team can no longer have the luxury of deciding which of their drivers it wants to win.

Truckies and catering staff

A Formula One team on the move is an awesome sight. Getting the team from place to place and feeding them along the way is a big responsibility that falls to the truckies and the catering staff.
Articulated trucks, which double up as technical debrief rooms, contain the cars. Other trucks contain the mobile palaces that form the team’s HQ during a race weekend. These unfold to create “buildings” containing every facility and luxury a team may need, including kitchens that the catering staff uses to feed the whole team and guests throughout the weekend.

F1 Logistics managers

So complex is the manufacturing and the movement of a team from test venue to factory to race in all sorts of combinations that logistics managers are employed to streamline the whole thing. These people use a technique called critical path analysis, which splits tasks into key operations and defines where a reduction in time for one element will be translated into a reduction in time for the entire task. This is not always the case. For example, a quicker heat treatment for a suspension component could simply mean that the heat treater is waiting longer before the next component is supplied to him.

Telemetry and how it helps the F1 team

Telemetry is the transference of data from one place to another, usually via radio signals. It is a technology that has taken much of the art away from Formula One and replaced it with science. It is also a great example of how some of the less glamorous race team members play an important role in the team’s performance in a race.
Until 2003, the telemetry between car and pit garage was two-way, but since then, only carto-pits telemetry has been allowed. Pits-to-car telemetry – which was being used to change operating parameters of the car even as it was racing – has been banned in an attempt to kerb costs.
As the cars are screaming round the track, they are transmitting readings from dozens of sensors. These readings are relayed to banks of computers in the team garages, manned by data analysts who look for any imminent technical problems on the car. Because some of these problems can be rectified by the driver before any damage is done, the analysts are in regular touch with the driver’s race engineer who can instruct the driver over the radio as necessary.
Automatic data-logging is different from telemetry. The latter is simply the transference of the former. Well before the race is underway, drivers and race engineers rely heavily on data logging as a tool to help them set up the car and improve their speed. The sensors record not only car information but also the driver’s physical inputs, as well as speeds throughout the duration of the lap.
In debriefs after a practice or qualifying session, driver and engineers look at the traces that show speeds at any point on the circuit, where the driver is braking and how hard, how much steering he is using, how much throttle and when. This information can be compared between different set-ups to find whether the driver’s instinctive feelings are confirmed or repudiated. They can also be compared between team mates to see where one driver is finding time over another and how. Telemetry also records and sends vital data on engine performance, temperatures, and fuel usage. In extreme situations, telemetry information allows a team to instruct the driver to switch off the engine before it blows up. Fuel usage information may be used to help a driver gain an extra lap or so before pitting. For this reason, telemetry is a vital tool in race tactics too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

F1 Information technologists

The information technologists can form up to half of the number of people employed by a team. Computing power is an intrinsic part of a Formula One team. In its most obvious form, computers are used to record and transfer data from the car to the team in the garage during a race weekend, via telemetry. But telemetry is just one branch of the IT department. Computer programs are used throughout the team’s operation in design, engineering, manufacturing, development, and racing. Some of these programs are bought in; others are developed in-house in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage over rivals. A top team employs several hundred software specialists.

F1 Model makers

Long before a full size car is built and put in a wind tunnel, a scale model of it has to be built. This model is then put into the wind tunnel to assess the design’s potential. Different noses, wings, underbodies, and other aerodynamic details are also built in model form first. The models can be anything from 20–60 per cent scale, and they must be stiff enough for the aerodynamic load not to deform the body and thereby skew the data. These models are built by highly skilled model makers.

F1 CFD (computational flow dynamics) analysts

Computational flow dynamics (CFD) is the computerised study of how fluids behave, and air is classed as a fluid for the purposes of aerodynamics. CFD experts mainly aid the aerodynamicists (explained in the section “Chief aerodynamicist” earlier in this chapter) by studying in detail predicted airflow over key parts of the car. By studying computerised renderings ideas can be tested without the time and expense of actually making the parts. If the ideas don’t work, they can be discarded without ever having bothered the production department.

Some say that one day CFD will replace the wind tunnel and that whole cars will be designed using just the computers – and the aerodynamicists and designers of course! This day is a long way off. At present, no computer is powerful enough to do all the calculations, even for a relatively small part, and many of the results are extrapolated from behaviour in key cells. But detail designs, like wing mirrors or front wing endplates, are currently being designed using only CFD. The technique is also used in predicting oil and water flow in engines and radiators.

F1 Chief mechanic

A team of mechanics is assigned to each car and another team to the preparation of the spare car. Their roles are split between engine, chassis, gearbox, and hydraulics on each car, and they don’t interchange responsibilities. Each is a specialist in his own area. There is also a tyre man whose is responsible for washing and stacking the tyres for each driver and each practice, qualifying, or race. Selected mechanics also double up as the pit crew during pit stops. Overseeing and co-ordinating all these people is the chief mechanic.

F1 Team manager

The team manager’s job is to coordinate the activities of the mechanics, engineers, and drivers in order to ensure that everything runs as it should do and to represent the team at the track in any sporting query, either in lodging a protest against another team or defending his own team from a protest. Some years ago the team manager would be next one down in the team hierarchy after the boss but the explosion of technical specialists – and chiefs to coordinate them – means this is no longer the case.

Friday, August 15, 2008

F1 Race engineers

At the track, each driver has his own race engineer. Between driver and race engineer, they try to find the best set up for the car on the day. The driver and his engineer communicate even when the driver is on the track. The race engineer and driver work hand-in-hand with a tyre engineer, supplied exclusively to the team by the tyre manufacturer. In some teams, the race engineer makes the call on what the driver’s race strategy is going to be – whether he fuels once, twice, or three times and at what intervals. At other teams this decision is made by the technical director or engineering chief. Still others have strategists.

Production manager

The manufacturing side of producing a Formula One car is highly complex and very critical. A huge number of different manufacturing disciplines need to be brought together in the most efficient way possible, and everything has to be on time. This is the job of the production or factory manager. Working for him are a team of fabricators, machinists, tool makers, welders, and assemblers. The production manager may have risen from these ranks himself, or he may be a former chief mechanic who got sick of the travelling or whose family have grounded him!

Powertrain engineer

Some teams manufacture their own gearboxes and therefore have their own team of transmission designers and fabricators. But even those that buy-in their gearboxes from specialist manufacturers have engineers who specialise in the mating up of engine and transmission.

Engine design chief

The engine design chief oversees the design of the engine in much the same way that the technical director oversees the design of the rest of the car. The chief engine designer – that is, the person actually designs the engine – is not necessarily the same as engine design chief who will be a technical manager overseeing the department, including the chief engine designer!

F1 Wind tunnel chief

The accuracy and repeatability of the wind tunnel is essential for the aerodynamicists to know how good or bad the team’s car is. Setting up a wind tunnel is a highly complex business and the top teams have someone whose job it is to engineer the tunnel itself

F1 Chief of engineering

Some teams separate out the design and application elements and appoint a chief of engineering to oversee how designs are translated into reality. This person – such as Renault’s Pat Symonds or Williams’ Sam Michael – often plays a strong managerial role during a race weekend.

Chief of R&D

New materials and technology and new ways of using existing technology come from the R&D (Research and Development) department, headed by the chief of R&D. Investing heavily in research and development invariably translates to lap time on the track. The more inventive minds, who might go off at a tangent too readily to make a chief designer, may nonetheless make a great R&D man.

Monday, July 28, 2008

F1 Chief designer

The chief designer is the person who has to come up with an overall layout for the car that allows everything to fit and be adequately cooled whilst giving the aerodynamicist the necessary scope for generating efficient downforce. Essential to utilising the aerodynamic forces is the task of coming up with a structure that is stiff enough to withstand them – another job of the chief designer. Reporting to him is a team of designers and structural analysts. At least one team rotates between two chief designers so that one works on next year’s car without the distraction of developing the current one and then goes on to develop his car when it becomes current, leaving the other designer to initiate the next in the sequence.

F1 Chief aerodynamicist

Aerodynamics really determines the ultimate potential of a Formula One car. Even if a team sets up the car just right, it’s never going to shave whole seconds of lap time, only fractions of that. But the difference between a good and bad car aerodynamically can easily be whole seconds. That’s why the chief aerodynamicist carries the heavy burden of responsibility on his shoulders. The calculations are so involved and microscopic that he (or she – Williams currently has a female aero chief) depends on a whole team of aerodynamicists who work beneath to figure out the details, come up with new components, and try them out in the wind tunnel.

The chief aerodynamicist is primarily interested in the overall effect. The aerodynamic performance of a car is expressed in its lift:drag ratio – how much downforce can be had for how little straightline speed drag. The chief aerodynamicist is concerned with this above all else.

F1 Technical Director

The technical director’s job is part-managerial, part-technical. He invariably is a former designer or aerodynamicist, but he rarely gets a chance to actually design stuff in his role as technical director. The technical director is a rare breed: a nutty professor with a core of steel and a real flair for organisation. He sets design objectives and targets and ensures that they are met. He could just as easily be sourcing a new material and going to the team boss for budget approval as he could be brain-storming on an aerodynamic problem. In many ways the technical director is the key to the success or failure of a team. Without a fast car, a team goes nowhere.

Without the technical organisation and a technical director’s guidance, a team is never going to come up with a fast car. Much of the great Ferrari turnaround of fortunes from sad underachievers in the early 1990s to record-breaking world beaters a decade later has been attributed to the organisational and technical knowledge of Ross Brawn, the team’s technical director since 1997. Because of his crucial role in the success or failure of the team, a technical director can command a very big salary – sometimes higher than the driver. A ballpark figure is around $2 million per year, though one technical director is rumoured to make as much as $8 million. But taking the big bucks means he must deliver. This isn’t a job for those looking for long-term employment security.

An engine supplier also has its own technical director, ensuring its Formula One programme’s technical progress runs smoothly. In those teams that build their own engines, the team’s technical director also has reporting to him the chief of engine design. So complex is the whole business that there can be two levels of technical management above the guy who actually designs the chassis or engine.
Chief designers, aerodynamicists, and research and development bosses all report to the team’s technical director. The following sections explain their roles on a Formula One team.

F1 Commercial director

The commercial director or manager is usually a man behind the scenes who oversees sponsorship deals and the terms of commercial or technical liaisons. He must have cold eyes of steel with dollar signs on them. The heads of the finance and accounting departments report to him. Even this definition is a generalisation that applies mainly to the independent teams – but not always! Within the factory teams, the commercial director role is normally filled by someone from within the parent company because most of the finance is actually sourced from the car producer itself.
Then again, at Renault F1, much of this role is taken by MD Flavio Briatore, the team boss. There are no set rules of team structure in Formula One. The commercial director (sometimes called the head of marketing or the marketing manager) usually plays a fundamental role in attracting sponsors to the team and sets up the structure necessary to look after them. He also usually determines which space on the car equates to how many millions of dollars.

F1 Team Management Structure

Each team has its own unique management structure. Broadly speaking, however, most teams are divided into two key areas: commercial and technical. A commercial director and a technical director usually each report directly to the boss (see the section “The Boss” for information on who the big bosses are). Ferrari has an extra role of sporting director, although this merely identifies the man, Jean Todt, who is effectively the team’s boss at the track. Emphasizing how these terms are not interchangeable between teams, Jaguar Racing has a sporting director too – John Hogan. But Hogan’s position is purely commercial, and his role very much that defined by other teams as a commercial director.

There’s an important distinction between the independent teams (who rely on partnerships with manufacturers to supply their engines) and the factory teams (who build their own engines). Manufacturers such as BMW and Honda, who act only as engine suppliers, have their own team bosses, technical directors, designers, chief engineers, and so on. Manufacturers such as Toyota and Renault, who have their own teams, incorporate these roles into the overall team structure.

Max Mosley

A trained lawyer, Max Mosley entered racing as a driver in the 1960s but found rather more success as the founder of March, a racing car constructor that fielded its own Formula One team between 1970–77 and sporadically thereafter. Mosley, along with Bernie Ecclestone, became a key member of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) that changed the commercial face of Formula One. His dazzling brain and legal training made him the ideal man for this role. He resigned from his position at FOCA when he was elected President of the FIA, the world governing body of the sport.