Sunday, October 31, 2010

Doing post-race checks

When a driver wins a Formula One race, he may suddenly become the most important person at the track that day, but he still has to follow the rules. However much the driver may want to drive straight back into his garage, crack open the champagne with his team, and party long into the night, he knows he has to wait a little bit longer for that.
As soon as he has completed his slowing down lap, the winning driver enters the pit lane and he is directed to an area called parc ferme. As its name suggests, this is a closed, fenced-off area where only race officials and drivers are allowed. This area is where the post-race checks take place. These checks ensure that all cars are legal and that teams haven’t cheated in their quest for glory.
The winning driver’s team members and the team members of his two closest challengers all rush up to the side of parc ferme to cheer on their star. This is the first time that a driver has seen his team members close up since the end of the race and, if the winner had managed to calm down on the slowing down lap, then this moment is sure to get his emotions flowing again. Because the winners don’t have long in parc ferme (they need to be weighed and rushed up to the podium ceremony), you often see them rush over to congratulate a handful of people with hugs – and perhaps a kiss – before they disappear again for a few moments. The people a driver is likely to make a special effort to see are the following:
_ His wife or girlfriend
_ His team boss
_ His manager
_ His race engineer
_ His best friend

Finally the Finish Line

No matter how fast a driver is, how good his car is, and how much sponsorship money there is pushing his team towards glory, winning a Formula One race is not something that anyone can take for granted. It is the end result of an incredible amount of effort and, even with a technical advantage over your opposition, a driver still has to push himself and his team to the limit to ensure that they do not slip up.
There is a famous saying in motor racing that to finish first, first you have to finish. And doesn’t every Formula One driver out there know it. There have been countless occasions when drivers have looked all set for a spectacular victory only to have things go wrong in the final stages of the race. Formula One drivers often talk about hearing strange noises from their cars in the final laps of a race as they begin getting really paranoid of not making it to the finish.
One of the most famous times in recent history was at the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix when Nigel Mansell had dominated the race and was poised for his first win of the season. On the final lap of the race, with no challenger near him, he started waving to the crowd who were cheering him all the way. Unfortunately, on the way into a slow hairpin, he got too excited and forgot to change down a gear to get around the corner. This mistake caused his car to stall, and he was left stranded at the side of the track. His team was not happy, to say the least! That is why some drivers wait until a few short seconds before the chequered flag, knowing that if anything does go wrong with their car, they would still be able to coast across the line, before sticking their arms out of the cockpit and accepting the victory. As soon as a driver takes the chequered flag (explained in the following section), the race is over, but the spectacle isn’t – not yet anyway.
The first driver across the finish line receives the chequered flag. As the driver crosses the line to take the chequered flag, you often see him move off the racing line and swerve towards the pits. But don’t worry; he isn’t trying to scare the man waving the chequered flag. Instead, he wants to cross the finishing line and get right alongside his team members, who will be crowded onto the pit wall and cheering him on. It is a very special moment winning a Formula One race, and it’s probably the only time of the entire weekend when crew and driver can relax for a few short moments.

Winning and Losing Races in the Pits

Races can be won or lost in the pits through the timing of the stops, through the pit crew’s performance, or through malfunction. The timing of the stops is decided by the race strategists; the time taken for the actual stop is determined by the amount of fuel delivered and the efficiency of the pit crew. The most frequent cause of a pit stop delay is an equipment problem.

Timing of stops
Before the race, the team strategists will have worked out an ideal plan of action. This plan is based on the characteristics of the track, the car’s grid position and the grid position of the main. But once the race gets underway, the strategy can be fine-tuned by tactics.
If a rival holds up a driver for example, it may be advantageous to pit early and hope to set a strong enough pace immediately after the stop to pass the rival when he makes his stop. On the other hand, being able to run longer than your rival before pitting may find you the winning margin. In this scenario, your driver may be able to put in the critical fast laps after the rival has pitted; these laps could enable your man to rejoin ahead after he makes his own pit stop.
Changeable weather during the race brings all sorts of opportunities for winning pit tactics too.

Crew performance
Getting the whole crew to put in an error-free performance is the first prerequisite here. Under the most extreme pressure, the wheel guys have to ensure they don’t cross-thread a wheel nut and that the correct tyres goes on the correct side of the car; the jack man mustn’t miscue his lift; and so on. Although all crew members must perform at their peak, how quickly the refuellers can attach the hose, refuel, and disconnect is really the critical path to how quick the stop is. The fuel goes in at a pre-determined rate and the wheel changing takes up only a fraction of the time of the refuelling. So, assuming nothing goes wrong, it all hangs on how quickly those two refuellers can do their stuff. In a closely matched race, the time they take can be the difference between winning and losing.
Stalling due to driver error at the pit stops is now largely a thing of the past as they use their launch control electronics to get them underway.

Equipment malfunction

Typical malfunctions that have cost teams races include sticking wheel nuts –where the expansion of the metal due to heat causes the nuts to seize on their splines – and problematic refuelling rigs. The standard fuel rigs have proved notoriously temperamental and have frequently failed to deliver the programmed amount of fuel, for example. For this reason, teams usually have the other car’s rig on stand-by just in case, with a third refueller manning it, ready for action.
Faulty connections on the steering wheel controlling the launch control can also cause the car to stall. This lost Jacques Villeneuve over a lap in the 2003 Austrian Grand Prix and lost him what had been a real chance of finishing in the points.