30 minutes in the life of a Formula 1 car
It’s Saturday morning in Bahrain. March 1 is an ominous date – no longer can we look at the prospect of the Australian Grand Prix arriving ‘next month’ – we’re just two weeks away and the flip of the calendar into a new month suddenly reminds everyone (as if they didn’t already need reminding) that the clock is most definitely ticking.
Kevin Magnussen, his overalls tied loosely around his waist, wanders across the paddock and disappears into the garage, his faithful physio Antti by his side, as always. He nods a breezy ‘hello’ to his assembled mechanics and disappears into a corner of the garage to adjust his fireproof overalls, pull on his crash helmet and fit his HANS device.
Bahrain pre-season testing in pictures
It’s a little before 9am, and the team is geared up and ready for the programme. It’s Kevin’s final day in the car before he flies down to Melbourne – the longest trip of his life – and the city where he’ll begin his new career.
As always, there’s a business and intensity inside the garage as the final pieces of the car are fixed into place.
Let’s follow the next 30 minutes in detail:
Kevin is strapped in. He slowly pulls his gloves on.
His race engineer Mark Temple completes a quick radio-check before addressing the attendant mechanics and engineers over the airwaves: “The aim is to get Kevin out at 9am on the dot,” he says, silently underlining the need to start the day off on the right foot.
While testing never carries the high stakes of a race weekend, there’s clearly some anticipation within the garage; the last two days of the test will see us fit the components and upgrades that will see us into the opening races, and there’s a nervous excitement about how well they’ll do.
Eric Boullier is in the garage, headphones locked to his head. He’s smiling and chatting with sporting director Sam Michael and engineering director Matt Morris.
“Radio-check, please Kevin,” says Mark Temple.
“Radio’s okay,” comes Kevin’s typically laconic reply.
“I’ll want you to drive straight out,” continues Mark. “We want to complete some aero-mapping on the installation lap, and we’ll try and do another radio-check on the way round.”
Technical director Tim Goss has just arrived, fresh from the morning flight, and is looking intently at the back of the car.
Mark Temple: “We want to fire-up before the track goes green,” he says.
Team manager David Redding is stationed out in the pitlane: “Race control has confirmed it’s 45 seconds until the green-light.”
The mechanics duly fire-up MP4-29 – it growls into life.
Temple: “Green light. Green light.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the screens in front of the garage are pulled back, Kevin notches the car into first gear and motors off down the pitlane, engine purring as he does so.
Mark Temple allows himself a small smile: “Nice job, everyone,” he says over the garage radio.
“Turn Seven – radio-check, Kevin.”
Kevin sweeps past the pits to complete another installation lap. Within the team, this is known as a ‘once past’ – because the car goes once past the pits.
“We are box this lap,” instructs Mark. “Please confirm.”
Kevin glides down the pitlane, cutting the ignition on his approach. As he arrives at the McLaren garage, he sweeps out to the edge of the pit apron where his mechanics are stood waiting to push the car silently back into the garage.
“Everything is okay with the car,” says Kevin over the radio.
Back in the garage, Kevin makes a few observations about the new HANS device he’s trialling this morning – it doesn’t fit comfortably, so he’s reverting back to his original model.
Mark’s voice crackles over the radio: “Is that something you can change in the car? We want to run through some cockpit legality checks, so we could do with you staying in the car.”
Mark talks to the mechanics: “Can we take the headrest out and do the HANS change?”
The back of the car is stripped of its wheels, the nosebox is removed, displaying a mass of innards attached to the front bulkhead. The fasteners are loosened on several of the car’s access hatches, and Antti starts cleaning Kevin’s visor.
Everything goes back together. The garage is quiet except for the clean whirr of cooling fans.
Around the cockpit, the engineers are running through an FIA compliance checklist, measuring Kevin’s helmet, the space to the cockpit’s rear bulkhead – all to ensure the car will satisfactorily pass scrutineering once it arrives in Melbourne. It all looks fine.
Mark briefs Kevin on the purpose of the next run. It’s a four-lap run – the first two laps will be conducted in setting Delta X4 (no, that’s not it’s proper name!); the final two will be run in setting Delta X2.
“On the way back in, we’ll stop you on your marks,” says Temple.
Kevin (muffled): “Okay.”
Kevin edges the car out of the box for its first proper run of the morning.
“Launch from the end of the pit exit,” instructs Mark.
Four laps are put up on the pitboard.
Temple: “Kevin, track position is good. Please go to Delta X4 for timed laps.”
Kevin reels off the laps:
On his fourth lap, Kevin’s voice crackles over the radio: “Box this lap – there’s a problem with the car.”
“No problem, Kevin,” says Mark calmly. “You did the right thing.”
Kevin returns to the garage, once again performing a neat arc as he parks up in the pitlane.
Mark: “How was the balance?”
“Not great,” says Kevin, before starting to list the positives and negatives of the last four laps.
The car goes up on the jacks. Mark and Kevin continue their discussion over the radio.
“That data was good enough for the aero guys,” Mark tells Kevin, before addressing the mechanics: “Let’s get this set of tyres changed, please.”
Mark’s on the radio again: “We’ll make some more changes to the car after this next run – we just need to understand the problem with the car. Right, let’s give it a couple of minutes until we bring round that next set of tyres…”
The clock ticks on. The Australian Grand Prix moves another 30 minutes closer…
Remember you’ll be able to follow the events from every Grand Prix throughout the 2014 season on McLaren LIVE, beginning with real time telemetry and radio commentary from Practice Session 1 in Melbourne on March 14th.