The final in-season test of the 2017 FIA Formula World Championship in Budapest will allow all teams to refine developments for their cars away from the stressful, time-limited constraints of a Grand Prix weekend. However, with limited testing allowed in F1, teams will still be keen to make the most of all the test mileage they can achieve.
The two-day test session at the Hungaroring also requires the presence of the McLaren Applied trackside support team, who will provide all teams with engineering assistance for the standardised Electronic Control Unit (ECU), as well as testing the new and improved version of the Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System (ATLAS) software which all F1 teams and the FIA use to assess car performance.
We caught up with the Track Support Manager, Emmanuel Esnault to find out the support team’s plans for the Formula 1 test in Hungary.
"McLaren Applied has been a trusted provider of trackside assistance to all F1 teams since the 2008 season – when we started supplying the standardised ECU", said Emmanuel.
"Our engineers are assigned two teams each and, as well as providing trackside support to them, they also support the teams based in the factories. One of our engineers is also dedicated to the FIA, to whom we also provide trackside support.
"During a Grand Prix weekend, they support the teams in adapting ECU configuration settings based on individual car set-ups, and provide expert trouble-shooting assistance."
So, why do all F1 teams need trackside support?
Emmanuel said: "The ECU is the brain of the car. It’s incredibly complex because of the demands imposed by hybrid technology engines, seamless-shift gearboxes and various drive-by-wire controls. Therefore, as part of the package of supplying ECUs to teams, and to extract the maximum performance out of the control systems, our engineers effectively become an extension of their respective teams.
"Our engineers are also involved in the installation and set-up of the software package we provide to teams. This is also difficult as the IT infrastructure of each F1 team is unique. Our engineers work with other engineers in different areas of the teams including control systems, performance, race engineering, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and IT.
"More than one-thousand people use ATLAS each Grand Prix weekend to analyse car data, both trackside and at factories.”
Unlike a Grand Prix weekend, once the track session has finished, there is no curfew during testing. Teams can operate twenty-four hours a day if they wish – and some do – with a night-shift team. Emmanuel shares how that affects our track support team.
"If teams are working around the clock, it’s unlikely they will require assistance from our engineers throughout the night. However, in case of need or any persistent issue, our engineers will support their teams whatever the time of day.
"There’s no such thing as a typical day for our track support team – questions or problems can come from anywhere at any time, with the engineers constantly on call when cars are running on track.
"During a live session, our engineers will be visiting both of their teams, making sure all McLaren systems and software are running smoothly, and responding to queries. Sometimes these can be simple issues that help an engineer analyse data in a better and more efficient way, but on other occasions there could be a problem which prevents the car from leaving the garage. These high-pressured scenarios require calm and logical problem-solving skills from our engineers. Thankfully, our software and hardware have an impeccable record of reliability so these scenarios are very rare."
Our trackside support team will also be joined in Hungary by software developers who are typically based at the McLaren Technology Centre. Emmanuel said: "Developers will be in Hungary to test the latest version of ATLAS 10, the next generation analysis software targeted for full race use in 2019. They will work with our track support team to ensure the new version is running smoothly and that all teams are happy with the updates from a usability point of view."
As well as being expert engineering troubleshooters, Emmanuel explains the importance of being a part of the track support team.
"Our track support engineers are also McLaren brand-ambassadors. Their job is to make sure our customers receive the very best service, and translate feedback from teams to help evolve our high-performance products, in order to benefit the whole series.
"We currently have a global network of twelve track side support engineers in F1, Formula E, NASCAR and LMP1 and have resource and expertise to expand into more motorsport series. We are currently preparing for the future by recruiting more support engineers and technicians for a major forthcoming motorsport project.
"McLaren Applied is also in the process of creating its own mission control room at the MTC, where our engineers can remotely manage the performance of our high-performance software and hardware."