If you’re a follower of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes on Twitter, you’ll be familiar with our resident Tweeter The Fifth Driver. From inside Mission Control in the MTC to rubbing shoulders with the pit crew in the race bays, The Fifth Driver provides the most insightful look into all that goes on in and around grand prix races via @McLarenF1. And what’s more, every Friday we ask The Fifth Driver, our mysterious micro-blogger, to take your questions for #SocialFriday. With one race down, here’s a few favourites so far...
@senator144: What do drivers usually eat before race?
“Drivers tend to arrive at the track quite late on a Sunday morning – often around 10:30 – but are then plunged into a number of meetings and events until lunchtime. There’s always a pre-race engineering meeting, where the strategy and any last-minute issues are addressed. There’s usually a visit to the Paddock Club, too, to meet and greet partners and guests,. So the drivers tend not to get too much time for lunch.
“It’s usually a light meal – you don’t want anything too heavy sitting in your stomach during a race – so our drivers will tend to eat a protein- and carb-friendly meal: perhaps a piece of grilled chicken or fish, with a light salad or some rice. Or a bowl of pasta with a piece of tuna steak. Sometimes it’s just a sandwich. What’s important is that it’s eaten and digested a few hours before the race-start.
“The drivers will usually grab lunch between the end of their engineering meeting and the start of the drivers’ parade (90 minutes’ before the start). Once they return from the parade, they head back to their room, close the door and start to mentally and physically prepare for the start of the race.”
@MJAStevens: Why do the majority of the cars come out for one lap and then pit immediately?
“We call it an install lap. Simply put, it’s to ensure that the car is all bolted together, that the systems work, that the engine is okay, that the driver feels comfortable and that the radio works clearly around the whole circuit.
“Once the install is completed, the car returns to the garage, the driver hops out and the car is prepped for the start of the session. If you have a busy workload, or, more usually, as your trust in the car increases during the weekend, it’s common to undertake more than one install lap in order to quickly move onto the main programme. You’ll usually hear the instruction, “once past” if a driver is required to pass the pits and complete two installation laps.”
@DanielCooper88: How long does it take to get the cars from the factory to the track?
“In terms of transportation, there are two types of races – Europeans, which as the name suggests, are all in Europe, and which are accessed overland by our fleet of Mercedes-Benz Actros transporters. For our home race, it’s as easy as driving the cars up the M40 on Wednesday morning (not literally! – Ed). For one of the more far-flung European races, such as Hungary, or, in previous years, Turkey, you need three or four days’ travel to reach the paddock. At European races, all our kit, instruments, tools and spares will also travel in our transporters.
“The second type of races are flyaways – these are the grands prix that require air travel to reach, such as Australia, India, Japan and Brazil. For these, we need to pack up all our pit and paddock equipment, strip the cars and freight them by air. The added time to prep and pack and unpack adds several days to the schedule.
“At the start of the 2013 season, for example, unless they suffer an accident, our cars will fly directly from Australia to Malaysia, then on to China and Bahrain before returning to the MTC. Spares and new components will be flown out to each racetrack to meet demand.”
@MirAreef: Which circuit has got the biggest garages?
“There’s a wide disparity of garage sizes from circuit to circuit. The smallest garages of the season are doubtless found at Monaco and the Hungaroring – they are really tiny.
“Elsewhere, garage space is usually pretty constant. Most of the newer, Tilke-designed tracks have big, capacious working spaces. And the new garages at Spa-Francorchamps are huge, too.”
@f1perky: Which track is the most difficult for the drivers?
“That’s something of a personal question for each driver. However, there are some constants: most drivers will happily acknowledge that street circuits pose a far greater challenge than regular courses, hence the general consensus that both Monaco and Singapore are the two most difficult circuits on the calendar.
“However, it’s not always that straightforward: the Malaysian Grand Prix is often hailed as one of the toughest races for a driver. Why? It’s held in searingly hot conditions at a point in the season when a driver is not fully accustomed to driving the car for long periods.
“Other circuits worthy of mention are those where the drivers get little chance to relax during the lap: Budapest’s Hungaroring is often cited as a tough track because the point-and-squirt configuration, and a short start/finish straight mean the driver is almost always turning the wheel.”
“Anti-clockwise circuits also add stress to neck muscles more developed for the greater proliferation of clockwise tracks.”
@RuleoAlot: How many cars do you build for the whole season?
“Ordinarily, we’ll build around four cars per season. Obviously, we’ll require one each for Jenson and Checo at each grand prix, and we’ll also have a spare, unbuilt tub in the garage for use in case one of the cars suffers a failure or has an accident. In turn, there’ll usually be a fourth tub back at the MTC, being painted and prepped for a return to action. We rotate the chassis using this pattern throughout the whole season.
“On the rare occasion that a chassis is destroyed, we’d then build up a fresh spare.
“However, teams used to build more cars when they were allowed to run in-season testing at test tracks around Europe. That practice meant teams would often build as many as seven or eight tubs per season – operating an entirely separate test team. This practice was outlawed for cost reasons ahead of the 2009 season.”