The ultimate 2021 McLAREN F1 FAQ
What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?
According to Deep Thought, the supercomputer in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is 42. Whether that’s entirely correct is open to debate, but what’s not is humankind’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge. We’re an inquisitive bunch and that’s certainly true of McLaren fans. In the build-up to every grand prix, we ask you to pose your questions to #TheFifthDriver who, with the help of various team members, gives you the answers you seek during live commentary on McLaren.com and the McLaren App.
The questions fired our way range from the sublime to the strange, but all are worthy head-scratchers – well, most of them. This got us thinking: what if we collected the best questions and answers from every race weekend this season and made them readily available to you, right here – just in case you missed them during commentary?
Cue ‘Question Time’! The ultimate, living, breathing, 2021 McLaren F1 FAQ – a repository of information that’s the next best thing to having McLaren F1 Technical Director James Key on speed dial.
Not only are we keen to give you the gift of knowledge, but we’re also keen on giving away prizes – and that’s exactly what we'll send to the person who asks our ‘question of the week’. From signed caps to driver prints, there’s some serious swag up for grabs. So get those questions rolling in and keep scrolling to check out the answers to the finest questions that have come our way so far this season. You never know, you might just learn something new…
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Q: Are F1 cars painted or wrapped and does it affect airflow and performance in general? – @POstrich40
A: It varies from team to team. Our car is mostly wrapped but has specific areas unsuitable for wrapping. Those are painted with high-performance coatings from our partner AkzoNobel – the titanium Halo being a good example of a part that does better with paint.
It doesn’t affect airflow and shouldn’t affect performance in the classical sense – but everything in an F1 team affects performance in some way. In the case of wrapped panels, they can be prepared a little quicker in the paintshop – it’s still called the paintshop – and last a little longer.
The longevity of the panels comes from the requirement to keep the cars in immaculate conditions. Every few races, one of the chassis will be rotated out, and returned to the factory to be repainted/rewrapped – because racing in F1 is hard!
The surface finish gets all sorts of dings and nicks, which don’t look particularly nice up close and will, of course, cost the team that last thousandth of a second on track. When the cars were being repainted every few races, scraping off the old paint naturally led to the bodywork becoming thinner over time. This doesn’t happen when you can peel the cars instead!
Q: In the previous Unboxed, the crew members had blue helmets but an orange one was seen. What is the difference between the colours? – @basilia_bee_
A: Wouldn’t it be lovely to say it’s an aesthetic choice on behalf of the crew? Sadly, that’s not the case. The front and rear jack, and the pit-stop controller wear orange lids to act as a useful visual marker for the drivers, helping them gauge distances as they approach the box.
In a busy pit-lane, with our crew and perhaps a few others ready to receive, it’s not always apparent exactly where the lines are, particularly when members of the crew are still moving around. Having an orange helmet ensures the driver isn’t taking his braking reference from another member of the crew who might still be getting into position.
Q: How much will Pato be involved with the team this weekend? – @AlanSabatino
A: For those who haven’t followed this, Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward is swapping INDYCAR for F1 when he drives the MCL35M at Yas Marina in the post-season young driver test.
You’ll see him in and around the garage this weekend under a set of headphones, becoming acclimatised to the rhythms, procedures and vocabulary of the F1 team – all of which will be just a little bit different to what he uses in INDYCAR. He was with the team in Mexico as well – though that weekend was a bit busy for him signing autographs!
He’ll also be in on the session briefings and debriefs with the race drivers and the engineering team this weekend, gleaning as much knowledge as he can about the circuit and also how the MCL35M works on it. Even though the car he’ll drive next week will inevitably be a little different, it’s still useful background info.
Q: Where will the MCL35M be stored? She's not only a podium finisher but also our race winner. I hope she'll get a special place. – @GMM1702
A: Oh yes, definitely! The vast majority of our former F1 cars now reside in the heritage fleet. While most of them are warehoused, they’re all kept in tip-top condition. The aim is that everything gets fired-up at least once a year, and anything can be prepared to run.
Some classic cars are obviously busier than others: M23s, MP4/4s and MP4/13s tend to be constantly in demand for show runs and thus are easily accessible. Others are a bit further back in the queue – but there’s always a rotation of cars on static display either on the Boulevard at the factory or around the world in McLaren Automotive showrooms.
Although, for anyone at the MTC searching for a moment of inspiration, there's usually a dozen or so parked in the 'Spine' tunnel connecting the main MTC building with the Thought Leadership Centre.
There are four MCL35M chassis. Once the season ends, they’ll all be prepared in a slightly different specification, ready for display. Typically, the provenance of each chassis will play a part in those decisions.
So, Daniel’s chassis from Monza will probably carry Daniel’s number and be displayed in Monza-spec; Lando’s chassis from Monaco (if it’s not the same one) may be prepared in high-downforce configuration with the Gulf livery and Lando’s number.
Our approach is for absolute authenticity… wherever practical. So, when the car is stored, it’s stored with all of its spares and garage kit. When Emmo drove Senna’s MP4/6 at the Festival of Speed earlier this year, it would have been fired-up with the vintage starter, and 1991-vintage brick-sized laptops running the car on Windows 3.0!
The MCL35Ms will do some of our promotional heavy lifting for the next couple of years. You’ll see them on display at plenty of events and doing show runs. In a few years’ time when they’re out of the ‘current car’ purdah, we may even see exciting new talent getting their first taste of F1 in an MCL35M on a cold winter morning at Silverstone.
Q: Although it's the last race of the season, how often will the drivers still be in contact with McLaren over the winter break? Surely, they don't just finish up on Sunday and aren't seen until a week before the first race of 2022, right? – @F1ForTheWin
There’s been a few over the years who would have enjoyed that – but no! Ideally, we’d like the drivers to have as much time off as possible, to relax but also to get on with training – because training over the winter is crucial – but they have work to do as well. They’ll report back into the factory around halfway through the off-season.
With the caveat that current times are complicated, the usual year might see the drivers back in the factory after the final race for debriefs and possibly some sim sessions, before having perhaps six weeks away – some of which they’d be encouraged to use as genuine ‘time-off’: relax; take a vacation etc, the rest will be pre-season fitness prep.
Looking at this year’s schedule. Daniel and Lando formally reported in on 28 January, exactly two months before the first race, to begin sim work and do promotional activities. They first drove the MCL35M on 16 February 16 with a filming day at Silverstone, ahead of testing in Bahrain beginning on 14 March, two weeks before the first race.
Q: Are there any special things the team does at the final grand prix of the year? A team dinner? Secret Santa? Competitions? Prizes? Anything? – @BonzoKEN
A: There have been a few bits and pieces! We had a team BBQ on Thursday evening, to get everyone together and for Zak and Andreas to make – short – speeches thanking everyone for their efforts, with a toast to the final race.
Also, on Saturday night we had Christmas dinner on the rooftop terrace of our team hospitality building here in Yas Marina – it’s a terrific paddock for things like this – complete with Christmas music, hats, crackers, turkey, sprouts, the works!
It’s perhaps a little early for that sort of thing but it’s likely the last time this year the whole race team will be assembled in one place. In the past, it may have been a little different: we’d have had plenty of time to get in a couple of tests before the end of the year, and would have decorated the testing motorhome with tinsel in Jerez!
There’s also the end-of-year team photo. For the comms team responsible for chivvying everyone into the correct place, the process is not unlike herding cats…
Q: With Mr Raikkonen racing in F1 for the last time this weekend, can you now tell us any secrets from Kimi’s time at McLaren? – @McLarenDoggo
A: F1 said goodbye to Kimi at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He retired with a record 349 F1 race starts and a career spanning 20 years in F1. He’s won 21 grands prix between 2003 and 2018, the first nine of which came with us – obviously those were the best. But stories… hmmm…
Every driver has something in the car they’re fussy about. With Kimi, it’s always been the steering rack. He’s convinced somewhere in the world there exists the steering rack with the perfect feel, and he wants to try every single one. In pre-season testing over the years, his mechanics change the rack more than the rest of the pit-lane combined.
Also, it’s a closely-guarded secret but Kimi’s the result of a genetic experiment to combine human and cat DNA. This manifests itself in his ability to fall asleep almost instantaneously during periods of inactivity. To facilitate this, while with McLaren, he liked to construct a bed for himself, on the benches in the test truck
During testing sessions, which often had long periods with nothing to do for the driver while a significant change to the car was being made, he’d build his neat little nest from bubble-wrap – and get irritated whenever he’d return after a long run to find it ruined.
The test team would always have an excuse ready: they’d needed to make space for kit; they’d had moved things around to make room etc, Of course, what was really happening was Juan Pablo Montoya keeping himself amused by destroying Kimi’s bed!
Q: We often hear on the team radio the drivers saying they want to go up or down 'two and a half' what does that mean? – @F1ForTheWin
A: They’re asking for a tweak to the front wing, either winding the angle up or down, making the front end of the car either a little stronger or a little weaker, effectively trimming the car for better balance between the front and rear axles.
During the practice sessions, the team might use that as a quick fix, bringing the car into the pit-box mid-run, and altering it there, and then do something more substantial with set-up between the runs – but once qualifying starts and the car is in parc fermé conditions, adjusting the front wing is the only mechanical change allowed.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Q: What are the benefits and potential challenges of having three DRS zones that are pretty much in succession to each other? – @MargauxVA24
A: This is quite similar to the arrangement in Austria where the three zones are on consecutive straights. One consequence is that having so much DRS makes the team keener to run a little more wing, because there’s potential to run with it open on a qualifying lap, and not take the top speed hit, but protecting the tyres a little more at race pace.
In terms of overtaking potential – we’ll have to wait and see! What is interesting is that each DRS zone has a different type of corner after it – which means the team doesn’t have to concentrate too much in manoeuvring the car towards a specific profile that will work for overtaking into a specific type of corner.
Q: Before the radio was embedded in the cars how did the teams exchange information with the drivers? Was it through the pit boards only? For example, if a driver felt something was wrong with the car how did they report it? – @chalasti11
A: The radios go back to the early 1980s, though the early versions didn’t offer much in the way of reliable communications – perhaps just a short exchange of scratchy comms coming past the pit-lane. The pit-board was the primary means of communication, as it is now whenever we lose radio comms – which doesn’t happen often but will occur during a season.
Before this, if the driver felt something wrong with the car, there might be signals to the pit-wall when coming past, and hope for advice on the board in return on the next lap (for something like worn tyres, for example) but the usual option for anything mechanical would have been to pit and have the car inspected.
We’re into an era where there might be points on the table finishing a lap down, so pitting to allow the mechanics to take a look wasn’t necessarily the penalty it would be now.
Q: How much more work do our test and development drivers have with a new circuit like this where you rely on drawn lay out, estimated corner speeds, etc? – @Angel4_717
A: They do a vast amount – though that’s true of all the races, new or old! – Oliver Turvey has been doing most of the sim work in the build-up to Jeddah, covering many thousand of laps over the last month or so, aimed at honing the set-up options produced in the off-line sims, with the race drivers only coming in at the very end of the process.
This weekend, Will Stevens will be in the sim back at the MTC, running through race simulations based on the set-up Daniel and Lando used in FP1 and FP2, and anything they’d like to learn based off that – the simulator team will have worked through the night, providing advice to the trackside team when they turned up this afternoon.
The simulator maps are pretty good, even for a new circuit like this, drawn up off the architectural blueprints – but the correlation becomes much better once the team get real data off the car, showing grip levels, bumps, kerbs etc., allowing the sim maps to be refined.
Q: Do the drivers and crew do anything differently because this is a night race on a new track? And do they prefer night races especially in hot climate locations? – @HoneyAi2
A: For the whole team, time-wise it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference when the sessions are, so long as the usual pattern is maintained (ie a two-hour gap between FP3 and qualifying etc). The team will offset their daily routines accordingly – given how common it is to be changing time zones, having breakfast at 2pm isn’t a great inconvenience.
Given the temperatures in Jeddah, having the sessions later in the day – and then working in the garage until three or four in the morning – is definitely preferable to working in the day – but the team are still receiving constant reminders to watch out for each other, and make sure everyone stays hydrated.
For the drivers, the big difference about racing at night is the visibility. They’ll adjust their displays and use a different tint on their visors to accommodate the floodlights. They may also have to account for track temperatures dropping and creating more understeer – but consensus here is that we probably won’t see a significant drop-off.
Regarding the heat, that’s a different matter. Michael Italiano, Daniel’s physio, has given us a few pointers on this: “For heat – and humidity – there are a number of factors to take into consideration when preparing for a race. Hydration is number one, because the drivers are wearing unventilated fire-resistant suits and the cockpit will reach 50-60°C, and their body temperatures will rise between 1-3°C once they're in.
“These factors limit the body’s ability to cool down and maintain temperature (thermoregulation) which leads to excessive sweating and rapid fluid loss. The faster an athlete dehydrates, the quicker onset fatigue kicks in. Once that happens, reactions and athletic performance start to decline.
“In order to prevent it, our job as coaches is to ensure the driver is well-hydrated – particularly before starting a two-hour race. A great way to do retain fluids to mix water with electrolyte power and start the drivers on a hydration programme 48 hours before the event begins.
“For adapting to the temperatures here, we tend to focus on heat acclimation training (HAT), around 10 days out from a hot race, where possible. We expose ourselves to hot environments and train in those conditions. It’s not easy to find a heat chamber in which to train, particularly if we’ve got other races to do, so one simple method that Daniel and I use is training in a hotel Sauna!”
Q: How does a night race change the vibe in the garage and the atmosphere around the track? Which does the team prefer, day or night races? – @landosoylago
A: Wouldn’t dream of speaking for anyone else but for #TheFifthDriver, night races seem that little bit more exciting. The vibe is definitely different. It was one of the first things those of us who were at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix noticed: there’s a little more drama when F1 is racing in the evenings. A real sense that anything might happen.
That said, there is probably a universal preference for skewing the working day later at the warmer races, carrying on late into the night when the sun has gone down. Operating in 28°C ambient is nicer than working in 38°C. Still hot though! The team have all received constant instructions to stay hydrated and look out for each other.
Q: At a circuit like this where you don't have a lot of braking zones, is there any way to keep the brakes hot enough for the braking zones where you need them to be at the right temperature, especially during the race? – @mclarendo4
A: The basic solution is to run less cooling. There’s enough brake energy to keep the brakes hot between the stops if the airflow is restricted. This is also helpful for aerodynamics, because, with the packers in the duct configured to reduce cooling, that extra airflow is channelled into useful areas to add downforce.
Where this can be problematic is in places like Baku, where for three-quarters of the lap you would like a lot of cooling to deal with a sequence of heavy braking points, and then for the 2km straight, we worry about the brakes being too cool for the heavy braking into Turn One! There isn’t really a fix for this – we just have to find the best compromise.
This circuit doesn’t have those extremes – but at the start of the weekend the team were paying a lot of attention to brake temperatures, to make sure the laps were in line with the modelling done in the offline simulations over the last month.
Q: With the Jeddah circuit being a new circuit to F1, how important is the simulator time and data for both team and driver in getting up to speed with the track and can it be used to help the team perform in the actual grand prix weekend? – @JGE_83
A: The answers to that are a) very important and b) yes, absolutely. Off-line sims help the team work out basic cooling requirements, chassis set-up and aerodynamic configurations – and how those will be affected by likely strategies. Then the best prospects are passed over to the driver-in-the-loop simulator to be honed into a baseline set-up.
The race drivers both did a handful of laps a month or so back, but the bulk of the work is done by the test and development drivers and simulator engineers, refining and discarding set-ups to the point where the variables we’re looking at tend to be the unknowns – grip level, kerbs, pit-lane entry and exit lines etcetera.
Jeddah was tough because we didn’t know how many DRS zones to expect the week before the race – as no formal decision was taken until then!
After, returning home from the Qatar Grand Prix, both race drivers had their standard pre-race sim sessions to prepare for Jeddah (also for Yas Marina), where they and their engineering teams work properly on the track to familiarise themselves as much as possible and make choices on set-up if there are choices to be made.
It helps performance simply because any time spent at the track figuring out the basics of a chassis set-up, an aerodynamic configuration, a cooling package, is time that isn’t spent trying performance variables – and with track time so very limited now, every extra lap exploring the limits is vital.
Qatar Grand Prix
Q: With Doha being a new track, how do you plan the set up? Are you provided with blueprints or photos ahead of time and go there already having a plan in place? Or do you have to wing it somewhat once you get there and see what works best? – @OfficialAmyLynn
A: It's honestly a little bit from Column A and a little bit from Column B – but to explain more fully, we've got Mark Temple, Senior Principal, Car Performance Engineering to explain:
“We’re racing on an entirely new circuit for F1, which definitely changes how we go about the run programme in practice. We’ve been in the simulator a lot to prepare, which gives us a good idea of what to expect – but there are still a lot of unknowns, and things to learn across the practice sessions. So, what do we want to learn?
“The priority is to get the drivers dialled into the track. It’s often overlooked when we talk about aerodynamics, mechanical set-up and power unit deployment but there’s a lot of lap-time to be found in having the driver comfortable and confident – we therefore tend to do a few more laps on a new circuit.
“After this, the next task is reliability. At an established circuit, while there will be some variables year to year, we arrive with a good idea of where the car should be. At a new track, we’ll be looking at how we get the brakes to the correct temp, and dialling in things like gearbox oil temp, oil and water temp in the power unit and so on.
“We’ll also be gathering data on the track itself. The lap in the simulator is based on the architectural drawings of the circuit, though of course we also look at video of the car and bike races that use the track. It does look exceptionally flat and very smooth – but we won’t be certain until we’ve run.
“Beyond this, the big item on the agenda is understanding what the tyres are going to do in the race. The grip level is a big factor in this. We don’t have much information on the composition of the tarmac but given how much of the lap in spent in high-speed corners, it’s likely to push the tyres very hard.
“We’ll also have to learn some of the basics like the pit-loss time. The circuit has constructed a new pit-lane entry for this race, which looks a little like the one at the Hungaroring with the entry peeling off before the final corner. We’ll need to have the drivers practice the entry, learn where the pit-lane limiter lines are and so forth.
“Knowing the pit-loss time will influence strategy, as will finding out how easy or hard it is to overtake. With just one DRS zone and a lot of long cornering sequences, we’d expect overtaking to be difficult, and thus we would expect the circuit to have a strong qualifying bias.”
Q: Has the team ever borrowed a tool or part from another team, and is that allowed? Kind of like borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour… – @Angel4_717
A: What a lovely question! The short answer is yes. Off-track, and down at the garage level, F1 is very much a collaborative environment – especially on the long-haul trips.
You wouldn’t borrow car parts, even if there weren't very specific rules about that, everything is bespoke – though obviously with things like customer powertrains you will take units from a common pool. Behind the scenes though, and especially if when a team is having the nightmare weekend, they might need to borrow some garage or backroom kit.
Worst case scenarios are things like a garage, or paddock building fire but the occasional logistics problem, customs foul-up or even a kit failure might see someone needing to borrow something. It does happen. A few years ago, we had a fuel bowser pump fail, and then the spare fail as well. Haas, our neighbours then, let us borrow one of theirs.
Of course, the area where teams borrow the most is in the catering crew – so the proverbial cup of sugar isn’t far-fetched! There’s also quite a bit of bartering that goes on at the kitchen doors but generally it’s a gift economy.
Q: What happens with damaged parts of the car? Are they thrown away or somehow used for something else? – @Lea_Atha
A: It very much depends on the damage. If it’s a failure, the team will want to get that part back to the factory for analysis. With crash damage, or kerb damage that’s not always the case, given the cause is usually clear. Often damaged parts can be salvaged and repaired – our composites techs in the back of the garage are masters of their craft!
With bodywork, while you may not be able to return a panel or wing to a race-ready spec, you can often do a cosmetic fix that will make it suitable for use on a static showcar. Sometimes, of course, parts are a complete write-off – but you’ll still want to take those back to base, either to destroy securely or use for testing and calibration work.
Q: During the weekend we see that drivers have spare helmets in the garage. is there a difference between them? we also see a white tear-off over their visor with something written on it. what's this specific tear-off's role? – @chalasti11
A: At the moment, Lando’s swapping between two helmets with different tints on the visor, trying to judge which is better in the glare of the floodlights. At other circuits, there might be a helmet and visor set-up to cope better with rain – different tints but also perhaps closed vents.
The white tear-off on the front is just what comes with a standard pack of tear-offs. The team simply writes on it which set-up this helmet has – it’ll say something like ‘rain’ or ‘cloud’ or ‘dark’. It’s a straightforward method of making sure the driver has the right helmet for the conditions.
Q: As this is a new track, do you send any data back to the sim in the factory, to correlate the sim to the real conditions, to make it more realistic and so more useful? What data do you get for this and at what point in the weekend? – @AndyTails
A: Yes, absolutely, plenty of data going back to the MTC – though this this would be true for any track, not just new ones.
Telemetry is streamed off the car in real time back to the factory, where it’ll be plugged into all sorts of simulations, from the driver-in-the-loop simulator, to a seven-poster suspension rig, to the many off-line sims being run for everything from aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics (suspension) to strategy.
The driver-in-the-loop simulator will have been running all night, (Oliver Turvey is in the seat this weekend) trying different set-up approaches to see if the laps done by Lando and Daniel are the optimum way around the track, and the race engineers were presented with those findings when they arrived at the track this morning.
The value of the simulator in this instance is that set-up changes are done in seconds. Changing a rear wing on the car will take 25 minutes, adjusting ride-height takes ten. In the sim, it’s a button-press. Our sim drivers, have been doing these sims all week – but the better the correlation between track and sim, the more valuable the results.
What’s helpful with a new circuit like this is information that the simulator didn’t have before yesterday. We will have been guessing at values like the grip level, which can now be refined to something more accurate. It can also feature more accurate micro-details about the track, such as where any small bumps might affect braking or traction.
Q: Does the team get a paddock lay out, specs or space allocation months ahead of the race to plan how to construct their hospitality area? This one for #QatarGP is definitely different from the previous two venues. – @Angel4_717
A: It is quite different! There’s a huge logistics operation around setting up hospitality, and the garage. It’s more complicated in Europe, where there are the Team Hub and Paddock Engineering Centre to accommodate but even when we don’t have those, there is plenty to plan, and an advance team that specialises in doing just that.
We receive paddock maps months in advance, detailing very precisely where we are to set-up, what services can be connected and so forth – at least that’s usually the case: last year there was a little more winging-it involved. For the garage, we’ll get the plans and then it’s largely up to us how to configure the space.
The garages in Qatar are roomy, which is always an advantage, but you may get things like support pillars in the garage that need to be boxed in and worked around, and generally planned for. Beyond that, it’s a case of configuring the garage to make best use of the space available.
While the front-of-house needs to stay predominantly the same every week (so everyone can work at speed), behind the panelling you can see on TV, there’s a warren of workshops, storage, services and office space. That changes every week according to the width and depth of the garage.
It’s worth mentioning, the space we’re allocated changes from race to race and year to year. There’s a minimum space but no maximum. At some of the more modern tracks, we might get two spare garages, which makes life a lot easier. Of course, there are haves and have-nots. Sometimes getting more garages is a function of being a more successful team!
At other places, where the pit building has been built as one long run without internal walls, we often get to build a bigger garage. We keep the same depth for our front-of-house, but you may notice that we can make it wider if there’s room. It definitely takes stress out of the operation having more space.
It is, of course, more of a problem in temporary locations. In Monaco you have to plan your garage set-up around the tree branches that sometimes enter through the back and exit through the roof! The historic fish market in Valencia was also quite interesting. Though no-one hugely enjoyed working under a tin roof in 40°C August heat…
The details are worked out well ahead of time, so when the advance team arrived a week ago, they knew exactly what to build and where to build it.
Q: Is the MotoGP data useful to help with preparations for this new track? – @MRebeca01
A: The data doesn’t really help but watching lots of MotoGP (and WSBK – we’re bike agnostic at the organisational level) was helpful in other ways. It was useful in getting a preliminary read on things like the smoothness and macro-flatness of the track, the state of the kerbs and so on. The exercise was much the same before heading to Mugello.
It’s worth noting that these are very different tracks on a MotoGP bike compared to an F1 car – perhaps more so than places like the Circuit de Catalunya. Because this track has so many high-speed turns, there’s a lot of sections here that MotoGP regards as a corner and F1 views as a straight.
It’s also worth noting that there are worse ways of spending your working day than watching top class bike racing! Though we also studied the four wheel races here for GP2 Asia and the World Touring Car Championship.
Q: Whilst watching the live free practice I sometimes see one of the team place a blue guard around the front of the halo while the driver is sat in the car, what is this and what is its purpose? – @F1ForTheWin
A: This is the housing for the driver’s monitors. When the car is in the garage, the crew drop them from the ceiling rig and hook them onto the Halo so the driver can review his lap-times, study what other people are doing, or review in-car footage.
It also gives them something to do. At a winter test, for example, or in practice, staying strapped into the car while the crew do a set-up change can be pretty monotonous. That isn’t a problem during qualifying!
In the past, the monitor has sat further forward but since the advent of the Halo, that wouldn't work, so the driver has a monitor either side of the central support. It’s configured, much like the screens elsewhere in the garage, with windows displaying whatever data the driver wants to see from hundreds of choices.
Typically, they’ll have the same live feed everyone at home is watching, plus timing screens, GPS, lap data from their laps and those of their team-mate. They’ll also watch in-car footage to study the lines they are taking, versus those used on the other side of the garage. That’ll be particularly useful on this new circuit where there's less data.
Q: Pirelli have less data than normal in Qatar, even compared to other ‘new’ circuits. How critical will this be for the team across the weekend, and will the Pirelli engineers within the team(s) have their work cut out as they constantly analyse new data? – @PerryBrownF1
A: Yes – this weekend is a huge challenge for Pirelli’s engineers. New tracks are always difficult, but new tracks with very little historical data from any sort of single-seater racing doubly so. Pirelli’s vast footprint in motorsports means that usually, they have something to fall back upon.
Add to that the shorter practice sessions this year, in which no-one is doing the traditional 20-25 lap long runs in FP2, and the fact that FP1 and FP3 are held in very different ambient conditions with much hotter track temperatures that require a sizeable offset in the analysis… yes, very difficult.
Pirelli’s engineers, and our tyre specialists have been very busy – but they always are. We’ve got a reasonable idea of what to expect, but equally, it’s clear that no-one’s really sure what’s going to happen this evening. Fantastic news for everyone watching; less so for the people on the pitwall and at the engineers’ island.
…but there is some data. All the compounds are in play this evening. Pirelli’s prediction is for a two-stop race but with various permutations. They quickest, they believe, is a Medium>Hard>Medium race, with a first stop between laps 16-23 and a second between 37-42.
The Soft>Medium>Medium strategy is not far away, with stops on laps 13-18 to get rid of the Soft tyre, and 34-39 to put on the final set of Mediums.
Just to muddy the waters a little further, they say the three compound approach isn’t much slower, and while all permutations within that are in play, the best is the Soft>Hard>Medium race. The pit windows for that are likely to be laps 13-18 for the first stop, then another 23 laps on the Hard tyre to 36-41 before changing to the Medium.
They add that the one-stop race is inadvisable because tyre wear appears high – though add there isn’t yet what they call ‘an ample bank of data’, and that there could be some surprises. Lando, of course, has to start on his Q2 Soft tyre; Daniel has the choice of starting compound.
Q: With having multiple races after one another, are there any specific preparations for the drivers to make sure their performance is at its best? especially with time differences? – @maria_mclaren4
A: There’s very little the teams can do other than roll with the punches because there’s simply no time to prepare properly – but we do what we can.
Ideally, the drivers would train for each race for three or four weeks. For Qatar, you’d like them to do at least 10 days (but really much longer) of preparation in the right ambient conditions to acclimatise, much like you would do were they running a marathon (which is the closest equivalent in terms of exertion/weight-loss/dehydration).
Obviously with the races coming thick and fast, that sort of thing isn’t possible for anyone. So the team concentrates on the basics: get the drivers on site as early as possible (no hanging around, enjoying São Paulo!).
Their schedule in the early part of this weekend will be adapted to help them deal with jumping forward +6h, and their diet with take into account first recovery after the last race then catering for the conditions here in Qatar.
There is a cumulative effect on the body, particularly given the high g-forces here and at Interlagos, so the drivers will be spending plenty of time on the massage table – what matters most is the background level of fitness. All the work that’s been done pre-season and in the longer gaps between races since then really starts to count now.
Q: Could weather become another challenge for the team along with unfamiliar track? Could there be a possibility of sandstorms and windy conditions like we saw in Bahrain testing? Are the high temperatures going to be more demanding on tyre? – @formulayna
A: Conditions at the start of pre-season testing were very strange, and we’re only 112km away from the Bahrain International Circuit, so it’s not entirely unthinkable – but there’s nothing like that on the forecast. Wind, however, is going to play a big part. The circuit is very flat and very exposed.
The shift in wind direction between Friday and Saturday created a lot of problems, with corners the drivers had become accustomed to as headwinds suddenly becoming tailwinds and vice versa, and gusting conditions also problematic, changing the circuit lap to lap – but we’ve hopefully got a good read on this now and can cope with whatever comes up.
Track temperatures aren’t really that high in Qatar – currently 31°C and dropping. The races in the Gulf in the winter(ish) evenings are rarely that hot, certainly not compared to places like the Hungaroring or Hockenheim, which take place at the height of summer.
What will make this circuit tough on the tyres is the abrasiveness of the tarmac (which is very old and very grippy) and the number of really high-speed, high load corners.
Q: Does an engine failure like Daniel had always lead to a PU change? I remember that Lando didn't get a new PU after he had an engine failure last year in Germany so is the damage that causes an engine failure sometimes repairable? – @mclarendo4
A: Engines are pretty sturdy and often they can be repaired. A good case in point being Lando’s huge crash at Spa a few months ago. The car was largely destroyed but the engine lived to fight another day.
It’s often the case now that the telemetry will allow the team to spot the oncoming catastrophe and retire the car before it gets to the point of irreparable damage – and it’s very rare in the modern era that you’ll see an F1 engine properly let go with a huge plume of white smoke billowing out behind it.
Obviously there are rules regarding what constitutes an acceptable repair, and what would be classed as fitting a new engine and thus be liable for a penalty. Given that the rules were introduced to cut costs, they’re quite amenable to minor repairs, given no-one wants to see a costly engine scraped for want of a spark plug or O-ring.
São Paulo Grand Prix
Q: This week we have the sprint race, are there any differences with the team’s preparations? If so, what are they? – @maria_mclaren4
A: We had a chat with Tom Stallard, Daniel’s race engineer, and he answered this one for us:
“The third sprint qualifying weekend of the season once again means we have just the one session on Friday before going into qualifying. FP1 will follow much the same pattern as FP1 did at Silverstone and Monza when the British and Italian Grands Prix ran to the sprint qualifying format.
“With an extra 100km of racing, qualifying is a little less important than it would be on a normal weekend – but it is still important, and so our FP1 session will be a mix of high-fuel running to prepare for the race and some qualifying preparation. The latter will take up the bulk of the session.
“At the previous sprint events, we’ve done our high-fuel running at the start of FP1. This isn’t to save time when fuelling the car – it actually takes a little longer to drain it than it does to fill it! Our plan – depending a little on the weather – would be to do the same again.
“The primary reason to swap the session around from the usual way of operating is to get some good qualifying preparation done at the end of the session, so the drivers go into qualifying feeling comfortable with their braking, instead of just having done high-fuel, braking earlier, cornering slower and thinking about tyre management.
“The other advantage of doing it this way around is that you give the driver some continuous laps at the start of practice to get dialled in with the circuit at higher fuel before taking the fuel out and asking them to push to find their references, braking points etc.”
Q: Was the team affected by the F1 freight delays coming into Brazil? What extraordinary challenges did this present to this weekend’s prep? – @Angel4_717
A: The team was affected, along with the rest of the pit-lane, with some of the airfreight delayed in arriving from Brazil – turning up at Thursday lunchtime as opposed to early Wednesday morning. Everyone had a dispensation to ignore the curfew on Thursday night. Tom Briggs, senior specialist, garage support, and all-round logistics expert can answer this one for us:
“Our sea freight arrived on time last week and the early-build crew worked as normal – this set is one out of six sets of sea-freight sailing the world to support us. Our priority three pallets of air freight from Mexico arrived on time, Tuesday afternoon and meant we could finish most of the garage build, electrics, IT and air systems.
“We had eight pallets delayed, that were supposed to arrive Wednesday morning, but turned up Thursday lunchtime. This put us 36 hours behind! Due to being ahead in the garage build we just had to concentrate on the operational items and were off-site by 23:30 on Thursday night. It was a great team effort by all to ensure the delay had no impact on the weekend, but it was a very, very full-on day.”
Q: In previous races, I've seen drivers complain about the wind. Why do they complain about it, does it really affect lap time? Will the wind be a problem at Interlagos? – @LayzaKevelyn
A: It can be a problem – or opportunity – particularly for these cars with a very high aerodynamic sensitivity. The biggest issue is generally when braking. The braking point will be in a very different place during a strong wind and is particularly difficult with a strong tailwind.
At coastal races, there’s often an issue of the wind switching from an onshore breeze to an offshore breeze at lunchtime, swapping direction 180° – but more difficult to cope with is a gusting wind. Difficult for the drivers to know where to brake when there’s a 25 kph tailwind on one lap, and only 5 kph on the next. It’s most tricky in a qualifying session when the drivers are braking on the absolute limit.
Q: Although it’s common procedure, does it affect the collected data if the practice starts are carried out at the end of the pit-lane instead of the grid? – @tobi_rhg
A: Very much so. The simple reason is that the grip is likely to be different. The pit exit is generally quite clean and well rubbered-in – because so many cars are launching from it – unlike the grid slots.
It might be at a different angle (uphill, downhill) to the grid and, most crucially, it might be a different grade of asphalt – especially at older circuits where resurfacing tends to be done piecemeal, rather than having the whole track resurfaced at the same time.
The drivers – and, perhaps more importantly, their clutch engineers – are looking at a set of characteristics from a practice launch. They’re looking at how effective the burnouts are, how close to target on the hand clutch the driver gets on the initial hold and drop, and how well the clutch performs in the initial launch and the second phase.
It’s a mixture of art and science, with a quite pronounced ‘goldilocks’ zone in a very narrow range. Too deep or too shallow and the car will either bog down or spin the wheels – and there’s a greater margin for error if you’re not doing it from the ‘right’ piece of track.
Q: We’ve seen Sebastian Vettel stop at the McLaren pit for the second time this season, in Mexico. How does the team react when this happens? – @Angel4_717
A: It happens from time to time, especially when teams are neighbours in the pit-lane and their people are standing on the edge of your box at tracks where they’re very close together – which is what has happened with Vettel. When it happens in practice there’s a momentary pause and puzzlement, and then, if we’re honest, a grin.
Obviously, there’s a question mark over safety, and the teams cooperate on how to iron-out kinks like this. You have the same neighbours all year, so you make sure you have distinctive kit, particularly for the jack operators, to give the drivers something to aim at – but of course, during practice, no-one’s wearing their pit-stop kit.
On the rare occasions it happens in a race, that can be stressful – but afterwards, if everything works out, there's quite a bit of humour. The memorable one in our garage was having the pit-crew prepped at Sepang for a high-pressure double shuffle on Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez, only for Lewis Hamilton to stop in the box. That was… interesting.
Q: When the track and weather forecast suggest a more chaotic race, does the team see this as an opportunity to get on the podium or just a threat that the team could lose out on points? – @Aimee_J_
A: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this one! Overall, the general nature of F1 is that you’re looking for an opportunity with whatever happens – and that goes double for Lando and Daniel who both tend to have quite the predatory outlook.
But it really depends on the grid positions and the relative competitiveness of the car. If you’re starting ahead of your rivals, then you want the most boring race imaginable – but when you’ve got a grid penalty and are at the back, you’re looking for rain, Safety Cars, high degradation and anything that disrupts the normal flow of the race.
Of course, sometimes you also need a disrupted race to hang onto a position. When Fernando Alonso qualified a stunning P7 in Spain for us back in 2017, team manager Paul James spent much of Sunday morning looking at the skies, yelling ‘raaaaain’ at the clouds. Sadly, it didn’t work.
Q: Is it hard for the pit-crew to adjust when it comes to clockwise and counterclockwise tracks, do they have to switch their position to the opposite side of the car and does it take more pit practice since most tracks go clockwise? – @AshMoore88
A: It's less a question of clockwise and anti-clockwise, more one of whether the car is going left or right past the garage! Monaco, for instance, is a clockwise track but has the ‘reverse’ pit-lane, like Baku, Istanbul, Circuit of the Americas and Interalgos; Yas Marina, in contrast, is an anti-clockwise track but has a conventional pit-lane.
The pit-crew say it doesn’t particularly make a difference, because once they’re in position, the task is the same. They stick with their normal corner because there’s a question of ‘handedness’, with the wheel-on and wheel-off guys chosen for their ability on that side of the car.
It’s slightly different in that the most difficult job is usually the rear left – because the gunner is unsighted as the car comes in past his right ear – and that switches to rear right. And everyone will have a different seat in the garage to move out smoothly into the pit-lane with the minimum of jostling.
There isn’t any particular extra practice for this, the crew simply go through their usual repetitions in the mornings and evenings.
Q: The fans are very passionate in Brazil. Can you hear the crowd when you are working in the pit-lane? – @f1mclarenfan
A: You definitely can because it’s a very narrow, very tight start-finish straight, which is always the absolute best for atmosphere. Though the noise in the pit-lane is nothing compared to what you hear on the grid, particularly on the right-hand side. That’s a lot of fun – though perhaps not so much when there’s a Brazilian driver in a rival team. If that’s the case, you take quite a roasting – but being Brazil it’s all done in very good humour, and you wouldn’t want it any other way!
Q: So, with the cars/parts delayed this week, on average how long does it take to build up a car from start to finish? – @sofee_elizabeth
A: ‘Average’ is a difficult thing to determine because each race has its own requirements. We’re going to turn this one over to Jono Brookes, director, Formula 1 build, to answer:
“After the first race of a triple-header, the workload would be less than after the third – in Qatar for instance – where the cars will be pretty much completely stripped, of everything except perhaps the harness and fuel system which will remain and carry on to the end of the season.
“Going from Mexico to Brazil, the front suspension remained fitted on both cars, but the gearboxes and rear suspension were stripped and replaced.
“Kitting, dressing and installing the engine, bleeding, fire-up checks, fitting new rear suspension, building and then fitting a fresh gearbox (which we always planned to do for Brazil on both cars, as they have completed their cycle), would normally take around 12-15 hours at this point in the season if you had all parts ready to go and everything was able to happen concurrently, with no parts supply issues or spec changes along the way.
“We did come out of the Mexico race with some damage on Daniel’s car, despite him finishing, so new parts would have been needed to be built up. All of which means it takes a little longer.”
Mexico City Grand Prix
Q: With the Mexico City Grand Prix being the race at a place with the highest altitude how is the prep for the team affected by this? Is there anything different to prepare or any difficulties? – @lfczahraa
A: For context, it’s worth noting that the rest of the calendar is run between a few meters below sea level (Baku) up to 800m (Interlagos). At the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, we’re in an entirely different world at 2200m. To discuss this and other issues in Mexico, we have Will Joseph, Lando’s race engineer, to talk us through the plan for Mexico:
“The key factors at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez are air density and track use. Racing in Mexico City is all about the altitude. We’ll run the maximum downforce we can, with the biggest wings and full gurneys, but we’ll still get less vertical load than we do in Monza with the minimum drag package.
“On top of this, we don’t think the track gets much use across the year, and therefore we expect to have a weekend where the grip levels start incredibly low in the beginning and then improve rapidly as we use the tracks. That makes learning a little bit more complicated!
“But going into the weekend knowing we’ll run our highest downforce package makes things a little easier. Often, you’re trying to figure out what other people are doing and whether or not to take a speed advantage for a pace deficit. Here, as would be the case in Monaco, it’s not something you have to consider. You pile on everything you’ve got!
“There are still decisions to be made regarding bodywork. Because of the high altitude and low air density, cooling can be an issue that needs a bit of dialling-in, so in the background there’s some work to do, ensuring we’re running the most aerodynamic performance parts with a tolerable level of cooling.”
Q: I’ve noticed when the drivers are being interviewed there’s always someone with them recording what’s being said. Why is that? Do the drivers get any coaching on how to talk to the media? – @F1ForTheWin
A: We’ll turn this one over to Charlotte Sefton, manager, F1 Communications (and frequently seen holding the recorder):
“We record interviews just so that we have a record on file for future reference. It also allows us to easily share quotes with other members of the press – or other stakeholders – if required.
“As for coaching, we’ll brief the drivers at the start of the weekend on a range of current topics, so they’re aware of the sort of questions they might be asked. We’ll discuss their thoughts on various issues before they meet the media – but it’s more a case of preparation rather than coaching.”
Q: How does the high altitude of Mexico City impact on the human side of racing? Does the team have to do anything differently to maintain their fitness levels? – @Aimee_J_
A: The short answer is ‘no’. Not because it wouldn’t be useful but rather because there simply isn’t time. It would be useful for the drivers in particular (but also the crew) to acclimatise – but that would realistically involve clearing the calendar for three or four weeks before this race.
There’s a physiological adaptation to altitude in which the capillaries and the amount of haemoglobin in the blood changes, EPO increases and this allows a person to take in more oxygen and distribute it to the muscles more effectively.
It would require everyone to be present in the city for at least a couple of weeks before the effects started to be noticeable though – and the calendar doesn’t really allow for that sort of downtime. Instead, everyone has to fall back on their underlying fitness – and possibly take it a little easier on the stairs!
Q: Is it possible to describe the uplift a driver may get as they enter the stadium section at this circuit? Can they hear the roar, how aware are they of the crowd here? – @hygienistdirect
A: It’s not always possible to hear the crowd at a circuit but the drivers can in the Foro Sol here, because there’s a couple of slow corners, they drop down to low revs – and the crowd is astoundingly loud! They definitely have a buzz and a smile after going through there, and it’s often worth a ‘woohoo!’ on the radio at the start of the day.
It’s not just the drivers through. The track doubles back behind the grandstand and our garages back on to the stadium. The roar is quite something – even if you’re used to working in a noisy environment. Makes this a really happy place to work.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge when racing at high altitude? – @POstrich40
A: First, it’s worth stating that there’s high and then there’s the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. The other circuits on the calendar range from 24m below sea level (Baku) up to about 800m above (Interlagos). This track is a change in order, topping out at 2,229m. The car responds completely differently here with air density around 78% of that at sea level.
The big challenges, therefore, are downforce and cooling – with cooling arguably the bigger challenge. For downforce, everyone simply adds everything they can to the car, rather like they do in Monaco. It’s not particularly a challenge because there’s very little you can do other than simply get on with it.
Cooling is a different matter. The brakes and power unit need airflow to avoid overheating, and the airflow is simply less powerful here. The teams can keep the cars cool by opening up ducts and running looser bodywork – but every step is taken to improve cooling in this way also decreases aerodynamic efficiency. It’s therefore complicated to get that right – particularly when the car has different cooling needs depending on whether it’s circulating on its own or running in a train of cars with restricted airflow.
Q: Coming to the tail end of the season, is there a thought to reliability this weekend and the forthcoming triple header more so than at other points throughout the year? – @jameshify
A: Lando’s decision to take a PU penalty this weekend is aimed at getting through the rest of the season in good order – this track having a good main straight for overtaking and recovering positions.
On the wider issue, yes, triple-headers always make everyone think a little more. Not so much for reliability, as much as for consuming resources. The earlier triple in France and Austria(x2) had people very wary of the sausage kerbs in Ricard, given how front wing and floor damage might leave them short in Austria, which always breaks bodywork.
Q: Communication is an important part of racing. During the race on Sunday, usually, what info is being communicated to the driver and how often? We’ve seen drivers get fairly… irritated when they need to focus, how does the team deal with this situation? – @moonlightvani
A: The race engineer – who’s the only person speaking to the driver – breaks driver comms down into three basic functions. Race situation, driving performance and strategy. Race situation is all about telling the driver what’s going on around them. They’re the least well-informed people at the track because they can’t see what’s going on.
It’ll include information like telling them who’s using what tyre, what the weather is doing, the gaps around them and the performance of other cars. The latter can be really important: the driver might think they’re suffering really badly with tyre performance – when the reality might be that they’re coping rather better than everyone else.
Performance will be about getting the most out of the car. The engineers will tell them where they can find a little more time, where they might protect the tyres a little more, or save fuel – or, conversely, that they have margin to push harder. They’ll also be fed suggested settings for brake balance, harvest modes and differential settings.
Strategy gives the driver the plan. They’ve been briefed on various plans and will be told which plan to work to, and any variations. They’ll have been given a gap to a car they need to come out ahead of, or a target lap on which to make a nominal pit-stop, and will be told they need to plan tyre use to reach it, plus or minus X-number of laps.
In the final stint, that sort of information becomes redundant, and the drivers will just get race situation and driving style tips. Does it irritate the drivers? It can – but it very much depends on the driver: some are sponges that like a constant stream of information; others would like the bare minimum to get the job done.
When the driver has a very specific target to hit, they’ll often ask for no more comms because they need to concentrate. This is no different from a qualifying lap, or the first few laps of the race, during which the race engineer won’t interrupt the driver with anything that isn’t absolutely crucial.
Of course, if the team thinks there’s something the driver needs to know, they’ll be told, regardless of their preference for quiet. They understand this, and it’ll always be discussed in the post-race debrief.
Q: With the upcoming triple-header being held on three different continents, how difficult is it to make sure the team has enough spares? – @BonzoKEN
A: It’s very difficult. When F1 first introduced the triple-header in 2018, with the French, Austrian and British Grands Prix back-to-back-to-back, getting enough parts for the car was a real challenge. That was exacerbated by racing in Austria which has vicious kerbs, notorious for breaking front wings.
This is a little easier because we don’t have those kerbs but also a little harder without the support of the factory a short flight (or drive) away. The plus point is that, this late in the season, there’s a lot of spares. Not everything will be of the latest spec, but there are more parts that can be used or adapted for use, in an emergency.
Having done a few of these last year and this, we’ve improved the processes. What the triple-headers have done is bring into sharp focus how important production engineering and the production planning department are as tools for performance. Keeping up the supply of parts during this relentless run-in will be worth genuine lap-time.
United States Grand Prix
Q: We saw a lot of issues with the bumps when MotoGP raced at the Circuit of the Americas recently. Do you think this will be problematic for the team? – @McLarenDoggo
A: We’ll let Tom Stallard, Daniel’s race engineer, field this one: “It’s two years since we last raced at COTA and, given how soft the ground is here, the thing that we’re thinking about most going into practice is finding all of the new bumps. If you watched the MotoGP on this circuit a couple of weeks ago, you’ll have seen there were a lot of them! That’s not necessarily a good guide to what we’ll experience, as some of those have since been ground down. A lot of our job today is determining how effective that grinding has been, and how bumpy the track still is. We know it will be bumpy – we just don’t know how bumpy.
“The severity of the bumps will affect how we set-up heave stiffness, though a lot of it is affected by where we encounter them, and if that section of track is grip- or power-limited. For example, in the past, there has been a big bump on the straight between Turns 10 and 11. It didn’t really affect the set-up because the car is flat-out there regardless but it could potentially mean you have to raise the car to avoid hitting the ground too hard.
“Historically, when bumps are ground at COTA, they do a good job of it, but we’ll only know for certain once we’ve driven it and made an assessment. And again, where those bumps are will affect what set-up changes we have to make. For example, bumps in the braking zone for T1 can cause problems with front-locking. The car compresses there as we go up the hill, so it would push the front bib into the ground and force us to raise the front ride-height – which is something we never really want to do: the closer the front is to the ground, the more downforce there is.
“This is more a question of potential damage than legality. On smooth tracks we would be more concerned with the legality of the plank being ground away as it rubs along the surface – but when it’s bumpy we’re most concerned about the potential for a big hit to damage the floor, bending it terminally rather than causing it to flex. This is what would cause us to consider raising the front. In a braking zone, if the load is on the plank, then it’s not on the wheels, which can create front-locking, with the car bouncing off the plank.
“Bumps, of course, aren’t the only thing we can hit. There are some aggressive kerbs at COTA. The exit kerb at Turn Nine is a particular concern – we’ve seen teams break their rear suspension on that one – but also there are generally some sausage kerbs to check out if you’re running wide at Turn One or Turn 19.”
Q: Now that Daniel is taking up Sheriff duties, who will be driving his car this weekend? – @Racing4Points
A: According to the radio checks before the session began, the #4 car is being driven by RickyBobby, with local race engineer Chip as the voice in his ear. Daniel does the accent much better than Tom – but we’re grading on a very shallow curve there.
Q: Considering COTA is a special place, and there’s always a lovely vibe about the race, which traditions do you have in the paddock? – @High5Forever
A: We’ve not really been here long enough to develop genuine traditions at the track – but one of the nicest things about working here is that the paddock is very much ‘human-scale’ and very convivial. Definitely got that vibe!
Modern circuits tend to favour a huge apron of paddock – but not everything is bigger in Texas! One peculiarity that’s thrown up is a lot of difficulty getting packed down after the race. In such a tight space. We’re usually in a hurry to be somewhere else – Brazil or Mexico – so everything needs to move quickly.
There’s therefore an ingenious system of making the paddock ‘one-way’ after the race, with all the flight cases lifted by the forklifts to be pushed out of the paddock along the upper balconies of the pit-building. You don’t see that anywhere else. Get that done early enough and there’s time to get into the city for one last plate of BBQ. We’re doing this race as a standalone this year – but that’s definitely a tradition we’re not going to ignore.
Q: Have any of the team dared to climb the observation tower at COTA? – @f1mclarenfan
A: It’s actually quite tricky to get to from the paddock! It’s not that far away as the crow flies but it’s on the wrong side of the track, which means a good walk away. But yes, when we first came here in 2012, everyone was running up and down it like hyperactive squirrels – but it’s generally only something you do once, so not so much since then.
Q: Are your US-based colleagues from Arrow McLaren SP able to attend the race so the teams can mix while you’re all in the same country? – @Aimee_J_
A: Yes, definitely – within the bounds of sensible covid-19 precautions. Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist have been hammering around doing hot laps this weekend. There’s a lot more of it away from the garage though: Zak says this is the team’s busiest weekend of the year, and some of that comes from cross-collaboration with AMSP.
Q: COTA has sections reminiscent of other tracks like Silverstone and Suzuka. Can set up choices or other decisions be influenced by performance data from those places or is everything pretty much track specific? – @MargauxVA24
A: At this stage of the season, a lot of the initial baseline choices made are based on performance at previous circuits. You’ll know that the set-up that works well for the MCL35M through Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel is going to work well through COTA’s Sector One.
It doesn’t mean you’ll use that, because there are a host of other variables, and the final decisions are very much track-specific – but when you’re figuring out the best compromises, data from those previous races provides a very useful set of guidelines, when meshed with historical data from this circuit.
It’s particularly useful this year because the cut-down nature of the Friday practice sessions, cut from 90 to 60 minutes, means the cars don’t do the long high-fuel runs anymore. The team gather a lot of data from the shorter high-fuel runs and can extrapolate very well – but it’s useful having something empirical in the background.
Q: Of all the venues of the United States Grand Prix over the years, which was the favourite and which the most difficult to tackle from a drivers’ and a teams’ point of view? – @scvMcLaren
A: Very tough one to answer. There’s plenty of people in the garage who were here when the race was at Indianapolis – but no-one who was at Phoenix or Watkins Glen – though there’s quite a few back at the McLaren Technology Centre.
In general, working at the United States Grand Prix is pretty easy. There’s a racing culture, things get done well. 2005 was obviously a very difficult weekend for everyone, but widening the parameters slightly, perhaps the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix is worth a look, being equally tough for drivers and crew. Puts the odd bump on the track here firmly in perspective!
Q: What does the team do to fight the jet lag from travelling especially to the US and Brazil? – @sendit_a
A: Travelling west is really not that bad! We’re six hours back of Woking Mean Time in Austin, and for most people that means simply getting a ‘late’ night on travel day but going to bed early on local time. Brazil is easier – when it’s a standalone – because it’s only three hours back, which doesn’t really hit anyone that hard.
Going east is tougher. Not so much for the end-of-season races we have this year but when the team is in Japan, China, Australia, that can be quite tough, because flight timings mean you often lose a night of sleep. The team will fly everyone out early to combat it – but the first day can be a bit bleary-eyed!
The Singapore night race is interesting, the novelty value is being ostensibly on European timing. In the first year or two – 2008, 2009 – the teams were all experimenting with blackout blinds and similar. It’s calmed down a bit now – but we’ll still have hotels providing ‘breakfast’ at 14:00, and the crew will have dinner at the track at around 04:00.
The team will do little things like tweaking diets slightly and adjusting start times on Tuesday/Wednesday to provide a little help – but by this point in the weekend, wherever we are, everyone’s well into the swing of things and doesn’t really notice that they’ve switched time zones.
That said, the transitions can be hard with back-to-backs if there’s a big shift. Baku-Montreal is a much easier prospect than Montreal-Baku! São Paulo to Qatar might be a tough one. There isn’t much the team can do to help, other than try to stagger the workload on the early days at the track, with half the crew in, half getting a rest.
Q: Being in Austin, there is temptation all around with the fabulous BBQ food. Do the drivers vary their diets for this race, or do Jon Malvern and Michael Italiano – Lando’s and Daniel’s performance coaches – have to keep them strictly under surveillance and on track? – @Sareyware
A: The drivers are pretty good at regulating themselves. These days a certain amount of self-discipline comes as part of the package because they simply wouldn’t have made it to F1 if they didn’t take the training and nutrition seriously. That's not to say they won’t be tucking into the BBQ, because they can and do. The drivers eat a very healthy, tailored diet – but ‘healthy’ isn’t just measured in calories, carbs and proteins. There has to be a space for treats and the occasional indulgence.
For a more scientific explanation, we asked Jon to talk us through it: “Fortunately, Lando isn't the biggest fan of firepit BBQ food – but he does love a burger! Since we’ve arrived in Austin he’s been so busy, Wednesday evening was the only time he got to venture out – the rest of the time he’s stuck to a normal weekend meal plan.
“Experiencing different cultures and cuisine is part of the joy of travelling, so we tend to take the view of letting Lando experiment and try things when we’re on the road – so long as it doesn’t pose a risk for food hygiene or affect how he’ll feel the next day.”
Q: With COTA’s ever-changing turn combinations, the science project seems to be the car set-up. If the car is strong in one sector, it’s likely to be not so strong in another sector. How much of that comes from past and current data, track walk and driver feedback? – @nicolaw7
A: All of those things feed into where we finish-up at the end of practice, with the data gathered over this weekend gradually becoming more prominent in the mix as the weekend goes on, with historic data being used for the initial set-up. The extent of change over the weekend depends on the track and the conditions. Some tracks – Monza being a good example – change very little, COTA on the other hand, changes quite a lot. Similar to what we see in places like the Shanghai International Circuit, the ground under the track is a little soft and so there’s always new lumps and bumps, grinding, resurfacing work.
Turkish Grand Prix
Q: How do you determine the level/rate of tyre degradation? Purely through visuals and driver feedback, or do you have any kind of sensors? – @ScenarioSeven
A: All of the above. On long runs in practice and during the race, the race engineers will ask the drivers for tyre condition updates from time to time – if the drivers don’t volunteer that information. For the sake of brevity, they’ll be grading on a pre-arranged scale” “condition two”, “condition four”, and so on.
Additional to that, there are temperature sensors for each tyre, allowing the garage – actually director, race engineering Hiroshi Imai, our tyre whisperer who stands at the end of the engineers’ island – to study degradation in real time. He also feeds information to the race engineers.
Q: Does the set-up differ for a track that is infamous for lack of grip? And if so, how exactly? It did last year, with the teams all running the maximum amount of downforce they could fit onto the car. That was the only tool available to help the drivers find grip. – @merclaren_dr3
A: Prudence demanded that carry over into FP1 this morning – but what we found out almost immediately at the start of FP1 was that the grip had improved greatly compared to last year, and the asphalt is now within the normal range. Thus, the cars will be looking at perhaps exploring different aerodynamic and suspension settings.
Q: How much of the data and lap analysis gets shared between the two drivers? – @davyrattan
A: All of it! The briefs and debriefs are done as a group, with both drivers and their engineering teams together – usually in the same room but if not, then connected digitally, and their run plans in practice are designed to be complementary.
During the live sessions, the bridge between the two teams is the senior engineering staff: Andrea Stella, Randeep Singh, Hiroshi Imai, who will be passing information back-and-forth, but also the support engineers for both cars back at the MTC, listening to the comms channels of other side of the garage.
This is all useful stuff: it’s reassuring to hear ‘the other car is reporting the exact same issue’, but also helpful to know things like ‘they’re running an extra hole of front wing’, or ‘their ride-height is a millimetre lower than ours’. Additionally, the drivers will be able to study print-offs of their laps overlaid with their team-mates’.
Q: Tell us about Turn 8! How does this physically affect the drivers? Are there exercises that help prepping or recovering from this long left-hand turn? – @Angel4_717
A: It’s definitely an above-average corner in terms of the strain it places on the driver. They’re pulling around 5-G laterally, but the real impact is not the g-force so much as the length of time they’re holding it for, spending perhaps four seconds in Turn Eight – which is a lot.
They will regularly train with neck weights – a helmet with a hook-and-eye arrangement tied to a weight stack to help them build neck muscle – but the best preparation is driving the car. At this point in the year there isn’t a lot of gym-training the driver can do to prepare – but they are pretty hardened to it.
How can the team aid recovery? Each driver has a massage table in their ready room and their trainers will go to work on them before and after the sessions – but they’ll be pretty sore next week.
Q: As the asphalt was re-laid just before the race, İstanbul Park offered very low grip last year. How useful is last year's data from the race for this year's race? Will the last year's actual data or the sim data have a weight for this year's race preparations? – @CorcBasgan
A: They will both play a part but given the grip level is very different to last year, then both were of limited use yesterday and there was a lot of exploring to do out on track. Given how extreme the track condition was last year – really like nothing we’d ever seen before – this really was more like a new circuit.
For the dry running, it’s also worth remembering, we only had Friday’s data from 2020 as Saturday and Sunday were both very wet. We were also here a month later and it was a lot colder, and we didn’t have a C4 tyre last year. So, even had conditions stayed the same, that data wouldn’t have been as useful as it is at other circuits.
What last year’s data is useful for, irrespective of grip level, is highlighting things like bumps, wind shadow (it’s a very windy place) and the nature of various kerbs. That all fed into the sim. What the sim is useful for is playing around with different levels of grip. It lets you play a game of ‘what if?’
Q: How often during a race does a team listen to other teams’ comms to understand the position and circumstances of other drivers? – @Anushma12
A: All the time! When FOM decided to start broadcasting selected snippets of driver comms, the only way to do that fairly was to make everyone’s driver comms open access, so everyone can listen to everyone else whenever they’re on track.
We won’t have 20 people back at the MTC, each listening to a channel, but we’ll have people on the ones that are most relevant to our race at that point, and they’ll be feeding information to the strategy team. Of course, at certain points on some weekends, everyone else’s race will be relevant to ours, and at that point it’s all quite difficult!
The channels are open all weekend so if the drivers and their engineers want to have a private conversation, they have to wait until they’re back into the garage. When the car is physically plugged into the garage data network, the driver can deliver his feedback confidentially.
As a side note, the pit-lane monitors carry the same global pictures as everyone is seeing at home – but we don’t have sound – so it’s often the case that the people working the race have slightly less information about the status of the race than everyone at home – which is… interesting.
Q: Is the uncertainty about the number of races left and the tracks you might or might not go to difficult to manage in terms of preparation and Constructors’ Championship strategy? – @art_martos
A: Yes. We’ve got a good degree of confidence in the remaining calendar as it stands now, but certainly earlier this year it all seemed very flexible – for example, it’s worth noting that this race wasn’t on the original calendar, and since it was added, it’s subsequently been rescheduled twice from the original published date.
What difference does an uncertain calendar make? Leaving aside the logistics (difficult – but not affecting race prep) you can look at that in two ways: overall duration and race specifics.
Overall duration is a big one. Last year had 17 races, this year had 23 scheduled. The latter requires a lot of extra manufacturing effort, as components are lifed and replaced, and also the realistic expectation of more damage. PU usage is interesting too. 17 or 22 races has the same allocation of elements.
Obviously, the fewer laps those have to do, the harder they can be pushed. Last year with the number of races at the very bottom end of the band, the PUs were pushed hard and very few drivers took engine penalties. This year, there’s already been plenty of tactical penalties and almost certainly more will follow.
Race specific preparations are a little more difficult to judge. Typically, the upgrade path is planned at the start of the season with improvements to the car timed to arrive at desirable times of year.
There may, for instance, have been a maximum downforce upgrade coming, timed to coincide with the Singapore Grand Prix. When that race is cancelled, it might be that the resource is better deployed improving performance elsewhere.
There’s also the question of the unexpected venue. What’s Losail like for an F1 car? We don’t really know – but there’s going to be a lot of time cleared in the simulator schedule between now and the end of November to find out!
Russian Grand Prix
Q: How do you mentally reset after a weekend like the last one, and prepare for the upcoming race? – @Jengo37
A: It’s really been like a switch was clicked. Everyone enjoyed victory after Monza, and Monday there was a definite bounce, but by Wednesday, feet were being firmly anchored back on the ground. There’s less talk about how good the car was in Monza and more about how good it wasn’t at Zandvoort the previous week.
As Tom Stallard, Daniel’s race engineer, says: “We didn’t take upgrades to Monza that will suddenly make the car better everywhere. It was a circuit that suited the car we had… and there aren’t any more Monzas…”
Q: We saw some of the F2/3 garages underwater earlier in the week. Do you have contingency plans in place for things like floods and fires in the garage? I'm guessing Tom Stallard would be pretty good in a waterlogged race bay! – @McLarenDoggo
A: We hope you mean because he’s a World Champion rower, and not just because he’s very tall! The former skill came in very handy propelling us to victory in the Canadian Grand Prix raft race – we’re hoping to not need the other thing in the garage!
For fires, yes, there is training and planning. F1 has some very strict rules on the provision of extinguishers in the garage – several different types in fixed positions and sizes to cater for the various types of fire (fuel, electrical, chemical, battery etc), plus prominent messaging for which is which and what the evacuation routes are.
There are also professional fire crews stationed at set distances along the pitlane for the rare occasion when things get out of hand. Every track has a fire station too. In Sochi you can see it – down by Turn 15, shortly after the bridge.
For floods, it’s all a little more make-it-up-as-you-go-along. Some pit-lanes suffer from being cambered away from the track, which means in a deluge they basically become a hardstanding watershed designed to pour water into a garage. The pinnacle of flood defence as this point is the squeegee mop, which our garage techs wield in shifts.
There’re all sorts of things low down in the garage that wouldn’t react well to being underwater so if the mops were proving to be inadequate, most likely the garage shutters would come down.
Technically, we’re not allowed to do that during the race weekend – but in the event of there being so much water we were struggling to keep it out, the cars wouldn’t be going out anyway and common sense would prevail – but we’re not facing anything quite so apocalyptic this weekend!
The last time the shutters had to come down during a race weekend was when super typhoon Hagibis hit Suzuka in 2019. We had enough advance warning to de-rig the pit-gantry and pull all of the gear inside before – quite literally – battening down the hatches and taking shelter.
Q: The FIA issues a lot of documents during a race week e.g. Race Director Notes. Who is responsible to read them and make sure that everyone receives the special information they need to know? – @tobi_rhg
A: The conduit from the FIA to the teams (and going the other way) for all things operational is the team manager or sporting director – those titles tend to be interchangeable, though some teams have both. In our case the information from Race Control will be sent to Paul James, team manager, and Randeep Singh, director, strategy and sporting.
From there is gets disseminated through the team via the normal briefing process, with reminders in the pre-session notes from both Paul and the two race engineers.
Typically, information handed down over the race weekend from the FIA will be local rules: track limits; delta times and launch procedures for the drivers; grid etiquette and access points for the crews; any special rules regarding use of the pit-lane and so forth.
Final information from the FIA will have been relayed to the drivers by their race engineers as they radio-checked getting into the car in the garage – though they may get another reminder getting into the cockpit on the grid – and by Kari Lammenranta, the chief mechanic, to the crew shortly before 14:00.
Q: With a limited allocation of Inters and Wets, and seeing that it's likely going to be a wet quali/race that you’d want save new tyres for, how does that affect Free Practice runs? – @MargauxVA24
We’re expecting Friday will stay dry, in which case it’s more a question to answer Saturday – but the rule of thumb is that, you don't do anything in practice that risks damaging a tyre you might want for qualifying or the race.
The standard allocation is three sets of Wets and four sets of Inters – but if either Friday session is declared wet, and you use an Inter, then you can have another set, likewise if there is a wet quali. So, when it’s wet on Friday, we’ll generally use at least one set because it is, in effect ‘free’.
There isn’t a similar rule for the full Wet tyre. The thinking is that, if used in the proper conditions, the full Wet shouldn’t suffer any damage.
That’s true up to a point. So long as the track is very wet, the tyre will be fine. Problems occur when the track begins to dry out, and there isn’t enough water to keep the tyre in good condition. We probably wouldn’t run a full Wet in practice if there was a risk of damaging it.
Even if we weren’t expecting the tyre to take damage, there would be a reluctance to use a full Wet on Saturday morning, simply because it will lose temperature and getting it back up to temperature in the blankets isn’t something you can really rush, which isn’t particularly useful if you want to use it in qualifying.
To counter all of that, on the other side of the argument is the idea that the drivers really would like to get some wet running in, if they’re expecting a wet qualifying session or race. They want to find where the grip is – or isn’t – see what line they can take and where they can push. Better to do that in practice than when the clock's ticking.
Italian Grand Prix
Q: Does a race weekend with both qualifying and sprint qualifying change the approach to practice and car set-up or is it business as usual? – @JGE_83
A: This is the question coming to Monza – and to answer it, we’ve got Will Joseph, Lando’s race engineer, on hand. He's been figuring it out in the weeks leading up to the Italian Grand Prix:
“Very different schedule this weekend, compared to the last couple of races, with the return of the sprint qualifying event format – but we have a very similar programme to what we did at Silverstone for the first sprint weekend, so we know what we’re doing.
“FP1 gives us an hour to do whatever set-up or investigation work we want or need to do. At the end of it, we have a few hours to get the car ready for qualifying, at which point it will be in parc fermé conditions and we can’t make further changes. So, it all happens very quickly. Friday is a stressful day – even more stressful than normal!
“We won’t be splitting the programme between the two cars here because, with only an hour before the car goes into parc fermé, we don’t have any test items to look at. You’re going straight into pure preparation and therefore both cars will want to do the same things in terms of learning.”
Q: What was the team able to take away from the first sprint qualifying and will it help with preparing for this one? Or is it expected to be completely different being on a different track? – @OfficialAmyLynn & @kim_osabi
A: A little bit of both. The Silverstone sprint qualifying went pretty much as expected, so learning from that was limited, though if this format becomes familiar, the processes will naturally become more refined. There’s always something to learn and minor tweaks to be made.
Silverstone saw the Medium tyre preferred by most of the grid, with a few people down the order gambling on the Soft tyre, taking launch performance and an advantage over the first few laps over better overall race pace. That proved to be a good choice, with Alonso, Ocon and Räikkönen all making up ground.
It is different at Monza because degradation isn’t as high here as it was at Silverstone. It’s still primarily a choice between Soft and Medium tyres – but canted perhaps more in favour of the Soft tyre than Silverstone was.
Q: How do you prepare for the second sprint race of the season? Do you use the data from the sprint race at Silverstone or do you focus more on historical data over the years you have competed at Monza ie track conditions, tyre wear etc? – @plug_in_baby_x
A: Regarding data, the Silverstone sprint helps more with strategy than anything else, because it provides insight into whether every other team viewed strategy in the same way as we did. There’s always a chance with the first running that you’ve made assumptions that seemed obvious at the time but with hindsight were extreme!
For this weekend’s engineering choices and driving styles, historical data from Monza, plus whatever we’ve managed to learn in FP1 and FP2 informs the set-up and decisions the team will make today.
The other primary source of information is historical data from earlier in the season. While Monza isn’t really like any other circuit, every bit of Monza is like a section of circuit somewhere else. It would be different if the Italian Grand Prix took place in April or May, but at the very end of summer, there’s lots of MCL35M info available.
Q: Sprint qualifying gives us some unusual timings in the schedule. What impact does this have on the team especially with such a late session on Friday? – @Aimee_J_
A: It has an impact, especially after two weekends in a row of ‘normal’ schedules. The differences are both practical and psychological. Time-shifting the sessions doesn’t really matter – everyone’s used to moving the day around according to wherever in the world the race is – but shifting the intervals between the sessions has a significant effect.
For instance, F1 usually has a two-hour gap between the end of practice and the start of qualifying, and the team has many years of working with that to develop a protocol for what is done to prepare the car in that timescale. At this year’s Italian Grand Prix, we had two-and-a-half hours.
Generally, in the garage, the work expands or contracts to fit the timescale available. There are always more checks that can be performed, more prep that can be done – but do you want to add in extra complexity? It’s a question the team had to address when the sprint qualifying format was originally timetabled.
Psychologically, as well, it’s a little disconcerting for the crew having their routines moved around. There’s always some dislocation, with people thinking ‘what should I be doing now?’ much like the situation at the first race of the year. Having the pit-lane open 30 minutes before sprint qualifying but 40 minutes before the race is particularly unsettling!
Q: Can modern F1 cars race in the old Monza layout with the huge banked corner? Would that be possible considering how steep that corner is compared to Zandvoort? – @chalasti11
A: The banking is a lot steeper here than at Zandvoort. Most people working at the circuit take a walk out into the woods at least once to see it. There’s a good spot just beyond Parabolica, and another where the modern circuit goes underneath it on the run down to Ascari. it’s very tough to get to the top and you need to take a good run at it!
The angle of the banking wouldn’t prohibit F1 cars from using it, with suitable suspension tweaks. Whether or not F1 would want to race on something that rivals Talladega is another question entirely – a one-off at Zandvoort is fine but they’re really not designed for that. You’d build a different car if it happened more often.
Q: Appreciating Monza is high speed, but also has a couple of heavy braking zones. Is recharge ever an issue there? – @tadman_steve
A: It is. As with any circuit that has only a few braking points, energy management is at a premium. On Friday you might have seen cars completing laps where they’d made a mistake, rather than aborting, just to get the recharge done.
How that affects the race depends very much on whether they’re attacking, defending, or running in clear air. The drivers will have different ERS modes available for how and where they use and recover energy, but also the ability to make short-term manual changes to that depending on circumstances. It can be a big factor.
Q: We saw Lando getting called onto the weighbridge during Dutch Grand Prix qualifying. Does this compromise the run plan and make the team scramble because of potential lost time to get a good lap in? – @Angel4_717
A: No to the first bit, yes to the second. It doesn’t compromise the run plan, because an excursion to the weighbridge is factored into the plan – but losing a minute definitely makes everyone scramble – even when it’s been factored in. In essence, that’s your comfort margin disappearing.
Both the order and quantity of calls to the weighbridge are random, but there are going to be cars called to the weighbridge every qualifying session: if you’re regularly appearing in Q3, it’s rare to go more than a couple of races without one of your cars being weighed. With that in mind, when the strategists and race engineers are planning their qualifying programme, they add the potential compliance time into the run plan.
How much of a problem it is to lose a minute at the weighbridge varies from track to track. Not just because the lap times are of a different length but also because some tracks need a slower out-lap than others, some require a warm-up lap and so forth.
The real timing problem comes if the driver misses the weighbridge signal and needs to slam on the brakes and be pushed back onto the load cells. That’s less of a problem now because the garage also sees the demand, and the race engineers will warn the driver.
The team will have a couple of crew stationed at the FIA garage to move the car off the bridge and get it fired up again with the starter wand, and this also has caused problems in the past – but now the cars can be fired-up off the MGU-K, the starter is rarely used.
Dutch Grand Prix
Q: How crucial a role does the sim play going into a track the team hasn’t been to – and how realistic would the sim even be? – @MargauxVA24
A: Great question – and the short answers are ‘vital’ and ‘it depends’. The team's simulator drivers have been looking at this track for a few months, with Daniel and Lando doing a little work before the shutdown and then going back to the MTC between Spa and here.
The track model will be very good. It’s made from the track blueprints, with GPS references, and then a LIDAR scan to feed in the lumps and bumps – but of course it’s not as good as having a real reference lap. Those will be being fed in right now from FP1, and the team will have someone running on a sim that’s improving in accuracy all the time.
Of course, it won’t be as accurate as the simulator lap for somewhere we race all the time, but it will be adequate to hone a baseline setup and get the cars into the right window, with suspension, bodywork and cooling in the ballpark to begin looking at performance from the green light, rather than having to address major problems.
After the race, one of the things that will be addressed in the debrief is the correlation between sim and reality. It will study things like the reference points the drivers used around the real lap versus what they saw in the sim, and various other questions designed to make the sim more faithful for future races.
Q: It has been 36 years since the last Dutch GP, the last one consisting of a double McLaren podium… how excited is everyone to be back? And how do you prepare for it seeing as this will be a new circuit for much of the team? – @OfficialAmyLynn
A: While there are plenty of people at the MTC who’ve been here with McLaren before, it's a new track to all of the team in the garage – at least a new track in the context of F1, many of the crew and both drivers have been here in junior formulae.
It is exciting to be racing again at Zandvoort? Absolutely! A new venue is always exciting – but it’s a bonus when that ‘new’ venue comes with a wonderful history and a massive, knowledgeable crowd. It’s great to be here.
Preparation for a new track involves doing what you can with off-line sims to create a baseline set-up and then honing that in the driver-in-the-loop simulator. Once we arrive at the track, the plan today is to not do any long-term testing and simply concentrate on driver familiarity and set-up.
Q: What does the team consider to be the most challenging part of the Zandvoort track? – @GaryOnGaming
A: It’s all challenging! But probably the corner that excites the most interest is Turn Seven – Scheivlak. It’s very, very fast, has an interesting compression on entry, and had the drivers pulling 5.0-g even before getting down to quali sims. It’s going to be exceptionally fast with everyone pushing to the limit.
Q: This being a relatively new circuit; how much can the sim help prepare the drivers? And which circuit is this layout closest to, in terms of its characteristics? – @f1mclarenfan
A: For the first question, simulation is perhaps more useful for this race than it is anywhere else – even though the sims may not be quite as accurate. That’s perhaps more for the engineers and strategists than the drivers though. They’ll use off-line simulation to develop a baseline set-up and figure out the first principles of a strategy.
Once the team has this, it then goes into the driver-in-the-loop simulator, first with the simulator drivers and then Lando and Daniel, who were in there at the start of this week. They’ll be able to get to grips with the track, in the sim, to the extent they don’t have to waste any time learning the basics during their limited practice time.
Usually, you can marry sim data up with performance at similar circuits – but there isn’t really a circuit similar to Zandvoort in F1. The new banking makes it unique. A few other tracks have corners with a little bit of camber and warp – but nothing like this. The last real banking F1 used was at Indy – but even that didn’t have angles this acute.
Ideally, everyone would have done long runs in practice to figure all of this out – but the shorter practice sessions this year, in combination with the heavy qualifying-bias of this track, and the time lost for red flags, meant nobody really did. Today’s a genuine voyage of discovery!
Q: Given the back-to-back races, how long does it take to disassemble an F1 car or it doesn't need to be disassembled to transport? – @vaniliecusuc
A: The car needs to be at least partially disassembled after a race, for maintenance. That would be true whether it was being transported or not – for instance it will be taken apart and rebuilt where we’re staying at a circuit for another race or a test.
For a standard back-to-back pair like this one, the car will have been completely stripped and rebuilt when it got to Zandvoort. That’s the primary task for the mechanics at every track in the run-up to a race, even if the car has been built-up and transported from the factory.
It’s a job that expands to fill the time available. It might be done across Wednesday and Thursday – but then it will be done as standard every Friday evening after FP2 before the curfew starts – but in Monaco, when there’s a Friday ‘off’, the rebuild will be done across Thursday evening after FP2 and then seven or eight hours on Friday.
Q: What are the challenges or opportunities that come from having banked corners at a track like Zandvoort? Do you have to change the car’s setup or attack them differently? – @StephenWarwick9
A: Yes. Definitely different. The loads on the car change considerably with a banked corner. Working out the correct roll-stiffness is more complicated, but the big concern is the effect the camber and track warp can have on front-locking. It makes it very easy to snatch a brake and flat-spot a tyre, so the set-up is adjusted to make that less likely.
There are also different lines for the drivers to try: running high or low on the banks. That degree of choice in the line is relatively rare for an F1 car – and it’s something the drivers have to assimilate over the weekend.
Belgian Grand Prix
Q: Do the drivers' stomachs go up and down through Eau Rouge like mine does when I go over a hump bridge? – @dannyking1984
A: Not so much in the compression at the bottom – though that has some unusual negative-g – but they’ll feel it coming over the crest at the top. Spa's not called a rollercoaster for nothing!
Q: Are there any additional or adapted routines that team personnel go through at the first race back after the summer break? – @PerryBrownF1
A: You wouldn’t think a two-week shutdown would be long enough for anyone to notice – but the crew definitely do, and the first morning back can feel a little strange – but generally by this point in the weekend everyone’s back into the routine.
There won’t be anything as formal as an adapted routine – but pit-stop practice might be a little different to the norm, perhaps doing a few more standard stops than would be the case if we were going into the second weekend of a back-to-back – but that might be as little as doing 10 standard rather than eight in a practice session.
Q: How do tracks with steep gradients like Spa effect the aerodynamic performance of the car? Or is the airflow the same no matter what the incline? – @McLarenDoggo
A: The aerodynamicists will tell you that everything affects everything. We’ll turn this one over to Adrian Goodwin, Daniel’s performance engineer – but also formerly our trackside aerodynamicist: “There will certainly be small scale effects, but with considerations more along the lines of how the general wind gusts interact with the topography and then with the car, or the following effect of other cars out on track displacing the air.
“So, for the big gradient changes at Spa it’s not really a consideration where you’re not grip-limited, you’re just worried about getting a good tow from the cars ahead through Eau Rouge.
“Then, in corners where it is grip-limited with track gradient (like Rivage / T8), it’s more of a concern for the general vehicle dynamics as first order, rather than the aerodynamics. So, T8, you just need to manage the fact the track drops away more at the apex, so you need to try to keep load on the inside front wheel.
“Certainly, in terms of airflow, that’s dominated by what is going on with the wind and effect from other cars, and the aerodynamic loads more influenced by the change in car attitudes in transient [ie busy] conditions. For example, somewhere like the compression in Eau Rouge, you’re effectively reducing the front ride height, reducing the ground clearance of the front wing, and that results in a higher lift coefficient at the front of the car.”
So, for anyone who didn’t spend their summer break reading Daniel Bernoulli’s Hydrodynamica, the answer is ‘yes – gradient does affect aero. A bit.’
Q: Is there any different way to prepare for a long track with fewer laps like at Spa? Is that preferred over a shorter track with more laps? – @KristenRidulfo
A: You can look at that both ways. Fewer laps mean fewer chances to make changes for the engineers, and also fewer chances for the drivers to work on specific corners that they might be struggling to figure out.
On the other hand, it does make analysing data a little easier: Somewhere like Austria, with the cars coming around every 65 seconds, it’s tricky to deliver useful advice to the driver for the following lap. When it’s 105 seconds, there’s more opportunity to deliver good information– but the preparation isn’t any different.
Q: Do you think the predicted weather (rain) is going to benefit us this weekend? – @sendit_a
A: Both drivers have very good records in the rain, so absolutely no problems with a wet race in that regard – but the real forecast for this weekend is chaotic. Mixed conditions like we’ve experienced in the three practice sessions are expected to continue.
If we’re met with mixed conditions, then a lot of it comes down to which team is more nimble with the strategy decisions and sharp in the pit-lane – but there’s also a bit of luck involved! What sort of race we want will probably depend on where the cars qualify: chaos is useful if you need to make ground – not so much if you’re in a good position.
Q: This is the start of a triple header with two circuits being power tracks, so fresh PUs could be advantageous. Does Mercedes HPP manage the information for when it is necessary for a PU change or is this determined by the team from a preconceived schedule? – @BonzoKEN
A: Both of those things are true to a degree. We have an embedded team from HPP who look after our power units at the track, with a dedicated PU engineer in the ear of the race engineers during the sessions. Those HPP engineers are backed up by their own team of specialists.
There will be a nominal plan for when PU changes are to be made but circumstances tend to ensure it’s rarely followed to the letter. Damage and failures obviously throw the schedule off, but equally a lack of mileage – anything from an early exit like Lando had in Hungary to a wet session where the cars don’t run – can alter the plan.
There’s also a lot of monitoring and maintenance that can change the picture significantly. Sensor data and the oil samples taken from the car after every session might indicate excessive wear, which may prompt the team to make a change sooner rather than later.
It’s also the case that the type of races you have can make a difference. Spending the second half of races cruising on your own uses less engine life than pushing flat out to the flag in a full-blooded battle every weekend with everything turned up to the max.
Both drivers have – mostly – new PUs this weekend in line with much of the field. And given the load on the engine here, it’s certainly a race where you would look to introduce a new one – but some of this is a hangover from earlier times: in the modern era, a fresh PU doesn’t really confer a noticeable advantage.
Q: How early do the team start with preparations for the next race after a break? – @KrielMarese
A: Realistically, race prep for Spa will have started a month ago. Simulator drivers will begin doing laps to establish a baseline. Engineers will be mining data from previous years to help with that, and a starting set-up comes together. As a race draws nearer, long-range weather forecasts are fed in, suggesting the range of cooling the car may need.
The race drivers will have done some work in the sim before the shutdown started, and they were right back at it the moment the shutdown ended. They may also have used some of their Friday practice running at previous races to prep for this race – for example trying out a low downforce wing.
Sometimes, with back-to-backs and triple-headers, you might prepare all the races in the sim at once before heading out, but for this set, given none of them are travel restricted and it’s a short hop back to base, the drivers will be back at the factory doing their sims in between the races.
Q: Which break does the team prefer coming back from? Returning after summer break or the start of a new season? – @caitlinperryx
A: Opinions may vary! For #TheFifthDriver, coming back to the start of a new season is better. Always nice to get to Melbourne and blue skies after grey months at home and during cold tests – honourable mention to Sakhir. It’s great to be at Spa this weekend, it’s a wonderful track – but I don’t think anyone would have objected to another week off!
Q: Would you prefer a wet or dry race at Spa? – @Coppertop2017
A: You could flip a coin on that one. It’s the natural question everyone’s asking themselves right now: do we gain from the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix being wet? It’s likely to be chaotic, which isn’t helpful if you have a car you expect to be more competitive than those of your immediate rivals – but you welcome it if you’re struggling for pace.
We have mixed feelings: Spa should have suited the car in the dry but, equally, we have two excellent drivers for wet conditions and the car looked very good on Saturday in similar conditions. From P4, Daniel would probably have welcomed sunshine. Lando in P15 is probably happier with chaos.
Q: What kind of fluids do drivers drink during the race? Is there any way to keep that drink cool in the car? – @chalasti11
A: It tends to be a practical concoction rather than anything you’d voluntarily choose to imbibe. It’ll contain some carbs and some electrolytes, basically, whatever the driver is likely to need to replenish during a long race to keep up their performance.
As for keeping it cool… no. Even on a day like this, it’ll get warm pretty rapidly. The ‘drinks bottle’ is actually a bag, in a pouch fitted either behind the seat or into the side of the cockpit. It’s up against very hot components like the Energy Store and electronics boxes. The drivers rather mournfully call it ‘tea’.
Q: Do you need special gloves during pit-stop? I guess the tyres are pretty hot! – @PettersenNoel
A: The tyres are hot and you certainly wouldn’t want to touch them without work gloves. They’re heated in the blankets up to 80°C – limited in the regulations – when they go on, and get hotter through a stint, both from friction with the track and also heat soaking from the brakes into the wheels.
In practice sessions, the drivers will cool the car on their in-laps to make it easier to work on for the mechanics – unless they’re practising a racing stop. Of course, when the cars are coming in during the race, they’re red hot. It’s a little toasty even with the gloves.
Q: We see pit crew practising and working on the car in the lead up to Friday practice but what are the engineers like Will Joseph and Tom Stallard working on before they have Friday’s data to analyse? – @sardfish
A: Much of the job for race engineers Tom Stallard and Will Joseph takes place at the factory. They’re at the hub of the discussion regarding the baseline set-up, interpreting historical data to figure out where the car should start the weekend. They’ll work with their driver in the simulator to hone that.
They’re also organising the run plan. Lots of different departments are feeding into that process. Strategy will have a list of questions they want answered – everything from the time taken to get through the pitlane to tyre degradation over a long stint.
Aerodynamics may have a series of long-range tests to run or new parts to sign-off. Electronics, gearbox, engine etc, will all have their own test items to add. The drivers will have input, as will the team manager for pit-stop practice. The race engineers, together with the chief engineer and racing director are trying to reconcile this.
This basically continues up until the final briefings on Friday morning – with things like the track walk and weather forecasts feeding into the plan once the team is at the track. After that, the sessions begin and they have the other job to do!
Hungarian Grand Prix
Q: After this race you're going into summer shutdown so do the team do the same pack down or is it different? And where do all the containers go until Spa? – @ashhh_F1_MOTOGP
It’s a normal procedure with regard to the shutdown – essentially it’s treated like those two weeks don’t exist. The trucks and the kit will travel back to the UK as normal, before the shutdown commences.
We’ll have the week in the factory prepping the car in the normal way, then pick it up again at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix week. While the race team is closed, the factory is taken over by teams doing maintenance… and the decorators.
Q: I would like to know how you adapt to the climate of each country, and how does this impact the race? – @Miriam98127235
The team has a climate profile for each venue and that’s refined by weather forecasts in the weeks approaching the race. The team would like to go to a track with a good idea of the temperature range we’re likely to face. That tends to inform the level of cooling we’re going to run: the tightness of the bodywork, shoulder louvres, brake ducts etc.
At the track, something more immediate is the way that temperature affects the balance of the car. Hot track makes the front end strong, cool track moves that to the rear. The race engineers will be moving around their set-up to deal with that, both through aerodynamic and mechanical means.
While there isn’t really a ‘wet set-up’ anymore, if the team are expecting a race to be wet, there are a few things they will do to prepare for that, around running a little more downforce, requiring a little less brake cooling, trimming the floor for the larger size of tyre – but in general it isn’t something you pre-empt unless you’re certain.
Extreme cold is more difficult to deal with than extreme heat – because it’s unusual. For winter testing – or the odd shocker at the Nürburgring or COTA – you might circulate warm water around the car when it’s in the garage to keep everything in working order, you’ll also reduce brake cooling to make sure all that heat seeps into the rims.
As for the impact of weather on the crew. Not much to do! More fans in the garage, and cold towels for extreme heat and regular instructions to stay hydrated – and an attractive selection of gloves, beanies and bodywarmers for when it’s freezing cold.
When it’s very wet, well that’s just pretty miserable – especially after the race. Pack down in the wet tends to be a bit grim because you know everything going into the flight cases wet will be coming out the same way at the other end!
Q: I get the logic of the pitbox being offset for optimised entry, but how is it beneficial for getting on the go again after a pitstop rather than being dead straight parallel to the pitlane, as you're pointing in towards the garage doors? – @alasdairmulhern
Certainly it isn’t ideal. This is one of the test items that the team looks at through practice, checking that the drivers are comfortable with the orientation of the pitbox, and also its visibility as they approach. If they feel the getaway angle is too acute, the box will be re-marked and the gantry adjusted.
The approach has to be the priority, however. There’s more time to be gained (and lost) by stopping precisely on the marks and not requiring the pitcrew to adjust, than there is in a good getaway – and hitting the marks has different degrees of difficulty according to the circuit.
It’s variable from track to track as some pit complexes are much longer than others, and thus the boxes are spaced further apart. There’s also variability in the width of the pitlane. Your neighbours help by pulling their hoses out of your way – but it’s still a difficult approach – unless you’re in garage number one.
The getaway, in contrast, is a little easier. The driver has slightly longer to visualise, and given that he’s going to be lighting up the rear tyres anyway, the angle isn’t hugely problematic – but there are limits, so it’s something that needs to be carefully considered.
Q: As cars rapidly evolve each season, how useful is last year's data from the race at the same circuit? – @hygienistdirect
It’s still very useful. For something like qualifying, unless the asphalt is re-laid, you have a very good idea of how the lap-times evolve across a qualifying session – which is critical for that go/no-go decision if you have a decent time on the board already.
For the race, while the different car does affect the level of degradation and thus affect the strategy and stints you want to run, the old data is still useful because by this point in the year you can figure out an offset. I.e if you know set-up and performance at Imola is much the same as set-up and performance at Portimão, you can programme in suitable offsets for the Portuguese GP, by looking at the what happened at the Emilia Romagna GP in 2021, compared to 2020.
There’s also a wealth of statistical data to help you visualise the weekend, beyond data relating the car itself. Likelihood of a Safety Car or VSC, importance of grid position, time lost for a pitstop, difficulty overtaking etc and, to come back to qualifying, chances of runs being interrupted by flags.
Q: Hungary is the last race before the summer break. How long before Spa does the team start to prepare for that race? Do they have actual weeks/days off or does the preparation never stop? – @JasmijnF1
The summer shutdown means that everything operational stops for two weeks. Doors locked, servers turned off, no work allowed at all. It’s draconian – but has proved to be the only way to make sure people in F1 don't work 365 days a year for fear of falling behind.
So yes, everyone operational in an F1 team will take two weeks off. It’s proved a very popular measure with people who have families – less so with some of the younger members of the team who now have to take their vacation during peak school holidays, with all that entails!
In terms of preparation for Spa, the team do most of the work this week, then pick up where they left off when they come back into the MTC the week of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Q: How painstaking is it to get the cars clean after a race? I can only imagine the amount of dead bugs and rubber from the track encrusted onto them. – @OfficialAmyLynn
It varies from race to race – there’s certain tracks where you know the car is going to come back looking like it’s been through an assault course. Bugs and rubber aren’t too terrible, but flying gravel tends to leave a lot of marks.
In the past, the crew would clean and touch-up the bodywork as best they could, and every three or four races a chassis would be rotated out to be stripped and repainted. Downside of that – apart from the time – is that the carbon composite panels get shaved a little and that can only happen so many times.
It’s a lot easier with vinyl wrapping. Not only is wrapping a little quicker than repainting, it also doesn’t damage the panels. But in the final race of a rotation before going back to the paint shop (still the paint shop), while it doesn’t show up on TV, up close you can definitely see that a car has put in a few hard laps.
British Grand Prix
Q: With just one practice session ahead of qualifying, and only two practices this race weekend, how truncated will all the programmes be? What differences does the sprint race format make to the team’s preparations? – @PerryBrownF1
A: Sprint race prep has a huge impact. The team’s been planning for this since the plan was announced – longer if you include the consultation period – but the last couple of weeks have been very busy. Tom Stallard, Daniel’s race engineer can reveal more: “Friday’s programme is FP1 followed by qualifying, with parc fermé from the start of qualifying. After that point, you can’t really change anything on the car – can’t change springs, can’t change cooling and so on. So, you have to confirm your set-up in FP1.
“This will be a little difficult because your primary focus in FP1 – as would usually be the case in FP3 – has to be on qualifying pace. Clearly, you can’t do that to the exclusion of long run practice because if you get something fundamentally wrong – cooling, for example – it would ruin your entire weekend. So, it will be a busy session.
“Because of the exceptionally limited amount of practice time available, we won’t be running any experiments with upgrades. A new part would have to be absolutely amazing to justify spending your only practice session before qualifying, figuring out it was absolutely amazing.
“So, the list of items we have to do is really quite varied. We have to maximise qualifying preparation – for which driver familiarisation is obviously the key part. Beyond that, we’re looking at set-up and cooling configuration.
“The priorities have to be the parameters that would otherwise prevent you finishing a race rather than the ones that would change your qualifying result. If you’re going to cook the engine and can’t finish the race – it doesn’t really matter if you can advance a place on the grid! We also won’t have time to change a rear wing with one session of qualifying – but we’re fairly certain where we want the downforce level to be.”
Q: How will the reduction of practice times over the weekend affect data and plans for the following sessions? Will you be prepared enough for the sprint race? – @ashhh_F1_MOTOGP
A: It has a huge effect – but losing time is less of a factor than the movements in the schedule. It’s not unknown to lose sessions to bad weather or technical gremlins, but it’s going to be challenging having just an hour on track before the car has to be prepped for parc fermé.
Q: Does racing at your home circuit give you an extra edge or boost in confidence that you wouldn't get at any other track? Especially when seeing all the McLaren fans there cheering the team on! – @SuperfanMcLaren
A: A grandstand filled with McLaren fans is just absolutely brilliant. There’s a lot of pride in seeing it and everyone comes into work happy – which probably does add that intangible measure of confidence. Does it constitute an extra edge? There are a lot of teams calling the British Grand Prix a home race, which is problematic! Hopefully, it’s worth a bit over Ferrari.
Q: Aside from the British Grand Prix being the home race, what makes this track so special/exciting for the team? – @THICCIARDO
A: The drivers get very excited about Silverstone – and not the polite version of excited, the whooping in pleasure from the cockpit kind of excited. They tend to get that way anywhere there’s a corner taken in sixth gear or higher – and that’s most of the lap at Silverstone.
For the team in the garage, the special thing is having fans – and lots of McLaren fans – and people from the McLaren Technology Centre in the grandstands. That’s very nice. As for special, getting packed down and away home on Sunday night means a day off on Monday. Given the intensity of the calendar, that’s very welcome.
Q: How do you prepare for sprint quali? And how does the strategy differ from normal qualifying? – @HanaF115
A: It’s likely to be more risk-averse than a standard qualifying session. Crash out of Q3 and you’ll be dropping a couple of places to start P10; crash out of sprint qualifying and you’ll be starting last, so there won’t be quite the same desire to put everything on the line like there is in that final run of Q3.
The preparation has been very different. With such a short race, the start is going to be critical, so clutch practice has been a big-ticket item – because it’s really quite different with one-third race distance fuel on board. No pit exit launches at Silverstone but both drivers have done practice grid launches plus a couple from the box.
The other thing is studying tyres. For Friday’s qualifying session, the team did the usual short-run qualifying prep in the morning, looking at out-lap pace to get the tyres into the correct window – Silverstone’s a little more straightforward than other circuits in that regard – for this session, however, the race-prep long runs in FP2 were more relevant.
It’s called a ‘sprint’ but 17 laps of Silverstone is a good length of stint, and certainly not a flat-out lights-to-flag blast. Tyre management is going to be critical – far more so than if this experiment were being run at a different circuit with lower degradation: Silverstone is tough on the rubber!
Q: How are the wonderful paddock buildings set up and who does it? They look functional and present the team image very well for all teams, but especially McLaren! – @GaryWoo49843202
A: Thank you very much! The hospitality units are truck-mounted and arrive with the rest of the team’s kit. Each team has a specialist crew that does the work, usually separate from the crew that builds the garage – though there’s quite a lot of interaction.
The intention is that they can be assembled in 48 hours which makes it possible – though marginal – to get them set up every weekend, even with back-to-back races, though sometimes the distances involved mean a team will opt to use a smaller unit at some races.
Typically, the build crew will be finishing off as the final members of the race team arrive, and then come back in on Sunday evening after everyone departs. It’s a part of the team that the rest of the team very rarely sees!
Q: As we all know, the McLaren team, are a tight-knit bunch who trust each other blindly. Do you have certain routines as a team to strengthen the capacity for teamwork? Do you actively try to improve this unity or does it happen more passively? – @LaleMarleen
A: This is a fascinating question. There are plenty of social events that the team does away from the track, they’re a lot of fun and they probably do have an influence on team unity across the organisation. For the trackside crew, while it’s nice, it’s probably not that significant.
Working in a close-knit racing team naturally develops bonds. You’re spending half the year travelling and working together, and have a very straightforward, shared goal. It’s not a utopian idyll – there are plenty of cross or tetchy moments! But the sense of unity is never lacking. It’s not unique to McLaren though, F1 teams tend to be like that.
Austrian Grand Prix
Q: How soon after the chequered flag do you switch focus to preparing for the next race? – @Aimee_J_
Back-to-back races are generally frantic but having them at the same circuit definitely takes a lot of effort out of the process, without the build operations and travel times. There is a little more time to relax.
Many of the crew had at least a half-day off on Monday. Hiking was popular – Daniel went for a hike but Lando played golf.
The focus to the following race switches pretty much at the chequered flag. The debrief on Sunday evening starts the process but the team back at the MTC will be working through Sunday night and into Monday morning to analyse the race and make recommendations.
Q: Chief mechanic has always been a coveted position in F1. Who is your chief mechanic and how many years have they put into the team to get to that position? –@lori_cairns
Our chief mechanic of the last few years is Kari Lammenranta. Kari’s been with the team for 18 years, and was first in the garage at the same time as fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen – though Kari worked on Juan Pablo Montoya’s car. Before becoming chief mechanic, he was no.1 (ie lead) mechanic in the lefthand bay (looking in) for Lewis, Checo and Kevin.
He took over from Paul James, now our team manager. Paul’s been with McLaren since 1997 and followed the same route, chief mechanic after a spell as no.1 mechanic for Lewis Hamilton. His predecessor as chief mechanic was Jono Brookes, who started on the test team in 2000 and likewise is former no.1 mechanic, now our director of F1 build at the MTC.
The chief mechanic’s job these days is multi-facetted. They’re the link to the pitwall and race engineers for all things mechanical, they act as pitstop boss on the ground during stops and they oversee the work of all of the other mechanics – but only very rarely will you see them working on a car, and usually only in an emergency.
Q: Does back-to-back races at the same circuit mean race 1 can be used as an extra ‘test’ and teams are able to capitalise on the data gathered? – @hygienistdirect
Having done a grand prix here last weekend, there’s been a lot more exploratory running across FP1-FP3 ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, with much of the set-up work already completed last week, allowing the team to look into areas they wouldn’t necessarily have time to explore otherwise – but also looking ahead a little to future races.
Q: Are all the mechanics allowed to work on both cars or are they only allowed to work on the car on their side of the garage? – @kerrxsmxth
They’re allowed to work on both but usually will only do that in an emergency. Typically, that might be something like repairing crash damage after an off in FP3. They’d prep their own car for qualifying and then move across to help out with the other one.
There is, of course, only so much space to work around a car. More common is that, when there’s a rush on, anyone who can be spared with start to help out their team-mates with the jobs further out in the garage: prepping spare parts, ferrying tools, tidying up. Happily, nothing like that this weekend though!
Q: We hear about Plan A or B mentioned a lot. Typically, how many plans are prepared per race? Does a longer track need more plans or are they centred on different pitstop strategies? – @GaryWoo49843202
They’re centred on different pitstop strategies and there will be as many plans as there are reasonable strategies to consider. It’s pretty rare to hear anything below ‘Plan C’ discussed during the race – but there will be more discussed in the briefing. If race engineers are discussing Plan D on the radio, we're having a pretty strange grand prix.
Within the various plans there are, of course different permutations. There will be a target lap for the pitstop, and the driver will be told to hit the target lap or x-number of laps plus or minus that, giving him the ability to plan best use of his tyres. He might also be told to extend, or box-to-overtake, without that changing the overall plan.
Q: If a team member – for example a mechanic with a crucial role – misses the GP for any reason, is that person replaced? If this happens, is it more difficult for the team? – @moonlightvani
Over the course of a long season, this happens fairly often, with everything from injury to food poisoning to paternity/maternity leave. When it happens really determines how the team copes. Given plenty of warning, a replacement will come to the track; if something goes wrong over the weekend, however, everyone simply shuffles up and makes do.
There is a plan in place for everyone, and anyone to be absent. The crew will cross-train on various roles, and everyone will have a shadow. You might use a test – or even something like a public demo – to train people in different roles but often the replacement will be someone who used to work on the race team and now works back at the MTC.
For instance, last year when Will Joseph, Lando’s race engineer, missed three races on paternity leave, Mark Temple, his predecessor on that car – when it was Fernando Alonso’s car – slotted back in. It gets more difficult when there’s a problem over the weekend, however.
The issue everybody trains for is an accident during a pitstop – with another pitstop due. There’s someone designated to drop into any role – thankfully it doesn’t happen too often. When there’s a wider problem – food poisoning sweeping through the paddock – anyone still standing simply digs in and does whatever needs doing!
One further thing. We don’t have a rotation policy – but in something like a triple-header it’s not uncommon to bring out a few old hands from the factory. While there’s a limit on the number of people you’re allowed to have in the paddock, they can take some of the weight on things like pack-down, or car build before the race weekend proper.
Styrian Grand Prix
Q: I know you have a lot of sensors on the car, do you have any on the driver looking at physiology, heart rate, g-forces etc? – @dr_doddle
A: Wearable biometrics are one of McLaren Applied’s core skills; they work with many elite athletes. Our drivers use lots of these tools in their fitness programmes, but not so many on a race weekend. For safety reasons, like all the drivers, they have an in-ear accelerometer to measure g-forces, and biometric gloves to transmit pulse oximetry.
The latter were invented by Dr Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe – respectively F1’s medical rescue coordinator and medical car driver. If you ever wondered what they do when they’re sitting at the end of the pitlane all day, strapped into the medical car and ready to respond, it’s things like this.
Q: What information is displayed on the screen that pulls down from the ceiling and is placed in front of the halo, for the drivers to look at? – @Gingecupcake
A: It’s a configurable display, the same as everyone else in the garage – and back at the MTC – is using. The drivers will usually have six or seven windows open, according to preference. They’ll have the same TV feed everyone at home is watching, various timing screens, perhaps a wind profile, split sector times and so on. Crucially, they’ll also have an overlay of various laps. Their laps on top of each other, or best lap versus the best laps from the other car. Often down to the micro-level of concentrating on specific corners.
Q: Whose job is it to wash the pit crew’s sweaty overalls? Do they have multiple suits like the drivers or does a triple header mean they smell a bit ripe by the last race of the trio? – @McLarenDoggo
A: Back in the day, the garage might smell a bit like a wet spaniel after a particularly high intensity weekend – but these days we use an excellent range of products from CleanKit. They’re designed specifically to keep these technical fabrics in good shape. We’ll let Jon Malvern, Lando’s performance coach explain (the drivers also use it on their race suits): “We use the CleanKit Sportswear Detergent a lot because it really helps to keep the fireproof Nomex clean. Ideally, you want to wash it at a fairly high temperature because it’s absorbed a lot of sweat but this causes it to shrink – something there’s not really margin for because this type of clothing is made to measure. With CleanKit Sportswear Detergent you can wash at 30°C, which prevents the Nomex from shrinking.
“In answer to the wider question, yes, the crew have several sets of kit, and it all goes back to the McLaren Technology Centre to be washed because it’s quite a specialised process. CleanKit also have a spray and a range of wipes: we’ll use those on the boots and helmets, which can also get rather sweaty. We’re actually quite a fragrant team these days!”
Q: Where do the mechanics and engineers keep their bags and belongings? The drivers keep their stuff in their room and management has a room, but what about everyone else? – @kerrxsmxth
A: Everything’s in the garage – which extends a lot further back than the ‘front-of-house’ section that’s shown on TV. Behind the panels we build a warren of workshops. We’ve got several sets of large, mobile storage racks, everyone has a box on one of those. It’ll usually have a set of overalls stuffed into it, mobile phone, duffel etc.
Other bits and pieces of kit are kept closer to hand. Personal tools are in the drawers built into the garage walls. Helmets and radios are all racked in easy-to-reach spots. Nothing gets dumped in a corner! Trip hazards are dangerous and can be expensive when everyone is moving at pace – but also, we don’t like mess.
Q: Since the weather forecast changes a lot between rain and sunny weather this weekend, how do you prepare for changing weather conditions? – @JasmijnF1
A: The weather forecasts are pretty detailed, as F1 brings its own weather service to each race, with a radar that paints an accurate picture of what the weather is doing for 50 km around the track – usually. At tracks like the Red Bull Ring you do get ‘stealth’ showers hiding behind the hills.
On the more global issues, you build the car for what you’re expecting to see. Ideally, you would like a car with more downforce in the wet than in the dry. But that isn’t something you can swap in and out quickly. If a choice has to be made between wet and dry, there are a number of factors to take into account: likelihood of rain, chances of damage if it does rain and so forth.
Once the cars are under parc fermé conditions it gets a little more difficult if you’re expecting a qualifying session radically different to the race. In that situation, it’s often a question of prioritising which is more important. A track with a strong quali-bias means the car gets the set-up for qualifying; a track with a strong race-bias sees the car get a race-focused set-up. There’s sometimes a compromise – but it’s often a case of either/or.
Q: Do F1 teams have ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ to ensure smooth operating and additional SOPs in case of something going wrong? – @hygienistdirect
A: Absolutely. We love a good procedure. There’s an OP for everything that we expect might happen, and also for anything that’s happened unexpectedly in the past and been analysed. On Sunday, in the build-up to the race, the team runs through a checklist, similar to a flight crew preparing for departure.
Many of the items on the list have their origins in things that have gone wrong in the past. Not necessarily for our team. Things like the race engineers instructing the mechanics to check that the blanket chords are not trapped between the wheel and the hub, or doing a final test of the grid trolley wheel guns at a set point in the run order.
If something goes wrong, there’s generally a new checklist for the eventuality. Things like a delayed start, a red flag in the race, a very late problem with the car and so on. Of course, you can’t plan for everything… F1 always has the capacity to introduce something new and bizarre: thinking on your feet is always a useful ability.
Q: Where do the extra seconds gained come from usually during qualifying? Is it mainly the drivers finding the improvement? Seems to be a lot more gained in short quali sessions than in the longer practice sessions. – @CPW_74
A: This is a really good question. It’s a combination of factors. The first one is natural evolution of the track. Unless it rains, there is more rubber going down when everyone’s running a Soft tyre and braking harder, which naturally makes the track quicker. The second reason is that the power unit is being run at its maximum potential with everything turned up to 11 for a flying lap at the end of the session, getting every last erg of energy out of the ERS.
The car is down to its fighting weight on Saturday afternoon as well. In practice, the fastest lap might come at the start of a seven-lap stint with enough fuel on board to complete that. In qualifying, it's the bare minimum to complete the run plan – but that run plan may involve a bit more margin for extra laps in Q1 than it does in Q3.
We’re also less protective of the car. It’s especially relevant at circuits like the Red Bull Ring where damage over the kerbs is a real threat. You might ask the drivers to stay off those in practice, and even at the start of qualifying – but later in the session there isn’t much choice other than to run the fastest line possible.
Finally, yes, the drivers do gain in confidence as the session goes on. They’re driving with the car on the limit, and each time they do that successfully, they’re subsequently redefining where that limit is.
French Grand Prix
Q: Why does the Circuit Paul Ricard have so many lines painted around the outside of it and do they distract the driver? – @f1mclarenfan
A: Ricard is primarily a test track and so it has run-off rather than gravel traps. The run-off is an abrasive asphalt with higher grip than the track itself, which makes it easier to get the car back under control. The sections painted blue – around the edge of the track – are very grippy but the red-banded sections further out have extreme grip, to help the drivers who really have strayed. Using it comes at a cost. More abrasive asphalt comes with higher tyre wear, while the red sections have extreme wear.
Do they distract the driver? By all accounts it’s not that easy to see it from the cockpit as from the camera positions, or even walking around, because the track is generally quite flat. The painted white lines are more of a problem – tough to pick your turn-in point for the chicane when there are so many different configurations.
Q: Do the big run-off areas encourage you to take a few more risks and run the car on the edge a little more compared to street tracks like Monaco and Baku? – @mclarendo4
A: Absolutely during practice, where a car running wide isn’t penalised somewhere like Ricard in the way it very much is in Baku or Monaco. There’s less of a difference in qualifying where very little is left on the table, even on a street circuit. Though you may still lean a little more in favour of ultimate performance over driver confidence.
That said, there isn’t an unlimited amount of freedom at Ricard to run wide. The run-off is deliberately very abrasive. That extra grip makes it easier to get the car back under control – but there’s a price to be paid in excessive tyre wear. Running wide too often isn’t advisable.
Q: How challenging is Circuit Paul Ricard compared to the other French tracks? – @sendit_a
A: Honestly, for most of F1, the other tracks are a very distant memory – though many of the team worked in F1 in the final years of the race being at Magny-Cours. In general, Ricard is a really tricky track to get right because the first half of the lap is very different to the second. It’s high-speed straights in the former, followed by long, high-speed corners in the latter. That pulls the set-up in different directions. Finding the compromise is a tough job.
Q: Do the team get to indulge in some French delicacies over the weekend? Or is it all very strict and nutritious? – @specialsciteach
A: Our catering crew do a magnificent job of sourcing fresh, local food. It isn’t necessarily strict, but it is definitely nutritious. As for local delicacies… things are currently still very restricted in what the crew can and cannot do outside the paddock but in a normal year it wouldn’t be outrageous to imagine a glass of Bandol being sipped in the evening or a visit to the patisserie on the way into the track!
Q: In Monaco before practice sessions you were rolling the car back in the garage on used tyres. Which tyres are you using for moments like this? They look pretty worn. – @Joost_Lan
A: The team has very old tyres available to use for pit-stop practice, outside the allocation for a race weekend. They’re also useful for things like rolling the car down to the weighbridge, and perhaps photoshoots, and practical engineering matters like providing a template to trim floor spats around the rear wheels.
Q: With a triple-header, how much of a challenge is it back at the shop to prepare spare parts or systems? – @BonzoKEN
A: It is a factor – and particularly as the Red Bull Ring (Austria) has a reputation as a destroyer of front wings, floors and diffusers. It keeps the composites technicians in their workshop at the back of the garage very busy with the quick glue and heat guns – but we’ll turn this one over to Jose Manuel López, Lando’s performance engineer: “We’re always a bit careful with running in free practice. In qualifying and the race, we can’t ask the drivers to be particularly careful – they need to exploit everything.
“Obviously, Austria is a circuit that breaks cars but the team knows this and plans in advance to have as many options as possible. Even if you don’t have the same spec of part you wanted, you will have a very close alternative in case there’s a little bit of drama. The important thing is to put the best car on the track that we can.”
Q: Lando asked Daniel if he has a drinks bottle in his car. Daniel said yes and Lando said he opted not to have one. Where is this located in the car and how does it work? – @Angel4_717
A: It’s not really a bottle, more of a bag. They’re stored in a pouch in the cockpit, either to the side or behind the seat. The driver will have water or perhaps some electrolytes up to a maximum of 1.5l. It’s always there – but sometimes the drivers will opt to not fill it – particularly if it's a cooler venue.
Of course the team want to have the fluid as low as possible to help with the centre of gravity – the downside of which is that it’s very close to the PU and tends to get hot pretty quickly. It’ll still do the job of hydrating the driver – but it’s not the nicest concoction.
The other use of the water bottle is an impromptu quick fix ballasting device. If the driver jumps off the scales a few hundred grams lighter than expected, if the team doesn’t want to waste time fitting new ballast blocks, topping up the water bottle adds weight quickly.
Q: I have noticed this season both drivers have a close relationship with the person who puts on their seatbelts. I was wondering if that is that person's only job and how many seat belts do they have to fasten for the drivers? – @AshMoore88
A: It’s a six-point harness in an F1 car and, given where a couple of those belts are located, yes, a close relationship between the driver and the mechanic comes with the territory.
Joking aside, doing up the belts is a job for a mechanic – because it's a mechanical component – and there’s a definite personal element, especially on the grid, getting the driver in and comfortable eight or nine minutes before the race start. At that point, some drivers want a chat; some really, really don’t, and for others it’s a case of knowing what sort of a mood they’re in and reacting accordingly. In the garage or on the grid, for Richard (Lando) and Ben (Daniel) it’s one item of a great many in the pre-session job list.
Q: We know the drivers do a lot of physical training to get ready for a race, but does the pit crew also work on a fit body? Does it affect their performance during a pit-stop for example? – @stephieenn1
A: Yes, the pit crew have an exercise routine and will be going through their stretching exercises and working with the resistance bands to warm-up before pit-stop practice. They’ll be put through their paces by the professionals.
Beyond that, it’s more a matter of personal choice. There’s an excellent gym at the McLaren Technology Centre, and many of the crew will be spotted running the track in the evening or found in a hotel gym in the morning. We do have a couple of international-class athletes in the garage – but also a few people who would claim to be built more for comfort than speed!
Does fitness help performance in pit-stops? Yes – but depending on the job, it might be a holistic gain. Upper body strength is a big thing for the jacks – for everyone else, being in good shape means less physical tiredness and better mental focus. A race comes at the end of a long week – so the more alert the crew, the fewer mistakes are made.
Q: What's the difference between pit crew members who have the orange or the blue helmets? – @Angel4_717
A: Excellent eagle-eye! Most of the crew this year have the blue helmets, the exceptions being the front and rear jacks, and the release controller, who have orange lids. As they’re at the very front and the rear of the pit-box, it provides a useful reference point for the driver. Many teams have a similar arrangement, often with some lurid overalls for the front and rear jacks. In the past, we’ve had papaya kit for those members of the pit crew and black for everyone else.
Q: We’ve seen drivers rip the tear-offs from the visor of their helmets. On average, how many layers of tear-offs are on the visors during a race and does it differ from track to track? – @moonlightvani
A: We’ll let Jon Malvern, Lando’s performance coach, who also looks after his kit, answer this one: “There are 10 visor strips in a pack. They all go on, and we can’t really put more on, as they won’t stay tight – and they have to be tight, so they don’t affect vision or let in grit or rain that would cause them to bubble up.
“We have the same pack every race – though how many a driver uses depends on conditions. That might be whether it’s a race in clear air, or if they’re in a train of cars – and then who they’re following, as some cars spit out more oil than others. Some races a driver might use four or five, at others they come back in having used them all!”
Q: Who has the last say in decisions such as tyre compound if there’s a dispute in which one to use? – @hannah7659
A: Good question – and a really tricky one to answer. Hiroshi Imai, director, race engineering is our ultimate authority on tyres – you’ll occasionally catch him on the TV feed, standing in the garage at the end of the engineers’ island. Hiroshi has been at McLaren for 13 seasons and before that worked at Bridgestone. The other side of that coin is director, strategy and sporting, Randeep Singh, who is the ultimate voice deciding which combination of tyres is going to get us to the chequered flag in the highest position. It’s usually between those two.
Of course, there are many other voices that weigh into the debate – but the one that really has to be listened to most is the driver. If the driver is coming in for a pit-stop and clearly states a preference, it’s pretty hard to ignore that and strap on something else. That said, were there a disagreement, the ultimate decision maker and arbiter on this and everything else would be team principal Andreas Seidl. That’s why he’s in the big chair!
Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Q: How many team members work remotely from MTC during the race weekend and what are their roles? – @Angel4_717
A: There is a hard limit of staff allowed into the track, so many of the team have to work from the MTC – but over the years it’s become a preference for certain roles. It obviously presents a cost-saving – but for many of the engineering tasks, the calmer atmosphere of the MTC is actually beneficial.
Improvements in the ability to get high-bandwidth real-time data and comms back to the factory mean the people working in Mission Control have the same access to data and comms as they would have in the back of the garage or upstairs in a race truck.
Mission Control, as the name would suggest, is modelled on the NASA-style control room (albeit quite a bit bigger than the real thing), with a video wall and tiered banks of workstations with their own bank of monitors and comms panels. Most of the race engineering and strategy team work there over the weekend.
So, while the race and performance engineers are front-of-house in the garage, and systems engineers will also be in the garage, each car’s support engineers will be in the MTC, looking at things like tyre performance, brake performance, vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics along with the individual car strategists.
Q: Monaco and Baku are both street circuits, but how different, or similar, will the setups of the cars be for Baku from Monaco? – @ErinNormal
A: The short answer is: very different, mostly because we’re swapping for a maximum downforce car to a low downforce car.
Q: What’s the most tricky turn in Baku? – @stripedtshirt
A: It’s probably T1. Not so much for the profile of the corner as for the set-up. The long straight has the cars travelling at ultra-high speed for a long stretch. The tyres cool, the brakes cool and – as is common with street circuits – the braking zone is pretty bumpy.
There are more difficult corners around the track – and plenty that can catch a driver out, but the cars are in better shape for those and the drivers will have more confidence. It’s the unknown in Turn One that makes it difficult – though being a street circuit means that if you go off line at any corner, there’s trouble lurking.
Q: Baku is often referred to as the City of Winds. Have you experienced it being particularly windy or is that just when Lando and Daniel have had beans for lunch? – @McLarenDoggo
A: The wind isn’t too bad this year. It does get very windy here on the coast, however. When we raced in Baku in 2019 there was a gale blowing – but that was an April date rather than June. Two sorts of wind in Baku: the cold, northerly wind is called the Khazri, and is common in the winter; the warmer, southerly Gilavar blows in the summer.
The wind direction on the straight will have a significant effect on top speed – though it’s the gusts in the corner entries that cause bigger headaches. Another impact is that the buildings surrounding the track tend to channel it. With the full field out, there’s also a very strong ‘pumping’ effect, pushing/pulling the cars around the track.
Beans and other pulses do, of course, form a vital part of the healthy diet and the drivers will eat plenty of those. The correlation between this and track performance hasn’t been fully established. There are only so many places we can place a pitot tube…
Q: I know the tyre compounds for each weekend are picked for you but do you get to have input into this? – @nicnak475
A: Not in the short term with choosing tyres for specific races but over the longer term absolutely. Pirelli releases tyre models and invite feedback from the teams, they also like to be updated on what our expectations are regarding downforce for the year ahead.
Developing and releasing a tyre for cars that exist only as drawings is a particularly small moving target to hit – the more information we can give Pirelli, the more suitable the tyres will be. They’ll also take feedback after races from the teams and drivers – and have the used tyres to look at.
Of course, we already have a pre-determined tyre list for this season – but with races dropping out and being replaced, the feedback Pirelli have had so far will help to determine what tyres are nominated for the replacement races.
Q: What is your favourite part of the race weekend? (Excluding the race day.) – @HanaF115
A: Definitely the sharp end of qualifying. If the cars make it through, the few seconds before the final runs in Q2 and Q3 are the pressure points. That’s where the drama is in the garage. It's a great experience – afterwards!
Q: Does it have an effect on your mental preparation for races that the calendar keeps changing because of covid? There are still question marks surrounding some races. Does that give more of a sense of urgency to gain points in every race? – @lori_cairns
A: For the garage crew, no it doesn’t affect preparation – though there were a couple of sad faces around the team when they learnt they wouldn’t be getting their favourite salt-beef sandwich in Montreal. Other than that, with a couple of notable exceptions, one set of garages is much the same as any other.
For the engineering team, the races are being cancelled and rescheduled early enough that they haven’t started preparation. Last year was a little complicated by going to new – or, at least, not recent – tracks for which there wasn't a great deal by way of set-up data, track scans, histories. This year we’re not expecting surprises like that.
More urgency to gain points? Not in the grand scheme of things because there’s not really anything that the team isn’t doing to snaffle any point available. Fewer races, or races in different places, might see the production schedule moved around a little though.
Also, if we believed there might be fewer races this year, that might allow us to push the power units a little harder – but so far the assumption is that we’ll get, more or less, all the races – just not necessarily where the original calendar suggested.
Q: Why do you put tape over gaps in the bodywork? – @vaniliecusuc
A: Taping over the panel joins creates a smoother surface but also stops dirt or detritus snagging on the bodywork. It might only be a few thousandths of a second – but sometimes that’s the difference between making it through a session and not.
For the same reason, the mechanics will polish the car every time it comes back to the garage between runs in qualifying. Looking at the times, Lando was five-thousandths of a second behind Carlos Sainz in FP3 for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – that’s about what a lump of rubber snagged between the engine cover and sidepod will cost you!
We mention this one a lot because the race engineers always raise the issue of polishing in their pre-qualifying notes for the crews. The crews would do it anyway, but it serves as more of a mental trigger to gee-up everyone: thousands of a second make the difference.
Monaco Grand Prix
Q: Does practice on Thursday instead of Friday make much difference in terms of strategy and race preparation? – @milliewatchesf1
A: It really doesn’t affect it much – though with a busy support programme a lot of rubber can go down and the track may have a surprising amount of extra grip when we come back on Saturday morning – or conditions could go the other way if the weather changes!
In terms of preparation, the cars are usually stripped and rebuilt on Friday night before the curfew kicks in – taking out all the kit fitted for testing, changing gearbox etc. With an extra day, that job can be done in greater depth and further checks added. Nobody gets a day off!
Q: What unique challenges does the cramped Monaco pit lane pose to the team? – @McLarenDoggo
A: Plenty! The pitlane itself is tricky because it’s short and convex. If the driver makes a very late decision to box, there’s very little time to react. It’s also very difficult to see around the curve in a busy pitlane, and there are several other boxes in close proximity, so the risk of an unsafe release – through no fault of anyone – is high.
More prosaically, the shortness of the pitlane makes pit-stop practice quite difficult. Suffice to say there has to be a lot of cooperation and coordination between neighbouring teams – but that’s the case anyway. Outside of competition, it’s a very accommodating environment. It’s also a little tricky with the pitbox gantry right outside the garage. Marc Cox, Lando’s no.1 mechanic has to be mindful to duck when stepping backwards to usher the car out, lest he bang his head on the boom.
Q: How do you manage in such a reduced space? Is there anything that you have to sacrifice in order to fit everything into the Monaco garages? – @Aimee_J_
A: Definitely. The front-of-house is drawn inwards to its minimum pattern size. There’s only really room in there for the essentials: cars, fuel bowsers, tool chests, mechanics. The only other things downstairs are the tyres and spare pieces of bodywork, with a small space out at the back for the pit signallers and their equipment. That’s probably a third of the normal kit you would see in the garages.
We don’t have the viewing bubble in Monaco, and all of the spares are stored upstairs, above the garage, along with things like the data racks, desks for engineers, pit kit – fridge! – and so on. Though we’ve also got the ‘pit wall’ up there as well. The key things are trying to avoid collisions and making space for urgent tasks. Will Joseph, Lando’s race engineer, mentioned it in his briefing message earlier: “It is very tight, try to stay out of everyone’s way – that probably applies to Jose and myself more than anyone!"
Q: What do the pit crew do during their free time besides practicing pit-stops? – @DRLNCLRC
A: The concept of ‘free time’ isn’t really one that resonates with the garage crew! There’s always another job to do. Friday in Monaco is a good example. With a clear day between FP2 and FP3, the team used the opportunity to do a more thorough strip-down and rebuild of the cars across Friday, instead of the usual rapid version that gets the job done and allows the team to leave on Friday evening/early Saturday morning ahead of the curfew.
It’s important that the crew get as much rest as they need, so things like the curfew and the parc fermé regs between qualifying and the race are very useful – but around those events, the weekend programme is planned to use every second with car preparation, component checks and system tests. When everything is done, that’s always a good opportunity to polish the car, sweep the floor, tidy up tools, catch up on factory emails – analyse old pit-stops, carry out kit maintenance, and so forth.
The only real downtime is when the car is ready to go, no one wants to touch it. When there’s a red flag that looks like being a long one, if the garage is already spotless, team manager Paul James might suggest everyone grab a coffee and a sandwich.
Q: Due to the track layout (walls, walls, walls) the chance of contact is big. Do you bring extra parts with you to the Monaco Grand Prix like wings and floor? – @EtjeTT
A: Not as many as we would like! There’s a couple of hard constraints to consider. The first is that we’re only at race five, so there isn’t that large pool of older floor and wings that can be adapted to the latest spec that we might have later in the year.
Another consideration is that we don't really have the space. The garages are tiny, storage space is at an absolute premium. Whereas we would usually have all our spares at the circuit, in Monaco we can only really have one small truck in the vicinity (though probably 20 minutes there and back at a run), with everything else out of town.
There are plenty of dings and scrapes at any bumpy street track – or anywhere with sizeable kerbs. But those generally can be repaired rapidly in the garage by the composites technicians, who are magicians with the hot glue.
Q: How many possible strategies do you run through a weekend like Monaco (or any weekend in general)? – @dunyajoan__
A: The strategy team will have spent the last two weeks looking at every potential strategy – and the various contingencies that can cause a strategy to change. If the race runs without incident, however, there aren’t a huge number of variations available in Monaco. Overtaking on track isn’t a high-percentage option, and with track position so incredibly important, no one will voluntarily do more than one stop. That leaves one shot in the strategy cannon: timing the pit-stop well.
Q: Will the drivers and their engineers do the track walk in Monaco? If not, then how will they prepare the strategy for the race? – @lai_ira
A: At most venues, drivers will usually walk the track with their engineers and physio – but Monaco relies more on video and simulation. Jon Malvern, Lando’s physio, can explain: “We don’t do it here, as you can’t really get the most out of it. Normally, Lando would like to study the details of the surface up close. Here, we’d spend most of the lap dodging road traffic – and Lando would be stopping to chat with everybody so we’d never get back! So, we work with onboard footage and the computer instead.”
Q: Is radio communication more difficult at the Circuit de Monaco, and do the drivers ever not want it, given how hard they need to concentrate here? – @f1mclarenfan
A: On a technical level, comms do tend to be more difficult in built-up areas. Lots of concrete and tile does influence radio-wave propagation, plus there is a lot of electronic noise crammed into a small space, particularly at this circuit. It hasn’t been a problem in recent years, however; comms have been robust in the modern era – the days of the pit wall picking up pizza delivery instructions are long gone! Technical failures still happen from time to time and microphones become dislodged etc, but street racing isn’t inherently problematic anymore.
As for not talking to the driver, yes, there are times when the driver needs to concentrate on driving the car. Usually, race engineers will leave non-urgent messages until the GPS shows the car on a straight – unless the driver is struggling to hear, in which case messages are passed in the most straightforward corners, when the revs are low. Generally, the race engineer leaves the driver alone when they’re embroiled in a battle – it’s rare to hear a message on the first lap, for example. Sometimes the driver will request a radio blackout when they have to pump in a sequence of quali-pace laps – Lando often does that – though the engineer doesn’t always have a choice.
In Monaco, there aren’t any straights on which to pass a message, and rarely is there a point at which the driver isn’t in traffic, so it is more difficult. On the flip side of the coin, there are also fewer strategy choices to make – usually – and, unless a pit-stop is imminent, less urgency to relay time gaps – so there will likely be less communication.
Q: Who is in charge of the playlist in the pit? Do you take turns? Or is it one person’s duty? – @bibibibeaut
A: We don’t have one! But we’re next to Red Bull this year, and they have it cranked up loud enough for everyone. Also, in Monaco, it isn’t really a factor. We’ve got the Rascasse a few metres away at the pit entry and the party in there drowns out everything else. One way or the other it’s an incentive to get packdown finished rapidly…
Q: Will the special Gulf Oil International livery be preserved in any way after the race weekend? Videos, photos, and memories aside of course! – @PerryBrownF1
A: We’ll need the body panels returned to their normal Papaya for future races but F1 teams have a pack-rat culture, nothing is ever disposed of. Typically, when the chassis – usually four in the modern era – are retired at the end of the year, they’re each prepared slightly differently to give the fullest account of the season. Usually, that’s to take account of both drivers and different downforce configurations – but likely there will be a resplendent Monaco Grand Prix Gulf car to wow fans at future events – or perhaps just to display from time to time on the Boulevard at the McLaren Technology Centre to give everyone a smile.
Spanish Grand Prix
Q: McLaren underwear... we need McLaren underwear in the merch store. Can you please start making Papaya boxers? – @Ke_Nost
A: We’ll certainly pass that along to the brand team – once we’re over the shock of discovering there’s a merchandising opportunity they’re overlooking. It does raise the question of whether the crew would be expected to kit-up. They’re very interested in the concept, but not sure how compliance would be monitored!
Q: What's the best fan sign the team has seen in the stands? Any that made them laugh? – @AndyRobinson100
A: Tom Briggs, team leader, support crew says: “The best fan signs are always in Japan – they put in soooo much effort and create the most amazing things.”
The funniest ones… it’s always good when someone other than the drivers, in the garage or on the pit wall has their own little fan club opposite. FOM’s camera team has a sixth sense for knowing what’s going to make us laugh, so they’re often on the garage monitors as well as hanging from the grandstand opposite.
Q: How does the team deal with the double race weekend? Does it require a lot of changes in the normal weekly schedule? – @GretaLeinweber
A: We do so many back-to-back races now, it feels like this is the normal routine and the standalones are the oddity. It is different though. One big change is that the car isn’t built in the factory by the car build team but gets stripped and rebuilt in the garage by the race team mechanics.
As far as the race team goes, the garage experience isn’t that different. The advance team will have been building the garage in Spain while the race team was in Portugal, so when the team arrived on Tuesday, there was a garage to use. The standard plan is that half the team goes in on Tuesday, the rest get some time off.
There’s also a bit of dislocation: people wandering around thinking ‘surely it can’t only be Friday?’ Also, because the garage is near identical, it can sometimes be a bit of a surprise to walk out into the paddock or pitlane and realise that no, you’re not in Portimão anymore!
Q: Have you guys managed to get the new Turn 10 on the simulator and what new challenges does it bring? – @AlanSabatino
A: Yes, the new corner is in the simulator, the GPS data has been available for a while. What new challenges does it bring? It’s a little quicker, and the apex speed is a little higher, with more lateral energy going into the tyres – which could have a knock-on impact to grip in the final chicane during qualifying.
The intention is to aid overtaking but paddock consensus is that it’s more aimed at MotoGP, which comes here in a month’s time. We’re not expecting it to have a major impact on the grand prix – though it might do interesting things in the support races.
Q: Although very cool and historically relevant, what advantages do the team members get from sitting on the pit wall and not in the garage? – @AndyRobinson100
A: It varies from job to job. It’s very important for team manager Paul James, because it gives him a good view (usually – not so much at Silverstone or Monaco) of the pitbox, the pitlane and both sides of the garage. That view can be absolutely vital when there’s a bit of drama.
For the race engineers, they only go to the pit wall during the race. The rest of the weekend they’re based in the centre of the garage, right next to the car, in the driver’s eye-line. They don’t have to be on the pit wall – and sometimes will not be if there’s an IT problem with the pit-stand – but they find being outside to be useful.
While there’s a very good weather service, the race engineers like to be able to hold out a hand and check that, yes, it is actually starting to rain, or be able to look at the flags on the grandstand and see how hard the wind is blowing. It’s also a better place from which to see and hear the car.
Usually, if the car has picked up minor damage, they like to have it run near the pit wall so they can get a good look at it on the next pass – or, as was the case at Imola for Lando, on the far side of the track so the view was not obscured by spray.
These physical factors play out for the other people on the wall too: team principal; directors of racing and strategy. They can see into the garage and pitlane, see what’s going on in the garages nearby as well, which isn’t always the case when they’re watching on a monitor. Of course, some people sitting on the pit wall accept it’s a bit of an anachronism – a few of them will also say the real value is that it gets them out from under the feet of the rest of the garage team!
Q: If Zak and Andreas are both somehow absent from a race weekend, who is put in charge of the team? – @kerrxsmxth
A: Andrea Stella, executive director, racing, usually speaks on behalf of the team, and would probably be responsible for making any big decisions if Zak and Andreas shared a bad seafood paella.
Q: Normally all the F1 teams arrive in Catalunya armed with a huge amount of data gathered during pre-season testing. That isn't the case in 2021, and the circuit has changed too for good measure. Does the #TheFifthDriver expect a different Spanish Grand Prix as a result? – @PerryBrownF1
A: This year, for the first time since 2014, we haven’t had a pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Added to that, last year’s race was held in August with exceptionally high track temperatures. The best reference point is therefore the 2019 race… but the cars have changed quite a bit since then. There’s also a reconfigured Turn 10, which has been changed to aid overtaking. Consensus, however, is that while it might do interesting things for MotoGP, it won’t have a huge effect on F1. Indeed, we expect the usual difficult Spanish Grand Prix. Difficult to overtake, tough on the tyres.
Q: How do you celebrate as a team when you get a podium? Pizza all round? – @Raj39006027
A: Usually, after a race there’s an ice cream or – in the warmer venues – an ice cream and a chilled towel, but if there’s a trophy then there might also be a glass of something cold instead of the ice-cream. The team at the McLaren Technology Centre don’t do the ice cream – but they won’t miss out on a celebratory drink if there’s a podium to celebrate. Pizza sounds like a brilliant idea but by the time the team has got the garage knocked down and the kit packed into its flight cases, it’s usually midnight, so dinner is taken at the track as normal.
Q: Barcelona has been a testing venue and therefore you must have tons of data. Since the cars are constantly changing, after what time period does the data become useless? How many years of data do you look at to produce the best setup? – @tobi_rhg
A: Realistically, it’s the previous year’s data that gets the lion share of attention, all other things remaining equal – though the race engineers will certainly study their setup sheets and debrief notes going back through the life of the current generation of cars. They probably wouldn’t look beyond that – unless there’s a specific test item they want to revisit. When we went to Turkey and the Nürburgring in 2020, for example, there wasn’t much value in studying the V8 races of 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Strategists, on the other hand, will look at as many years’ data as they can. Without dramatic changes to the circuit, they’ll be mining that past race data to look at the likelihood of Safety Cars, how quickly the surface dries after rain, the pit-loss time for a stop and so on.
Portuguese Grand Prix
Q: You’re heading into the first double-header on the F1 calendar – can’t imagine how intense that is normally, let alone during a pandemic with restrictions/bubbles! How do the team members manage these periods both physically and mentally? – @Aimee_J_
A: The mental and physical health of the team are interlinked, and a lot is done to ensure the well-being of everyone on the race team, particularly during the more intense periods of the season. There are many aspects to it – from good nutrition to ensuring everyone has good facilities in which to work and rest.
It can be quite busy. The plan for the back-to-back is to have pack up completed in Portimão six or seven hours after the chequered flag. Monday will be a travel day flying to Barcelona. Half the team will go to the track on Tuesday to set up the garage, picking up where the early set-up crew have left off, having started on Sunday. At this point in the season, everyone is fairly fresh. By the point of back-to-backs in November or December, the race team might get some help from the factory to ensure everyone is still in good shape.
Q: Now we have had a couple of races, how are you finding the shorter practice sessions? What impact (if any) has it had on your ability to try things out on the car? – @McLarenDoggo
A: It’s still early in the process, it has been quite an adjustment and that’s still being tweaked. So far, it’s been a little bit less of everything rather than cutting out any aspect of the run plan – because ultimately, we still have two sets of tyres to hand back after each session, and that colours our thinking.
Our long runs with a heavy fuel load at the end of the sessions haven’t been so long. And many of the back-to-back set-up experiments we’d like to run during the session are now being split between the sessions or carried out across the two cars – but it is still very much a work in progress. Certainly, there’s a lot to cram in!
Q: Do both drivers have the same pit crew or two different sets of pit crews? – @Nile_1998
A: It’s a single crew – but in qualifying or practice you might see a stripped-down ‘qualifying crew’ That’s when one side of the garage is busy with their car in the garage and can’t work in the pitlane. Doing a pit-stop with the qualifying crew is one of the things that is practiced. It would be incredibly unlikely that we'd need that to use it during a race – but not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility.
Q: We saw a lot of radio issues for Lando in the first two races. When the worst happens mid-race (knock on wood), what's the fallback plan? – @Angel4_717
A: Radio issues come in all sizes, some of them outside the ability of the team to control, so there are always fallback options. The most basic – but often most effective – is the pit-board. If the comms fail, the team can display more information via the board. The most vital being whether the failure is two-way, or if they can hear the driver.
Sometimes it’s a specific issue with a particular comms channel. In Bahrain, the problem for Lando’s side of the garage was restricted to the pit wall comms, so Will Joseph decamped to the garage to use a replicated set of screens at the engineers’ island. In Portugal, the engineers have spent time testing the pit wall comms during the practice sessions.
If it’s a problem on the car, the team will sometimes swap the steering wheel at a pit-stop – this sometimes cures the issue, and it’s a change that’s practiced. Sometimes it’s just the driver’s microphone being knocked out of place – and there’s no fix for that in-race.
Q: Does the change of venue from Montreal to Istanbul [due to the Turkish Grand Prix stepping in to replace the Canadian Grand Prix this season] affect your logistics and the sea freight? – @alasdairmulhern
A: This year it doesn’t – but usually it would. Logistics is something of a dark art, so we’re going to turn that one over to Jono Brookes, director of F1 Build at the McLaren Technology Centre: “In terms of our air freight operations very little changes other than timings and aircraft, as Canada was a flyaway race anyway – the same as Turkey.
“For our sea freight, these containers haven't left for Canada yet, and are still in port, so these will now get rerouted to deliver to Turkey instead. Canada was already a standalone sea-freight shipment this year. Normally, the sea freight from Australia goes to Canada, across the Pacific – but with the Australian Grand Prix getting postponed and moved towards the end of the season, this forced Canada to be standalone.”
Q: Roughly how many extra front wings do y’all take each race? – @Nile_1998
A: It varies from race to race. The standard load-out would be six wings in total – perhaps not all of the latest spec. There might be more if there’s an upgrade experiment to do, or if we’re going to a circuit well known as a front wing breaker.
Q: When it’s a race weekend and the drivers aren’t on the track, what are they doing? – @Iduskaa_
A: For most of the time following FP3, they’re in briefing sessions. First the debrief after FP3, and then the briefing for qualifying. They’ll be on a headset in the truck offices, talking to their engineers and a distributed crew here at the track and back in the MTC. Their input is very important in the decision-making process.
Beyond the homework sessions, they have a printed schedule that fills every available minute of their time over the race weekend. With empty racetracks and locked-down cities, they have fewer sessions meeting fans. Their media appearances are still active – albeit often via video link. They’ll have a track walk to do at the start of the weekend, studying the kerbs and any interesting lumps and bumps on the surface, with their engineers, plus plenty of preparation in the garage – checking things like seat fittings, wing mirror positions and so on.
They’ll also have to work with their trainers. Not necessarily fitness sessions – because driving the car takes care of that – but recovery sessions, massage and so forth. They’ll also have a fairly strict nutrition and hydration routine. Not just what they eat and drink but also when they eat or drink it. Before jumping into the car for qualifying, they might want to get the heart rate up and work on their reactions by tossing a ball around or similar exercises.
Q: What weather conditions do the pit crews prefer for race day? – @kerley_erin
A: In a global sense, definitely dry! A pitlane can have lower grip than the race track – either because of different tarmac, or a concrete apron, with lots of slippery painted lines as well. On a wet day, there’s a lot more risk of a driver losing control.
In a wider sense, a wet race day also means wet pack-down – and absolutely nobody enjoys that. It’s also the gift that keeps on giving, as anything that goes away wet, comes out damp at the other end, which isn't how you want to start a race weekend. That said, if the team is likely to benefit from a disrupted race, then everyone is more than happy to arrive at the track on a Sunday morning under dark clouds.
Q: During a race weekend, does the team have time to see the cities they travel to? Or is it all business all day every day? – @hallefrisco_
A: That’s a good one – particularly for a back to back. We’ll pass across to Tom Briggs, team leader, support crew, to answer: “Time off? Not a lot! We arrive the day before we start work and then leave early on Monday after the race. We get the odd evening but most of the time it's airport-hotel-track. When we get the odd evening free we do like to do some turbo sightseeing! We are good at getting in the sights in a small window of time!”
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Q: How much of a difference does it make to plans for our strategy etc having data from the 2020 race, compared to heading there last year without it? Does it mean we are braver, with that in our pocket? – @Sareyware
A: It’s incredibly useful to have the data – but more is better! Having only one practice session last year meant we didn’t do the usual range of set-up tests. Add in reduced downforce this year, a longer DRS zone and an entirely new power unit, and there’s lots to do.
Q: How long does it take to set up the garages etc on a Wednesday and pack up on a Sunday? – @Gingecupcake
A: Sunday evening the pack-up takes around six hours – but setting the garage up takes longer because there’s longer lead-time jobs like preparing a floor. Tom Briggs, support crew team leader, can add more detail on this: “We have the ESO (event support operations) team travel out a few days before us. This is a team of three or four. In Europe they have a truck with all the garage panelling and the main FOH (Front of House) which they set-up before we arrive. On a flyaway race, they handle all the sea-freight, which is now three forty-foot containers.”
Q: How does it feel to still race without a public, even though a year has passed since the beginning of the pandemic? What races are you looking forward to the most when the public will be back? Do you think we’ll be able to come back supporting you soon? – @_mmargheritaa
A: After a season of racing without fans in the grandstand it doesn’t seem quite so strange as it did last summer. It’s a little bit like going testing – though having a really tight championship battle is perfect for making sure it still has the proper race weekend urgency. There will likely be races with fans in the grandstand this year – and hopefully as the season progresses it will be possible to safely take more races out from behind closed doors.
Everyone will have their own preference but for #TheFifthDriver, the biggest difference between full and empty will be felt at tracks where the grandstand opposite the pits is almost within touching distance of the grid. Places like Interlagos, Montréal and Suzuka have a tremendous buzz when they’re packed.
Q: Does anyone in the pit crew have a pre-race ritual they do every GP? – @kerley_erin
A: There aren’t too many lucky charms hanging around the garage but everyone’s got their own special way to prep, whether that’s how they arrange their kit in the garage, or where they like to sit for lunch. The pre-race procedure on the check-sheet has a ritualistic feel to it as well. It’s the same calls at the same time. While everyone knows what they’re doing, it’s very unsettling if there’s a comms problem or another disruption that means they aren't received. It interrupts the cadence.
Q: @fergieweather saying it will be a bit chilly and there may be some wet stuff on Sunday. Coming from testing and the first race in the heat of Bahrain, how much of a factor will the temperature play on the car’s performance? – @McLarenDoggo
A: In many respects, it’s the opposite to the usual early season issue, where we’ve been testing in Barcelona in cold conditions, and then head out to warmer climes at the start of the season. The cooler tracks will generally increase the likelihood of understeer, and degradation should be lower.
Q: Who joins the drivers for their track walk and what is discussed during this walk? What is everyone’s task during the walk? – @F1Wouke2020
A: The drivers walk with their race engineer, performance engineer and physio. Sometimes other engineers from their car group might tag along as well. Mostly they’re looking at the corners rather than the straights – though the driver will be looking for visual clues at his braking points. They’re looking at all the stuff that you can only really understand with your own eyes: new patches of asphalt and joins; the feel of individual kerbstones, thickness of the painted lines, style of runoff, culverts and gutters etc.
There are specialist tasks on the track walk: the performance engineer and the driver for instance will have a discussion about brake and differential settings – fine tuning their plan to get the best out of the car but, at the same time, not overloading the driver with buttons to push. It’s also useful to ensure everyone has the same mental image of the track and can use the same references and terminology. Will Joseph, Lando’s race engineer, for instance, missed this race last year, so it’s useful for him to spend the hour on track with his team.
Q: After seeing the racing here last year, is qualifying even more important? – @AlanSabatino
A: This is the crux of the matter. It’s absolutely vital here. If anything, last year’s race confirmed what the sims and the history of the circuit suggest: overtaking is very difficult and track position is vital. It might be a little different this year, because the single DRS zone has been extended by 145 m – which makes it about as long as can be. So overtaking might be a little easier. But the assumption is that qualifying position and a good start will still be key to getting a good result.
The other factor that feeds into that is strategy. With a circuit that isn’t harsh on tyres – as was the case in Bahrain – and with a very heavy pit-loss time, there’s an expectation of a one-stop race, which limits the ability to make up places through strategy. Altogether, it means a lot of focus goes into getting the car right for qualifying.
Q: There are so many engineers at the console in the centre of the garage, race engineer and performance engineer, but there are more, what are their roles race weekend? Who sits pit lane vs the garage? – @MrsRago
A: On race day, the pit wall will feature Paul James, team manager, Andrea Stella, executive director, racing, Randeep Singh, head of strategy and sporting. Andreas Seidl, team principal, plus race engineers Tom Stallard (Daniel) and Will Joseph (Lando).
The race engineers generally only go to the pit wall for the race. For qualifying and practice sessions, they’ll be at the engineers’ island in the middle of the garage, about a metre away from their car. They’re still talking to the driver and no.1 mechanic on the radio – but they also have eye contact and can communicate with gestures. Joining them at the engineers’ island are performance engineers Jose Manuel López (Lando) and Adrian Goodwin (Daniel) with Hiroshi Imai, director, race engineering at the end of the island, next to a terminal that’s used by a trackside aerodynamicist or any other senior engineer at the track.
Somewhere else in the garage, or in the transporter, or team building – it varies – there will be an engineering desk, where systems and controls engineers for each car sit, together with our power unit team from Mercedes AMG HPP. There’s also a large part of the engineering team working back at the McLaren Technology Centre in mission control. Mark Temple, principal car performance engineer, is there, passing insight to both the race engineers. And each car is being monitored by a team there, covering vehicle dynamics, aerodynamics, strategy and so forth.
During the race, everyone is supporting the race engineers, passing information, helping them make informed decisions. Some of that will be passed by the race engineer to the driver – he’s the only person that usually speaks to the driver – other information simply helps the engineer understand the condition of the car and the state of the race.
Q: Is everyone allowed to eat snacks in the garage, or just Lando? – @robi_won_kanoby
A: We love this question! There is a serious answer though. If the driver is having a snack in the garage, it’s something handed to them by their physio, designed to raise their energy levels. Sometimes it might be a drink or a gel, occasionally it’s a snack.
As for everyone else, yes, in the back of the garage, behind the front-of-house panelling, there will be a selection of snacks. Sandwiches, salads and wraps in the fridge, nuts, fruit and cereal bars. It’s important to have that there. Some days the crew doesn’t have time to walk across to the motorhome for a hot meal, so they’ll grab a snack when they have a minute spare. Sometimes it’ll be at the insistence of team management. Sometimes the catering crew will deliver hot food to the garage too. It generally doesn’t come front of house though – except after quali and the race when everyone takes a couple of minutes to have an ice cream.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Q: What sort of plans may have more priority during the shortened practice sessions? Has this already affected the way weekends are being approached? – @BonzoKEN
A: This year our Friday sessions are 60 minutes rather than 90. This definitely alters our thinking. The sort of thing you’ll see throughout the season is going to be a little different to what we’ve been doing in the past and involve a few more conscious trades: we can’t do everything we used to do. In the past, for instance, we may have had a programme where we planned to do a specific test that involved taking the floor off and changing it between runs, in a session that we also intended to finish with some high-fuel continuous running. Now, you might need to choose between one or the other.
What that’s likely to entail across 2021 is more split configuration testing between the two cars, or tests that take place between FP1 and FP2. We’ll be trying to do quicker turnarounds in the garage between runs and will be reluctant to do the sort of test that requires 20-30 minutes of downtime in the garage. Ideally, by making those compromises and rebalancing our programme, we’d be able to get as many laps in during a 60-minute session as we used to do in 90 minutes – but in reality, we’ll probably be doing fewer laps and will be time- rather than tyre- or mileage-limited.
Q: How much is known about the durability of this season’s new tyres in race conditions? – @f1mclarenfan
A: 2021’s tyres are the same compounds as 2020 but with slightly different constructions. They’re designed to be a little more robust but as a consequence seem to be giving up a little bit of front grip. They’re expected to be a little bit slower – but the starting pressures mandated by Pirelli will be a little lower.
Q: Will the shortened practice sessions impact on testing long runs and reliability with the new engine – how do you think teams will manage this? – @Aimee_J_
A: Inevitably, there will be a little bit of clipping in the length of long runs, which perhaps means a less complete dataset for our specific installation, and less knowledge about the cumulative effects of factors like vibration and cooling. Nothing much to do about that – and it's the same for everyone.
On the other hand, there are eight cars running the same Mercedes power unit, which means a broader dataset overall. Our mileage will shrink – but perhaps not by much. With the proviso that one Friday programme isn’t a big enough dataset to really know, there are some early statistics to look at.
Last year, in FP2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix, the McLarens did 30 laps and 33 laps. That’s higher than usual because we had an extra set of test tyres. Take those out and it was 25 and 23 laps. The long runs at the end of the session were 17 laps each. In FP2 this year, the lap counts were similar: 22 and 25 laps, but the long runs were cut to 12 and 13 laps.
Q: How do you compare sim data to the actual car itself? Is it usually wrapped up in pre-season testing or do you continuously keep doing those tests in the first few races? – @AnonymousBoeing
A: It never ends. Every session on track provides another set of real-world data that will be compared to the models and then used to refine them. Simulators have reached a high level of sophistication now, but there are always improvements to be made in the correlation – and that’s especially true of a new car.
Q: How is the mood in the team, apprehensive or quietly confident? – @PeteTunstall
A: Frankly Pete, if anyone in the pitlane isn’t apprehensive then they’re probably not doing it right! The opening qualifying session is one of the great moments of the season, with everyone keyed up for the first chance to see genuine, outright pace. It’s very exciting.
Q: How 'out of routine' did you get through the winter break? Last season’s run of races was pretty intense, and the team worked hard to ensure everyone got some time away before the new season started – and three months without a track day does leave everyone a bit rusty. – @_charleylouisew
A: There’s plenty of work done at the factory to restore sharpness, but it’s really only being in the garage, at the tests and now the race, that brings everyone back up to ‘match fitness’. But even now, things that felt completely natural take an extra moment of thought. That’ll go away fairly rapidly.
Q: Describe racing in Bahrain in three words! – @yerisbtch
A: Lots of answers from around the team, most of which involve the word ‘hot’ – but right now it’s: launch, strategy, and tyres. We’ve seen everyone’s genuine one-lap pace in qualifying – but long runs are a different matter.
In the race, position after the first lap will play a large part in determining strategy, and then making that strategy work will depend on the relative unknown of getting the best out of the tyres under those conditions. While we did race simulations at the test and on Friday, it isn’t quite the same thing.
Q: Who chooses which side of the garage each driver and their teams go to? – @kerrxsmxth
A: For the last few years, incoming drivers have inherited whichever side of the garage was free. When Lando and Carlos Sainz started at the same time, they took the sides their race engineers, Tom Stallard and Will Joseph, were already working on.
It has been done other ways in the past: there was a time when the driver finishing higher in the championship the previous year got the stall nearest the pit entry. That led to a quite strange situation of Lewis and Jenson swapping sides on a regular basis depending on whether they were turning right or left to go to the pit exit.
That system went away about a decade ago and afterwards it was fixed at the start of the season. (Everybody found it very strange when Jenson subbed at Monaco and was on Fernando’s usual side rather than ‘his’.) Daniel has inherited the right side (looking in) from Carlos, with the engineers and most of the crew who previously worked on that side.
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