Who is the #FifthDriver, our mysterious TEAMStream guru?
McLaren’s #FifthDriver hashtag has been a staple of F1 since 2009… but who is the #FifthDriver?
At every race during the F1 season, one of the most popular questions submitted for #FifthDriver to answer is: Who is the FifthDriver? This is closely followed by: What is the FifthDriver? Perhaps it’s time for a refresher…
Who…and what… is the #FifthDriver?
We’ll never tell!
The #FifthDriver has been our anonymous trackside pundit and analyst since 2009. They work closely with our commentator – but not so close that they'd reveal who they are - across the race weekend on the TEAMStream commentary feed, answering questions from McLaren fans and McLaren Plus members, while adding context and analysis to the commentary, explaining bits and pieces about garage operation, race craft and strategy.
Although their identity remains a mystery, the #FifthDriver has been at the forefront of McLaren's social media presence since we joined Twitter in 2009.
Why #FifthDriver? Well, ‘third driver’, tended to be the catch-all term for a test and reserve driver. Located somewhat lower down the knowledge tree, the #FifthDriver hashtag began as a pun on that. Over the last decade-and-a-bit, the #FifthDriver has contributed everything from race weekend blogs to team interviews. By the far the busiest part of the role, however, is contributing to TEAMStream.
How do I submit questions for the #FifthDriver?
Couldn't be easier. Ahead of each round, we'll ask for questions on Twitter. Simply reply with the #FifthDriver hashtag and we’ll see it.
What sort of questions are we looking for?
That’s really up to you! We’re very happy to shed light on whatever it is you’re interested in. We’ll cheerfully dig down into the deeply technical for lifelong F1 fans, but we’re equally pleased to explain some of the basics if you’re new to all of this. The latter is actually quite helpful to us! Even before Covid, the F1 paddock tended to exist in its own little bubble: it’s easy to take some of this stuff for granted, and it’s good to have the occasional reminder that it can all seem rather weird and wonderful – so don’t be shy!
Is the #FifthDriver ever stumped by a question?
Yes! All the time! But questions to which we don’t have an immediate answer are always good… because it’s an opportunity to ask someone who does. Most people in the team will have been grilled for their input but more often than not, the #FifthDriver tends to rely on a cadre of experts to answer some of the more specific questions that come in, everyone from Jono Brookes, Director of F1 Build (and former Chief Mechanic) who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the MCL36, to Jon Malvern, Lando’s Physio, and an expert on human performance.
Jon helped us out with one in Miami, when @tsitschurrow asked: Looking at the weather reports, this weekend looks to be the classic Florida combination of really humid and really hot. How do the drivers and the pit team manage those conditions?
This is what Jon had to say about prepping Lando to race in very hot, very humid conditions:
A little bit changes. Obviously with a humid race, temperature is usually higher, you sweat more – but then your ability to get rid of that heat through sweat is impacted. So, we need to think about how to help Lando’s body function in that environment. In basic terms, we do it with salty drinks, lots of pasta and sweets.
Sweating is the body’s cooling method, acting as a heat exchanger as water is evaporated from the skin – but sweating is less effective in high humidity – and even less effective under a race suit, with no exposed skin – so we need to reduce the amount he sweats, keep water in the body, and help with cooling and concentration that way.
Sodium loading helps you retain more water – essentially salt. We’ll take on a certain amount of sodium per day for the five days prior to the weekend, and continue that over the race weekend.
The other big one is to increase his carbohydrate intake, again leading up to the race weekend and over the race weekend. Carbs help you retain more water, the glycogen helps you store water in the muscles and the liver. It can be anything carbohydrate-based: food, drinks – even sweets at the right time. The more you take on, the better, but you can only take on so much before it becomes a negative.
You have to be trained-up to it over time, so your stomach gets used to processing it. A normal person might be able to manage 40-50g of carbs, a couple of times a day: an elite cyclist might be able to take on a 1kg of carbohydrates an hour, multiple times a day, because they’ve trained their body to accept it.
We don't always go to the experts for cold hard facts either, sometimes we simply want their opinions, feelings or personal preferences, like at the British Grand Prix, when @gamsmits asked: In which old McLaren racing car would you like to drive a few laps at Silverstone and why that specific car?
For this one, we went to Lando, who is emphatic about wanting a crack at it in an MP4/23. That’s the 2008 McLaren-Mercedes V8, driven by Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. It’s got excellent Silverstone pedigree on the old (faster) layout, with pole for Heikki and victory for Lewis.
The car won five other races in 2008, and took Lewis to the World Championship. Perhaps more significantly, Lando was nine years old when it was racing, and just starting out in his karting career – and that sort of thing tends to leave a lasting impression. Excellent choice young man!
To get an engineer’s perspective, we asked Andreas too – who says he prefers the newer models, and would like a go in last year’s MCL35M. (the #FifthDriver has a soft spot for the MP4/6 – because it’s simple, elegant, and who doesn’t love an V12 F1 car?)
It's not always a person in the team that’s the correct expert to ask. At the Saudi Grand Prix, @DaliaAnghel asked us: I saw that in the event of an accident, everyone is waiting for an answer or a reaction from the pilot, to see if he's okay. Are the vital functions of the pilot not monitored while he is in the cockpit?
There’s an FIA playbook for things like this, involving Race Control, trackside marshals, fire suppression and, when necessary, extraction teams. Before answering this one we spoke with Dr Ian Roberts. Doc Roberts is the FIA’s Medical Rescue Coordinator, riding in the Medical Car, but also the co-inventor of some of the kit used by the drivers for monitoring. After speaking to the Doc, this is what we wrote…
They aren’t monitored live over the telemetry system – though sometimes drivers will where biometric sensors as part of a test, for the data to be downloaded later. So, in the event of a crash, the garage crew is waiting to hear the driver on the radio, or visible jumping out of the car on one of the onboard cameras.
They do have biometric sensors embedded in their gloves – though these are monitored by the crew in the Medical Car, rather than by the team. There’s a 3mm ‘pulse oximetry’ sensor that measures pulse rate and the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood.
It is self-contained and independent of the car (because it needs to work when the car is damaged or shut down), powered by an internal battery and capable of being charged on an induction plate between track sessions.
The glove transmits data over a 500m radius with Industrial Bluetooth (lightweight and more robust than consumer Bluetooth), allowing the medical team to make informed decisions even when they can’t immediately reach the driver.
The device was invented by F1’s medical car team of Dr Ian Roberts and driver Alan van de Merwe, following Carlos Sainz’s accident in Sochi, while driving for Toro Rosso. Carlos’ car was buried under the tyre conveyor, and the medical team couldn’t check to see if he was alright.
If you’ve ever wondered what the medical car crew talk about when they’re spending all day sitting at the end of the pit-lane, it’s things like this.
The #FifthDriver loves a question that taps into F1 traditions. @McLarenDoggo asked a really good one at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix: Rumour has it that a visit from Formulino, the Imola Cat, can bring good luck. Are there any other superstitions the team follow or good luck charms in the garage that you cannot do without? This was our answer.
Collectively we’re really not a very superstitious garage! It tends to not be a crew thing, more something for drivers – but neither Daniel nor Lando are that way inclined, nothing like Alex Wurz’s race boots or Mika’s tortoise.
That said, this is very much a process-driven sport. There are a great many set procedures, and over time, those procedures become a little ritualistic in nature. It’s no more superstitious than a pilot running down a checklist – but it’s a little unsettling if, for whatever reason, the usual order of things is interrupted.
…though given our struggles earlier this afternoon, don’t be surprised if there’s a dish of tuna and a saucer of milk lurking somewhere in the garage.
If a question relates to a specific race or circuit, then of course we’ll attempt to answer it at that venue… but if the question’s more generic, then our answer might appear a little later. The #FifthDriver likes to squirrel a few away for a rainy day – quite literally in some cases. If there’s a delay for a red flag, that’s always a good opportunity to answer a few questions. The terrible crash coming off the start line at Silverstone was a good example. The red flag that ensued lasted 53 minutes. And while a restart procedure is interesting, it’s not 53-minutes of interesting. So the #FifthDriver was very grateful to pass a few minutes addressing this question sent in by @graMARIANNE, who asked: Who chooses what tunes get blasted in the garage during race weekends?
We’d been updating the answer to that one for a couple of weeks, to keep it fresh.
We’ll have music playing in the garage before, between and after the sessions. Often the playlist reflects the mood or the tempo – but the key is to keep things upbeat – particularly when the crew are tired and need a boost.
That heavy responsibility rests with systems engineer Joel Vermiglio. Joel is keeper of the garage playlist, though he has been known to take requests if anyone asks nicely.
Joel keeps it eclectic: last time out in Canada, he was on a bit of an 80s kick (albeit inspired by Stranger Things). We had everything from Scorpions' Rock You Like a Hurricane to Kate Bush's Rubberband Girl and Toto’s Hold the Line.
Where’s he been this weekend? Little bit more modern. We’ve recently had Powerless (Rudimental feat. Becky Hill), Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) by Fred Again feat. The Blessed Madonna, Touch (Tokyo Prose Remix) by Hybrid Minds feat. Tiffani Juno.
Of course, sometimes our expert doesn’t know the answer either. The #FifthDriver's all-time favourite question is a few years old. In 2019, @Rastasuit asked: does the tv helicopters hovering over the track not upset the cars with its downdraft?
Ed Viska, McLaren research engineer and, in 2019, our Trackside Aerodynamicist, was a regular responder to the #FifthDriver’s more bizarre questions, but that one had never crossed his radar. Ed did what F1 engineers do: he went away to look at data, studying a lap where the TV images showed the helicopter demonstrably loitering over Turn One at the Sakhir circuit versus a lap where it wasn’t. Our knowledge is now increased as we can say definitively that the helicopter has no measurable impact on car aero.
And that’s the #FifthDriver, happy to discuss everything from garage superstitions to the finer points of the F1 Sporting Regulations, with diversions through garage playlists, driver diets and biometric sensor technology. Each race the best question (chosen independently) wins a prize, so if you’ve got a burning desire for technical info, quirky garage facts, bizarre sporting regs or just Lando’s breakfast order on a Sunday morning, please do let us have a look and we’ll do our very best to find an answer.
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