Nicolò Gaglian, Team Manager, Lazarus
We were doing pitstop practice for the first race: we train in the workshop every day, and it’s not so easy! The right time for a pitstop is about 5 seconds, and today was not too bad: we had a problem with the front jack, and now we will repair it for the race. The guys also train a lot, got to the gym 2 or 3 times a week to make sure they’re ready, and we put the biggest guys at the back! Sometimes a lot happens in the pits, and I’m on the lollypop: you have to look at all 4 tyres, front and rear jack, and to see if anyone is coming in the pitlane, so the more we practice the better we get.
Chris Pearce, Mechanic, Arden
We’re just setting up the cars, and doing all the final checks - ride heights, cambers, that sort of thing. It’s just a process of going round in circles, making sure you getting everything right. Naturally we’ve got quite a few changes from qualifying because the race is much longer: you’ve got to preserve the tyres, and you’ve got to change the car to suit. There are a lot of changes in the re-prep, and this is the final finishing off. Usually it takes about 40 minutes to an hour, but it depends however long you’ve got really: you work to the time you’ve got!
Andrew Ferguson, Technical Director, Status Grand Prix
Motorsport has its hierarchy with team managers, race engineers, mechanics and all that, but it’s important when there is some down time that everyone integrates at the same level so that there are no hard feelings about people being told what to do and so on. At the end of the day we all go back to the hotel, we all get on the same flights, we all work at the same factory, so it’s important that we all integrate as best we can. We have to: every season we spend more than 3 weeks on the road together! People can get niggly about things in a pressured environment like racing, so when there’s a bit of down time you have a little catch up, everyone makes each other coffee, maybe a beer or two at the end of the day, and it means that everyone can float on together a bit more happily.
Marco Galuppi, Technical Director, Rapax
In the briefing we are preparing for the race: right now we are watching last year’s races, looking at the different strategies, and we’re calculating what is the best strategy for today given the conditions. We also show the previous starts to the drivers so they are prepared for their start, and we’re working on the set up to make sure the car is prepared as well as we can for that. All the teams do similar things, and small details make a big difference, so we need to work on all the keys for the race - strategy, set up, driving style and tyre management - because all of these keys are so important to achieving a good result.
Luca Cecchetto, Mechanic, Trident
First we have to clean the tyres after qualifying and free practice, check the wear and rebalance the tyres, and if there are any problems with the compounds we go to see Pirelli. The rims must be balanced, and the most important part of the process is checking the tyre pressures. The pressures are one of the most important features of the car right now, because these tyres are very particular: if you get it wrong you can lose the race! And it’s important to get the pressures right because they are under the control of the FIA, and we have to stay within their parameters. It has to be very precise to pass their checks, but also flexible enough to deal with what happens in the race. So it’s not so easy!
Emilien Colombain, Trainer, Campos Racing
Before the race there is a lot to do, such as hydration: in a race like here in Abu Dhabi we have to really focus on this, because of the heat. We then do some special training in the morning to wake up the muscles and get the blood circulating, warming up the body for the day ahead, and when we get to the circuit we concentrate on exercises for the joints, particularly the wrists, which are under pressure because the steering is quite heavy. Closer to the race we have exercises to warm up the neck and some connective things with balls to wake up the vision and reaction times. Arthur’s already in good shape, of course - most of the physical and mental work is done already - so the race weekend is about warming up and getting the body ready for the stress of the race, and to test the system to make sure he is okay to go.
Andrew Brown, Truckie, Russian Time
It’s our job to make sure that everything the team needs is in the pitlane - spare tyres, starters, air bottles and so on - and it’s quite an important job because you’ve got to make sure that everything is there, and ready to go. The team has a lot of equipment here in the pits, but we’ve got a checklist of everything we need for the race, and that never changes: if we got up to the grid and had the wrong set of tyres it would be catastrophic! You have to have everything on the list, no ifs or buts: it has to be there. We have a few spares of things, like the guns, and they are serviced regularly to be sure they’ll work: we check everything again before the race to make sure they work, the bottles are full and everything is charged. If the boys need something and I haven’t got it, it’s bad news!
Alexander Rossi, Driver, Racing Engineering
We always watch the F1 qualifying before the race, and I’m quite interested in it today because obviously the car I was racing for the last five Grands Prix is in the hands of someone else, so I’m quite interested to see how he goes! Mostly we watch it for everyone’s entertainment more than anything else: we have a pretty good idea of the track conditions, but if we were at a track with a bit more variable weather we’d pay a bit more attention to it. It brings the team together for a few minutes, and I think everyone has a little wager on who’ll get pole, so it’s good for team bonding before the race.
Benn Huntingford, Chief Mechanic, Carlin
Before the race the cars come round to the pitlane and park up, and we do a few checks on tyre pressures, systems checks, plug in the laptops, go through the data and do a few final checks for reliability, then monitor the temperatures of the engine and the water to make sure that everything is where it needs to be, and make any adjustments we need to make after talking to the driver to see what his feeling is for the car. Then the cars leave, go round once and do a practice pitstop so the driver can get his eye in, and we go to the grid: over there we do the same set of checks, have another chat with the driver and possible change tyres depending on what the guys around us are doing. We’re double checking all the work that we’ve already done in the garage and that everything is where it should be for reliability, and any final adjustments needed because of the conditions or the people around us for strategy. And then it’s back to the pitlane to watch.
Narciso Ferreira, Mechanic, ART
To stand under the podium, the feeling is amazing: it is the sum of all the hard work we have done up that moment. It’s a feeling of pride in a job well done, because whether you’re a mechanic or an engineer everyone has a very specific task that must be done, and when you see your car win you realise that everyone has done that perfectly, and that is a feeling of personal joy as well as a combined feeling with the group of achievement. We love our job very much, we constantly give 100%, and through adversity it’s important to keep pushing and keeping working harder, because we have to respect our rivals’ abilities too. At the end of the day we win together or we lose together. In my career I’ve been very lucky to work with some drivers that have helped me realise it’s important to put things into perspective: I used to think that every little mistake was a huge misstep,but these drivers taught me that it is important to look at where we started, where we’re at, and what we want to accomplish. After that, what needs to happen, happens.
Francois Sicard, Team Manager, DAMS
The debrief is a key moment for us, because it is the first chance after the race to have a meeting between the drivers and the engineers to get the feedback on how the car felt for the drivers. Clearly the engineers have access to the data so we have the numbers, but what is important is to understand the feeling, where the drivers felt strong or weak, to find which way we have to work for tomorrow. This feeling is very important to us: the engineers sometimes follow all the analysis to push the set up one way, but when you talk to the driver they have a different view. It can never be about pure efficiency from the data: it has to be a combination for driveability, and each driver has a different style. It is important to talk so that we can better understand this.
Sander Dorsman, Team Manager, MP Motorsport
Normally when the cars go into parc ferme the drivers take out their data cards, so the engineers can start working, and they will have a complete debrief, while the mechanics start working on the one car we have today, because it was a DNF, just to get a little bit ahead. We also take the opportunity to have dinner, just to make sure that’s done while it’s a bit quiet, and when we get the other car back we clean everything, because we say when you clean something you’re checking it too, and then the engineer will download the car and start looking for anything unusual in the data. The mechanics will then open the gearbox, drain the fuel, and start to prepare the car for tomorrow: it depends what has happened to the car, but normally it will take 4 to 5 hours to prepare the car. It’s a lot of work, but a GP2 car needs a lot of love and attention to shine: hopefully we can be home before midnight!
Unusually for the paddock, most of the teams spent the week between Bahrain and Abu Dhabi together: there was little point in flying all the way back to Europe before turning around and coming back, so almost no one bothered. And who could blame them? The choice between a day on a plane, two days in the rain and then another day on the plane or spending all of them in the sun at Yas Marina isn’t really a meaningful decision.
A number of the drivers disappeared up to Dubai, the larger neighbour 40 minutes drive up the coast, while the teams enjoyed the all too rare opportunity to set up their pits at their leisure and giving the cars a real going over before the final weekend of the season to sort out any niggling issues.
Which is why it was such a surprise to see Alex Lynn in the pitlane with his nosecone removed and the team crowded around the car deep in discussion in free practice. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much time.
But I digress. With everyone hanging around anyway a signing session was held on Thursday, and only two drivers failed to show from the original eight (no names, but you could probably guess) leaving the Brit Pack of Oliver Rowland, Dean Stoneman, Alex Lynn, Jordan King and Mitch Evans (honorary member) along with Rio Haryanto to entertain the troops.
Alexa had been fretting all day that no fans would turn up without any on track entertainment, and upon arriving in the fan zone a quick peek into the room confirmed her worst fears: there was precisely no one in there. Don’t worry said the one of the smooth team of Brits who organise all the fan zone activities, once the MC starts talking, they will arrive.
And so it proved: the guys were treated to rousing applause as they filed out, and it was just as Dean and Jordan were trooping out at the end of the line that she remembered a signing session she was organising for the end of season party. Do me a favour guys, she whispered in her most coquettish manner, can you steal the pens when you come back?
But they’re really big, came the entirely accurate statement.
Don’t worry, shove them in your pockets, it’ll be fine, she assured.
Okay, Dean replied, I’ll do it as it as long as you remind me: what’s my car number again for the autographs?
Everything went off fine, with loads of requests for photos, autographs and quick chats from the (it must be said) largely English ex-pat crowd, and as they filed out our cunning duo cast sly glances around before whispering here you go and slipping the pens out behind them to Alexa in their best secret agent manners.
Mission Possible indeed, and the result was entirely to her liking. The only problems I can see is that a. Jordan dad’s runs a major supermarket chain and probably wouldn’t approve of the cunning crime and, probably more importantly, b. Alexa’s husband actually owns and operates a large stationary store back home.
And then it was time to deliver the bracelets.
Alexa had arranged for some rubber bracelets with motion sensitive lights in them to be made, to be used as the party invitations, and they had to be handed out to all the teams. Rapax were far and away the most interested, surrounding her and jostling each other as they peered into the box, which flashed with the movement as it opened. Oooh, que bello! came the excited reply, it flashes just like the VSC!
Yes it does she smirked, and it means you better all clap during the prize giving ceremony, because I will see if you don’t...
Back in the bus to the Fan Zone on Friday, the new breed were learning the ropes: Sean Gelael, Nicholas Latifi and Gustav Malja were joining Artem Markelov for the racing game/signing session, and on the way they were talking about their new cars, and how it compared to their previous steeds. The conversations was generally approving (oh man, when you hit the DRS it’s like a rocket, or another gear!), comparing throttle percentages and where they were flat or not (no way, even my teammate isn’t flat there!), even which screens on the display to use (oh, you didn’t try to use that at the start? You should...).
It was almost a disappointment to arrive at the Fan Zone: it’s always interesting to listen in as drivers talk about how they do what they do, especially the younger ones who haven’t learnt to hide things from their rivals yet, so happy are they to have arrived in the big show.
But no matter how young they are, there’s always someone younger: the fan champion was Alex from Dubai, all of 11 but looked far younger, as he was so small he had to sit on his dad’s lap to reach the pedals. There’s always someone younger in this game. Luckily they beat him royally: I was a bit worried I was going to have to flash my bracelet to distract him.
The things I do to make this place look good are, like this blog, almost endless.