An Engineer Loose in the F1 Paddocks..
This weekend we were at the British GP and privileged enough to be given access to some rarely seen areas of a F1 race event. (Thanks to the W Series for the invitation and the welcome as a start.)
I've been to many paddocks, but a first time in the F1 paddock was kinda special.. Camera in hand, lots of pictures were taken, so let me take you through some of what i saw there and bring you all along for some of the experience.
My engineering eye is always active, and while i wasn't able to get into as much depth as i'd have liked for obvious reasons, lots was on show. Over the weekend we had the F3, F2, W Series and Porsche Supercup.
Of course there's only enough space in the pits for one championship series, so the main show was the Formula One in the main paddock by the Start/Finish straight. Formula 2 had the paddock at the National pits and the other championships were nearby under awnings.
The W Series is ever gaining momentum and had its most successful weekend in terms of viewership, so lets start there!
The W Series
After being a spectator at races where you're outside, sometimes in the wet and wind, on your feet all day, it's great to have a place to base yourself at as you eat and then venture out to the stands to watch the races.
I was invited by the W series along with some colleagues from the Motorsport UK diversity committee, where i'm working with them to make some changes to create equality of opportunity within our sport.
The W Series is a championship about the drivers rather than the engineering, so there aren't individual performance and data engineers for each car. A common setup is found for the whole grid, which is a F3 spec chassis from Taatus.
Individual drivers then have their own engineer to fine tune the setup through adjustment of tyre pressures and some minor aero and chassis tweaks, but nothing substantial here.
There aren't pit stops during the race, and as they don't have a pit box, emergency pit stops for punctures are also carried out in the designated areas in the pit lane.
The Supercup is a support race of the F1 Championship, although only for 8 races so it's a little less intense.
Personally i have always loved these cars and in 992 spec they look great.
There's a little more engineering freedom here - obviously all the cars are technically identical but with individual teams running their own cars as well as their own engineers, things can get a little more creative.
Teams can get involved with lap time simulations and as usual with racing series this close with respect to technology, tyre management is really important, especially so as only two sets of tyres can be used over the weekend.
This means that one of those sets of tyres is used across two race weekends. Better not destroy them during the race. or you'll be stuck with them for practice and qualifying at the next event.
I managed to get a nice picture of a car having its alignment changed. No fancy equipment, just string, jigs and some accurate measurement.
The idea with this technique of adjusting toe is to measure the distance between the front and rear of the flange mounted on the wheel hub and the string to gauge the angle of the hub relative to parallel. With a good eye and some patience you can get very accurate angular measurements.
it's not shown here but with the advantage of gravity, camber can be measured using a precise spirit level or some digital level measuring kit.
F2 & F3
I didn't manage to get much of F2 as i kept getting into the paddock at the wrong times just before they were heading out to race or qualify.
The levels of secrecy also increase as you get to this level - the engineering gets way more involved and so it's possible to gain a competitive advantage by looking at what others on the grid are doing. They're also within the pit garages.
I did manage to catch some cool shots of the support vehicles taking spare front wings and other bodywork & tyres down to the grid though. F2 does have mid-race pitting, so there's a lot more stuff to get down to the race area and many trains of quadbikes moving things around.
I did manage to see plenty of our tyre technology partner, MegaRide's branding on the assorted front
wings in the paddock though. Complimenti!
What you've been waiting for - F1!
You can imagine there wasn't much technical things to see from the F1 paddock - some tyres, many team personnel and many guest of various sponsors and media etc, but i did manage to get something.
We watched the race from the paddock which was quite a unique environment - watching the screen, with the pits and the rest of the race going on behind us as the British drivers went for overtakes was high energy. Especially so when Lewes passed Leclerc and Perez. Big moments..
After the first teams started pitting, the tyre technicians were out the back scraping the tyres.
The surface of a used racing tyre tells you a lot of information about how the car is using its tyres, so it's crucial to do a thorough job of inspecting tyres.
The surface is 'dirtied' by grained rubber, marbles and other material picked up by the tyres, so using a hot air gun to soften it and scraping it off to reveal the tread layer is what you're seeing below.
By studying the tread layer you can see if the rubber is overheating, whether the warm-up was done correctly, weather wear levels are as expected, inflation pressures were optimal and even that the camber alignment is good.
This is important across all motorsport, but importantly at the level of F1, this information is used to feedback to the tyre performance engineers to understand that their simulations are accurate and correlate well with what's being observed. This information is then communicated to strategy engineers to figure out whether adjustments need to be made.
Now here's the fun part. Once the race was off - time to get into the pits..
My first time in the pits during an F1 event and it was as hectic as you'd expect during the rush for the podium, but i was more interested in getting a look at the cars and in the pits..
A great weekend, great conversations, great food, great experience.
Many appreciations to Catherine and the ladies at the W Series. Always.