Sunday, Race Week
We had the luxury of another late start this morning with the race not starting until 1700 so we had plenty of time to take a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and then head off to the track.
First up this morning was our end of season team photo with the whole team, our drivers and the Daimler board members who are attending this race. Then it was straight into the pre-race strategy meeting with Ross, Michael and Nico. James Vowles, our chief strategist, outlined the situation on tyres and pit stop plans, then we discuss what we will do if the safety car is deployed at various stages of the race and how we will deal with the tyre degradation we are expecting. We go straight from there into the general engineering briefing with the whole engineering group. The drivers go off to the Drivers Parade at 1530 and I get some lunch and chat with Keke (Nico’s Dad) about the wisdom of qualifying a lowly ninth place on the option tyre.
Everything is prepared and there are still two hours before kick-off. I have time to go and chat to some of our guests on the pit walk at the front of the garage. Some friends of Nick Fry need a quick talk about the car so I’m happy to oblige. Plenty of well wishers pass on their best wishes to the drivers and team which is always appreciated.
I’m getting a bit emotional by now as I have done every season for 17 years as a Race Engineer and I am now an hour away from my last race on the pit wall. I have really enjoyed my time at the sharp end and the blunt end of the sport and will miss the adrenalin of qualifying and the race. It’s time to reflect on some great moments and my thoughts go back to this stage before the last race in 1997 in Jerez. Michael had a one point lead over Jacques Villeneuve, and I remember thinking: “This is it. Today is the day I am going to win the World Championship”… and so it was!
Back to the here and now and I have a chat with James Allen about why we didn’t qualify on the harder prime tyre. Ok yes… I’m starting to get fed up with explaining this now! I get my stuff together for a final discussion with Nico on front wing settins and our plans for the first laps of the race and then it is off to the grid.
So far, so good and everything is running to plan. Dan, the front end mechanic on our car, presents me with a ‘Leo Sayer’ wig which I am obliged to wear for the rest of the afternoon, even on the pit wall in 32 degree heat. Thanks Dan! Robert Kubica gives me a pat on the way past, knowing it’s my last race on the wall, and knowing that our season-long battle between him and Nico for positions in the Drivers’ Championship has come down to the wire.
The race is underway and Michael has spun at Turn 6 and collected Liuzzi in the process. The safety car is deployed and we are in the pits to offload the options and get our primes on. We’re back out on P15 but the leading cars still have to stop. Now the plan is simple… we have to keep the gap to as many cars ahead of us below the magic 21.5s which is the total time lost for a pit stop. We are stuck behind Buemi for 35 laps which unfortunately kills any chance we have to keep that gap down to Vettel, Hamilton and Button, however the other front runners are not getting away from us fast enough and we are really in with a shout of a good result. By lap 40, it’s clear we have lost out to Button who is the last of the front runners to stop but we are close on Kubica who started on the prime and is going to run as long as he can to try to get that gap.
Nico is informed of the closeness of the battle and having been saving his tyres behind Buemi, he is able to open a can of ‘whoop ass’ on Kubica once Buemi pits and is out of our way. Eight great laps and Kubica is not going to make that gap so he pits for his new option tyres. His only chance now is to close up to Nico and attack him with the benefit of his fresh options over Nico’s 50-lap old primes. Vindication is sweet as Kubica is no match for Nico, even with his fresh rubber.
P4 is a top result and it was a fantastic drive by Nico, one of his best, and a sign of intent for the future. It was also a great result for my last race. I really enjoyed today and it feels good to go out on a high. Carmel, my wife, phones and congratulates me on the result and asks if I have been emotional. I assure her that I have it all under control and there is no way that I’m blubbing!
A lot of champagne is popping next door and rightly so. Red Bull have had a great season and Vettel nailed the WDC at the last round and in some style. Well done to all at Red Bull… you are worthy winners. Ok, I am starting to get really emotional now as everyone comes to wish me well.
We have our post-race debrief with the drivers and then a full team chat with Ross in which he thanks the guys for their hard work and dedication this year. We have been pretty much the top pit stop team on average this season which is a great credit to all of our guys. Ross thanks me for my work on the pit wall over the years and I get to thank everyone for being such a great bunch. They really are a fantastic group of guys, we have a wonderful atmosphere in the team and I will really miss being here at the races. I thank Shov in particular for his support over the ten years that we have been race engineers together and then, yes I start blubbing! In front of 60 guys!
The formalities over and the guys have a nice farewell for me. Nothing like the gold watch one might expect but a tyre trolley and some zip locks followed by a public washing down with everything from the kitchen slops bucket collected over the week followed by some flour and eggs. In front of the whole team and anyone who happened to be passing in the paddock. Nice!
They are kind enough to hose me down with freezing cold water afterwards and I also grab a shower to try and remove the blue engineering dye from my head! Then I get some clean clothes on and tidy up the office ready for the guys who are staying here for the test next week. Keep an eye on the footy results and it’s nice to see Chelsea taking a beating!
We have a big team party night back at the hotel tonight to celebrate the end of the season so my blog stops now because it’s going to become illegible once I get an hour into the party! Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed the race.
Saturday, Race Week
It’s another bright and sunny day. Simon assures us that there is no rain forecast but I take my wet weather jacket just in case.
First up is a meeting with Ross and the other engineers to discuss the strategy for the race. It’s crucial that we understand the tyre situation to ensure that we run the right tyres in qualifying. On this occasion, the degradation on the softer option tyre is so big that you just have to start the race on it and get it out of the way early. That will give us some headaches if we turn out to be faster on the harder prime tyre.
The final practice session is out the way and we are calling for the Anadin! Nico much prefers the harder prime tyre and so we need to see what we can do for Q3. But first we have to get into Q3. We have early evening qualifying here so the sun is going down and the track is cooling fast. This means having to make changes to the tyre pressures as the session goes on, much more so than a conventional 1400hrs qualifying.
We have been over the possible scenarios for Q1, Q2 & Q3 again and again and have finalised our plan. Q1 should be a cruise but of course that give us the opportunity to fall flat on our faces if we are trying to be too casual. So all-out attack, two new sets of prime and P2 for Nico ensures we are over the first hurdle. Clearly Nico is again quicker on the prime tyre so we have no choice but to run prime again in Q2 to ensure we make it to Q3. That uses up our last set of new primes but despite the pace advantage we are finding, we are reminded by James, our strategist, that starting the race on the prime is not a consideration. So Nico nails another stormer of a lap on the prime for P3 and comfortably into Q3.
Now we just have to work out how to get the option tyre to work for us in Q3 and we’ve got three minutes to do it. It seems like the general trend is to do three or even four timed laps on the new option so we go for one run of four timed laps with enough time to allow Nico to find space for himself for the fast laps. Unfortunately we have a bit of traffic from both Ferraris and Hamilton which is not an ideal preparation for the final fast lap. As feared, Nico can’t get the option to give him the level of performance he has had on the prime and his best lap puts him P9, just eight-hundredths from Michael but significantly over half a second slower than he was on the prime.
We have our debrief with the drivers straight after qualifying and then chill out a bit before preparing for the race. We can race from P9 so we are confident that we can still get a good result from there. As soon as the drivers are out the door, I get on the internet and see how England are getting on against the Aussies. It’s good news… they are giving them a good shoeing and I fear it’s not going to be a good weekend for Aussie sport! With Mark in P5 on the grid, it’s going to be tough from there but I reckon there’s more chance of him recovering it than of the Wallabies turning around a 35-18 deficit to England with 10 to go! Well done boys.
The cars are in Parc Ferme conditions so we are limited in what we can change for tomorrow but there is plenty of work to do on tyre pressures, engine settings, differential settings and front flap settings. All these parameters make a difference to race pace, fuel consumption, and tyre degradation during the 55-lap race tomorrow.
We get back to the hotel about 2200 and go for dinner with the guys. There is yet more discussion on how we are going to avoid the pit stop chaos of Brazil. We laugh about it now as it didn’t cost us anything on the day but it was comical and fairly embarrassing at the time.
Friday, Race Week
The timetable is quite offset from the normal race weekend schedule so we didn’t leave the hotel until 10:00 today. It makes a nice change and some of the guys took the opportunity to have a swim in the pool or beach at the back of our hotel.
We took a wrong turn on the way to the circuit this morning which is hard given that it is pretty much a straight road! I am always one of the nominated drivers and everyone else followed me so we wove a merry Mercedes convoy around Abu Dhabi trying to find the right road again.
On the way, we were discussing with Simon, our chief engineer and the guy who looks after our weather forecasting, about the chances of rain. He confirmed that there is no chance of rain in the desert. Surprise, surprise, we arrived at the track and had to run for the office as it’s heaving it down with rain. Apparently they only get 10-15 days of rain here a year and we found one of them… typical Formula One!
We carried out our pre-running briefings with the drivers and go over what the plan of the day is. The circuit is usually very dusty but that has now been washed away by the rain. However with no rubber down on the track yet, the lap times will still be far off the times we will be doing by qualifying. For this reason, there is no panic to chase the track conditions early on so we concentrate on the basic homework of brake temperatures and ride heights.
There is nothing of note to report from the Friday sessions. We are about where we should be which is the fourth quickest team and looking around about P7 to P9. The good news is that Hamilton looks very quick which may mean that the Red Bulls don’t get it all their own way this weekend. Michael also seems quick here and so we look to be on for a close intra-team battle between him and Nico.
We had a late night as usual for a Friday with lots of data to sift through and fine-tuning of the set-up. This is effectively our last chance to make significant changes before qualifying. There’s not enough time in the Saturday morning practice to evaluate much so the work is mainly done this evening. We were all done and back to the hotel, via the direct route this time, to be in bed by 3am with a nice lie-in in prospect before we leave at 11am tomorrow.
Thursday, Race Week
Hi everyone, I’m Jock Clear and my role at the team is Senior Race Engineer for Nico.
We came here straight from Brazil which is a pretty tough time change for a double-header race weekend. We went from being two hours behind the UK, through the GMT line, and on another four hours ahead of the UK to arrive in Abu Dhabi after a 14 hour flight. A six hour time difference is not significant enough to cause any real jet lag but the relative change to UK does mean you keep ringing the wife at 4am in the morning for her!
There is a good buzz around the last race of the season as the Drivers’ Championship goes down to the wire here. Unfortunately neither of our guys are still in the hunt so we will be interested spectators in the main battle and of course aiming to finish our own season on a high.
The usual preparation work is being done on the cars today. It’s all relatively straightforward for us as the car has not really changed specification since Singapore so the parts are all tried and tested by this stage. The engineering group did a track walk with Michael this evening at 1700 which is when the race will start on Sunday to see what the light conditions are and how the track looks. Nico decided to run around with his physio instead but there’s no chance that I’ll be joining them in this climate! The circuit hasn’t changed since last year but it’s good to take a look at the kerbs and run-off areas for reference later in the weekend.
We got away from the track quite early today and had dinner in our hotel with all of the engineers and our marketing girls. Ross joined us, having just arrived from the UK, along with Nigel Kerr our Finance Director. Ross said as Nigel is in charge of finance, he can pay the bill… nice one Ross!