Sunday, Race Week
In the words of a song: ‘and now the end is near’. For this race at least and it’s hotting up in more ways than one. We have a glorious sunny day to greet us, a first timer on pole, followed by none other than four contenders for the Drivers’ Championship. Add to that our drivers Michael and Nico poised to snatch any opportunity to push for the win should an error in judgement or poor strategy come into play!
It has often been said this season is seeing one of the best championship battles for some time and so it has proved to be. All the possible winning permutations now possible are incredible.
Away from Brazil for a moment, I have a confession to make. For all those unsure, yes it is me in the Channel Five documentary on Stobarts ‘Trucks and Trailers’ and yes it is also me who, for my efforts on the documentary, recently made an appearance on Harry Hills TV Burp. There… it’s out in the open!
I can honestly say that Formula One has been an eye opener and life changer. Celebrity, world travel, great food, even better people though it has to be said one or two are well, perhaps shall we say, strange! As mentioned previously, this is my first season in any form of motorsport so to start in what is considered to be the pinnacle of the sport, with the current World Champions, alongside a seven-time World Champion, and a World Champion in waiting… this for me is Living the Dream.
Back to today. Race time is drawing closer with the guys all kitted out with their race suits on, radio checks and all the other car checks I have mentioned previously. In the paddock, there is a sense of anticipation that you don’t experience anywhere else. Every now and again you’ll hear a shout or a cheer as a driver steps out briefly into the public view and the Brazilian fans are not backward in coming forward. Obviously with the sunshine comes the glamour, women showing off as much as is considered decent in a genteel way, while the guys puff out their chests as if peacocks performing the ritual mating display. You have groups of people being ushered in and out of team garages all wanting that up close and personal feel to Formula One, to be part of the whole affair, and maybe get that all important autograph.
Seven days of hard work, tantrums, cuts and bruises, success and failure, all come down to this… 71 laps of adrenalin-induced, high-octane (though I understand 5% is now bio fuel) all-out racing! By the time you read this, you would have already have heard the result, read about the drama and excitement so I’m not going to bore you with the same old detail. What I will say though is two great drives by Michael and Nico, good strategy calls from our team and a round of applause to Red Bull for winning the Constructors’ Championship and ending our reign.
All that is left for me to say is thank you for indulging me this week. It’s been a pleasure for me to write this blog and I hope a pleasure for you to read. It’s back to work for me now though as this whole circus has to be packed up, wrapped up, locked up and sent onto its 14 hour flight to the Middle East and straight to our next destination Abu Dhabi…
Saturday, Race Week
Here we are… Saturday already. Where has the time gone? I’ll tell you one thing though, true to form, we have rain. Every race this season has seen a shower or downpour and nearly always on Saturday.
Today’s blog is slightly shorter than previous days quite simply because it’s a shorter day of action. It’s not a quiet morning at the circuit though with preparations being made to the track and hospitality areas. The paddock and pit lane are swept, or in today’s case squeegeed, in readiness for the teams, media, guests and fans to arrive. If you’re brave enough, you can approach almost anybody in the paddock and find out a wealth of information about drivers young and old, teams past and present.
The main reason why we have such an influx of people today is it’s time for qualifying. That all important moment when all teams and drivers think they might have done enough this time to get pole position. Rubens was on pole here last year and the fight for Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships is of course a not too distant memory for those around me today.
But before any of that happens, other races take place too. Here in Brazil we have the Formula 3 class and Porsches. As you can imagine, there is very little silence at the circuit… just varying degrees of noise from the sound of a beehive and then building up to a crescendo of ear-splitting F1 engines revved to within a millimetre of its very being! There really is no sound quite like it. Experience it just once in your life… it will change you or deafen you!
Qualifying happens at 2pm here in Brazil so there is a lot of tweaking and fine tuning, data checking, weather checking, strategy planning and occasionally head scratching going on this morning. Meanwhile, pit lane walk is taking place for those fortunate to enough to gain access. Eyes peering into the garages and straining to see what actually goes on. You always hear whispers and murmurings as to ‘how clean everything is’ or ‘I wonder if that’s the F duct’ as they look at a disassembled wing on the floor.
Now the paddock is a whole different ball game. I spend most of my time there and it’s where you see and hear everything that goes on. In the rain particularly, you do catch what can only be described as comedic moments. Now call me old fashioned but why would you wear clothing more suited to the beach than a rain forest, I think you know what I’m alluding to so I won’t dwell!
Before I forget, a numbers fact. I mentioned the tyre men yesterday and did you know that they will probably go back and forth to the fitting bay some 600 times or more during the season. At 32 sets of tyres a hit, that is some going. Every time a tyre is used, the valves are replaced. I’ll let you do the maths on that as well as having to wash them between sessions. Fair play lads.
If you thought that the only smells at a circuit were burning rubber and high octane fuel, think again. The smell of food is everywhere. It’s purgatory sometimes, smelling bacon at breakfast, steak at lunch and curry at dinner time and people unsurprisingly find that they put on weight over the season!
As 2pm draws nearer, I don a fourth cap as pit board man for Nico. So I get my boar ready, put on my headset and wait for my instructions from Jock. Just to enlighten you on what that involves, I suppose it can be best described as a manual information service for the driver, informing him of laps completed, lap times, how far in front of the car behind he is and how far behind the car in front he is, when to ‘box’ or head to the pits, and any other information I might be required to give. By reading the information on the monitor in front of me, I can pass this on every lap. It becomes a little tricky on pit stops especially when a lot of drivers pit at the same time and positions change in an instant.
I don’t need to go into detail as to how things panned out in qualifying today but needless to say we have a bit of work to do in the race tomorrow to get a couple of good results. But as always we have faith in the team and the drivers to what is necessary.
With the excitement of qualifying over, the cars are taken to scrutineering, checked and returned to the garage. A cover is placed over the car and sealed. At this point the car cannot be touched until 9am tomorrow morning, known as ‘Parc Ferme’. It just leaves me to hand over to Sandy who has arrived for the night shift and I’ll summarise my week with the grand finale tomorrow.
Friday, Race Week
Fridays in Formula One are usually hectic at best and can be a downright disaster if the proverbial hits the fan. But all is well thus far. Actually the fact that I’m writing this, and of course you are reading it, means I’m on the right track because a) I didn’t get lost and b) I wasn’t hijacked on the way home last night! So it is 06.20 and I make my merry way to the circuit to the sounds of none other than Amy Winehouse and the sun is shining again… bliss.
Today is the busiest day by far for the garage boys and it’s an early start too. 07.30 for the truckies and mechanics so that preparations can be made for pit stop practice. Imagine every scenario which may occur in a race from a simple tyre change to bodywork replacement… and that’s what they practice. It’s not so much every second that counts but every hundredth or even thousandth of a second. I have to say it looks very impressive up close and they make it look so easy.
Whilst this is going on, the engineers will be deciphering the previous day’s data, looking at ways of implementing any strategic findings and generally getting their plans ready for P1 and all of this takes place before breakfast!
I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that this will be a virtual tour of a non-technical nature. What I will do is give you any tit-bits that I glean from the guys here. Having never been involved in motorsport prior to this job, any information is fascinating to me, no matter how simplistic it may appear to those who think it’s the norm to start a car for a few seconds, then stop or turn the engine over without actually starting it. So you won’t get stats, figures, finishing positions or fastest lap times because with tweets, blogs, Facebook and Google, you don’t need me as well! Instead I will give you snapshots of the people I work with. Not all of them of course as I would be blogging all year!
Back to the fire-ups. I know this is a generalisation but there is a minimum temperature that the engine needs to be maintained at and when that temperature level falls below a set point, the engine is started. When the correct temperature is reached, they switch it off again. The number of times this is done is governed by the outside air temperature hence in cooler climates, the fire-ups occur more frequently. Whilst running they check other diagnostics such as gear selection, bite point and rev limiter. Best of all though, they do all of this through a laptop!! No driver, just key strokes. At this point I would like to thank ‘Chanto’ for his valuable insight and contribution… (mine’s a Bohemia beer please Rob!)
With breakfast over, final preparations are being made for P1. More fire ups, tyre pressure checks, tyre temperature checks, drivers… are they here?! Radio checks, shouts for Stefan if there is a radio problem. With that done, the race weekend starts in earnest and the battle commences.
At this point, I am aware of activity at the front of the garage, the pit lane side, and the rear of the garage, the paddock side, and that’s where the people action happens. National and International media congregate in the paddock at different vantage points, perhaps raking through the remaining breakfast morsels left in the hospitality units, drinking copious amounts of coffee, waiting for the merest hint of catastrophe or triumph on the circuit. You can always tell when something happens and who it has happened to just by watching which garage they all throng to.
Today there is only a minor fender bender at Renault but the usual suspects, our next door neighbours, attract a good helping of media. I’m constantly reminded of the fact that P1 is no real bench mark, different fuel loads and, set-ups all affect the initial rankings. I feel another simple fact coming on… did you know that the fuel is weighed? Not your usual 25 litres of 4 Star either! After ninety minutes, P1 is over. Interspersed amongst the clatter of wheel guns, engine fire-ups and one or two unsavoury words being uttered, it is time for lunch.
Whilst eating, it had occurred to me that I didn’t tell you where the logistics side of my role came in… so here goes. On the European races, myself and fellow driver ‘Stuey’ (he is an F1 bobble hat which is a whole story in itself) are responsible for the transportation of the race cars, garage equipment and spare parts to and from the circuits across Europe as part of the team’s contract with Stobarts.
Lunch over for me but I think a mention to the tyre men ‘One Sugar Del’ and ‘Harpo Harris’ at this juncture is fair. They have to wash, deflate and deweight the tyres from P1 and prepare the next sets for P2. As part of my fact-finding mission, I will let you know how many times in a season they have to go through this process… you’ll be staggered by the numbers.
With P2 out of the way, finishing at 15.30, then the job of getting the car ready for the race begins. Let me try to explain… most parts on the car have a life span and are not used in the same way as a domestic car uses mileage as a gauge for wear and tear. With a Formula One car, most of the parts are used in accordance to wear in kilometres or a set time limit. In so doing, when the race weekend, the best available parts will be fitted to the car. Therefore on a Friday evening and sometimes well into the night, the car is literally stripped down and rebuilt to race specification. Factor in the amount of time already worked during the day and you can begin to see where the race is more than just laps around the circuit but a continuous treadmill of input and throughput, turning it into a marathon with a sprint finish.
Let’s see where this all leads us in tomorrow’s blog…
Thursday, Race Week
My name is Ivor Bourne and my role at the team covers logistics, hospitality support and security. As that suggests, my job is pretty varied, all of which will become clear through my blog journey.
Ok so it is Thursday morning and 07.00 to be exact. This is the usual start time on my security shift of 12 hours. Here we are in Brazil, the penultimate race of the season, and it goes without saying, the title battle is really getting the attention of even the most non-petrol headed individual. The weather is fresh but sunny with the possibility of some light drizzle later but temperatures remain warm...nice! At this time of day, things are quite quiet in the paddock with the usual pleasantries exchanged between other security personnel and the local staff as well as the eager 'early bird’ photographers.
Having a non-technical role within the team, I hope to give you an overview of what goes on around Formula One in layman's terms and give you a virtual tour behind the scenes.
My race weekend actually begins eight days before the lights go out on the grid. From leaving the UK on Saturday to arriving in Brazil in the early hours of Sunday morning, the countdown begins. Fortunately we have a little respite here so our first full day of work was on Monday. Then it is the role of the garage technicians, affectionately known as the 'Truckies', who will set about turning a space of around 400 square metres into a fully operational Formula One garage, subdivided into two car bays, areas for the engines, gearboxes, composites, fuel, compressed air systems, hydraulics and tyres.
Then space still needs to found for the electronics and spares self-contained units known as 'track shacks'. At the end, you’re not left with a great deal of space, particularly in the smaller garages! During set-up, I work predominantly with our hospitality team from Rocket Foods. Ben and Martin, our charismatic chefs, Tim and Pete offering the finest cappuccinos and the smoothest of smoothies (the lime and mango today was simply awesome) and not forgetting our girls Bryony and Anika, without doubt the most charming and selfless individuals, who work tirelessly to ensure our food and beverage service is second to none. Also working as part of our team and night security for this race is the inimitable Sandy. We endeavour to create an area of tranquillity and gourmet cuisine... well at least we try! Facilities in the Interlagos paddock are notoriously tight and that proves to be so true. Try fitting 70 team members onto six tables but somehow we do! A lot of how it goes together will have been covered in other blogs but as you can imagine, it doesn't always go to plan but it always does come together in the end.
I digress… back to today. The paddock starts to fill around 08.30 mainly with team members who will be putting the finishing touches to any components relative to the car. Our guys will, almost robotically, get into stride, not in any way down playing what they do, more emphasising the fact that they are so tuned into what they need to do at any given moment. Today there is a more sedentary pace to activities as yesterday was an extremely productive day... and it then it was the ‘Team Dinner’ last night! I think the expression ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ says it all and not many oil paintings were on display today! Still things are taking shape nicely, looks like the pit wall is as good as complete. By that I mean the computing and telemetry equipment are in place and ready for the race engineers. Tyres are well on their way too, something like 32 sets which have to be identified, pressured and wrapped in blankets. Not the domestic kind, but specialised tyre blankets with heater elements that allow for heating of specific areas on the tyre.
The paddock is like a ‘who's who’ of the racing world. Past and present drivers converging, passing and occasionally bumping into each other. In all seriousness, it's great to see heroes past and present in one tiny arena, from Fittipaldi to Jackie Stewart, Vettel to Rosberg, Schumacher to Barrichello. I think you get the picture. As the morning has gone on, the cars are starting to come to life as the various teams do their engine fire-ups and systems checks, and believe me, it can get quite noisy with the sound magnified by the old buildings and prefabs which make up the paddock and garage area here in Brazil.
With lunch looming, there is a lull in activity and all is well with the team.
Sustained, it's back to the grindstone and for me back to security. Under normal circumstances, this would be considered in some circles to be rather mundane, but this is Formula One so there is never a dull moment. While I remain focused and vigilant of course, it is often a very good opportunity to get to know the people you work with and around, and in the early days of doing this job, was quite an eye-opener. I have met some fantastic people, and no, I won't bore you with name drops, but you see a whole different perspective to the sport. Let’s face it, what is taken as read, is quite often not the case.
Back to today's happenings. Thursdays are usually media days for the drivers and today is no exception. Being next to a team named after a well-known brand of soft drink and the current situation in the Championship, there is a lot of activity with photographers, cameramen and autograph hunters swarming around ready to pounce. We have our fair share of attention with Michael and Nico both under the spotlight for all things Formula One. This is probably the most relaxed you are likely to see the drivers, outwardly at least, as tomorrow is when the intensity starts to build. With the media activity over, the crowds diminish slowly, a dull murmur of jumbled voices echo down the paddock as guests and media alike partake of the remaining hospitality food and drinks service offered by the teams. Teams have their evening meal at the circuit as no definitive finish time is set for Thursday, just a target time.
As for me, my day and work here is done. I now have a 40 minute drive back to our hotel thinking about what to write tomorrow! Mind you, if I miss the turn for the hotel again, then that's a whole tale in itself...