Arron Melvin, Senior Aerodynamicist
Sunday, Race Week
A good result and that was an interesting race! Hopefully the spectators enjoyed it as well as there was certainly some good action at the front. Whilst the atmosphere isn’t ideal in Turkey with so few spectators, the track is more interesting than most, and probably produces better racing than average.
For us, the race was very tight and quite uneventful compared to some teams. The strategy was difficult to judge with the tight pack of cars led by Robert Kubica right behind us and pitting both Michael and Nico at the appropriate time was essential to maintain our positions. This was only made possible by excellent driving and pit work... Nico’s in-lap and stop were very high quality and the fastest of the race.
Now that we have a complete race weekend of experience with the latest step in our performance upgrades, which performed predictably and reliably, we must move quickly to introduce the next steps. As I mentioned earlier in the weekend, this will be done incrementally so that we understand and have confidence in the effectiveness of each step. But no team can afford to be too careful otherwise they will be stand still or starting moving backwards.
I hope you have enjoyed the insights into our weekend in Turkey and now it is time to pack up and head back to work tomorrow.
Saturday, Race Week
Competition. Finally we have a clear-cut, observable-to-all, measure of performance relative to the other teams. Whilst in terms of competition, we are just getting started and of course Qualifying doesn’t count for points, it feels like a long way into the weekend. Mostly that is because from my point of view, my primary tasks have been completed and there is little else I can assist with for the remainder of the weekend. The aerodynamic specification was determined on Friday evening and so my role today was to check the car physically before each run and examine the measurements we take during running to confirm everything was working.
Fortunately today went well for the team. Fifth and sixth are reasonable starting positions although they still feel like fourth and fifth loser to me. The grid was tight, as usual, and a small improvement in our final run could have improved a couple of grid positions… which is exactly why Michael really went for it on his final run. Just slightly over the limit saw him spin off at turn eight. Fortunately the car is okay and we’ll be ready to race hard tomorrow.
There is a lot to look forward to in the race. From our perspective in terms of scoring a good result and from the fans perspective in terms of good quality sporting entertainment. I will try to enjoy it but am mostly eager to get back to the factory to continue work on the next round of improvements.
Friday, Race Week
Balance. Much of Friday is about balance… in the distribution of time devoted to individual aspects of car performance and in the balance of grip the driver feels as he navigates the circuit.
While an hour and a half for each of the two practice sessions may sound generous, especially when so often the teams sit waiting in the initial minutes of the session, in fact there is precious little time and tyres to spare on a day like today. From an aerodynamicist’s perspective, track testing is a very crude and frustrating undertaking. The wind tunnels we use are very finely tuned and controlled scientific tools which allow small performance gains to be clearly defined. At the track, the ability to clearly isolate and understand a change is far more challenging.
For this reason, the goal is to completely define a specification back at the factory and then confirm its effectiveness at the track. As discussed yesterday, this is not always possible. Therefore we had to determine how much time to spend in the first practice session on aerodynamic configuration tests versus our general set-up tests. The keen viewers will have recognised that in the early minutes of P1, we did a number of ‘cruise’ laps specifically designed to allow us to measure the aerodynamic effect of various combinations of parts. This meant an extremely busy session where we had to analyse the data as fast as possible so that we could react and shape the programme accordingly… another balancing act. Then the ‘normal’ set-up work began in earnest. In this phase of practice, the race engineers worked with the drivers to understand the car balance through the lap.
During the short break between P1 and P2, we had a debrief with Michael and Nico which included a discussion on how to proceed with the wing programme. Due to the involved analysis and trade-offs to be considered, we once again had to balance the time taken to make the correct decision with the time we then left for the mechanics to prepare the components. This is a non-trivial task to say the least! Fortunately our team is comprised of very skilled individuals who are able to work quickly to achieve what we need.
After the end of P2, we had a further review of the data, which included feedback from the factory. In the end, we are pleased to have the new parts operational but we are eager to bring the next step, which we have been developing and designing already. And so another balancing act… how much time do we spend improving the next step, to make it as large of an improvement over our existing design as possible, versus how quickly can we get it to the track.
Thursday, Race Week
A swarm of activity in the garage. To an outsider, it might have appeared as disordered as a bee colony's activities, but it was similarly planned and synchronised upon close inspection. That is my best concept to describe the scene in our garage at Istanbul Park today after 14 hours and counting of hard work.
This is my second race of the year and my role here is our aero representative for the weekend. I also attended the Chinese Grand Prix last month and had the pleasure of being stranded in Shanghai with the rest of the team for an additional five days due to the ash cloud. Hopefully no such dramas this weekend!
All of the normal pre-race preparations that regular readers of our race weekend blog have heard about are going on as usual here in the scorching sun of Turkey. In addition, it is becoming more and more the norm that we have a significant number of aerodynamic upgrades at every race. Unfortunately we are not alone as every team is working flat out to improve their car and similar activites are going on up and down the pit lane. The race to beat the others is intense.
I am here at the track to help with the implementation of our next step in 'drag reduction rear wing technology' or as it is popularly known these days - the F-Duct! We have successfully designed and raced early stages of the design but here we are moving up a level which should mean enhanced top speeds compared to previous wings. Yes there is that magic word 'should'. Whilst we do have fantastic analysis techniques and tools, due to restrictions in the track testing egulations, we cannot fully test these types of components before bringing them to an event. In part for that reason, and also to extract every bit of possible performance, we are working right up until the last moment to enhance the details of our design. A tremendous amount of work, but absolutely important. My role this weekend is to oversee the implementation and assess its performance.
That's it for today as we still have a lot of work to do but look forward to speaking to you again over the weekend.