Rob Chant, Track Support Engineer on Nico’s car
My role is so varied that it’s hard to put everything into one concise description. Essentially it involves the accurate acquisition of data and monitoring car health whilst the car is running. But that still misses out many other things I do!
Sunday, Race Week
On our way into the circuit this morning, we found ourselves following many of the fans that are here to watch the race. It’s very busy even at 8am and our normal route is closed so we find a different way which somehow brings us straight to our garage! The cars are still in Parc Ferme so we head over to the motorhome for breakfast.
When the cars are released at 9am, we have a look at a small issue that we picked up in qualifying. This is easily solved but still requires permission to fix from the FIA. We then fire up the car and check the gearbox to make sure that everything is working ok and we then check the grid equipment we will use before the race start. We use a grid trolley that allows both engine and chassis laptops to communicate with the car on the grid so it’s important that this is in good working order as the final checks and changes on the grid can be critical.
Both Dave and I check our own laptops and once again the equipment is fine. There’s a bit of a lull after this while we wait for 1pm to arrive so I take the time to check the spare steering wheel to make sure the button guards are fitted in the same way as the race wheel.
From 1pm it gets busy with an engine fire-up and various other bits of preparation. At 1.30pm, we send the car out to the grid and then everyone runs to the grid to meet it there. The route to the grid is different at every circuit and we find a shortcut with a jump over the wall halfway down the pitlane here. It’s very busy on the grid as we check the data from the lap to the grid followed by several small fire-ups to circulate the cold water from the radiators. Nico gets back in the car around 1.55pm and at 1.59pm we fire the car up for the race and disconnect the grid trolley. Normally we move to the edge of the track while the cars pull away for the formation lap. But in Monaco, the track is so narrow that there is no room to move at all so you just keep as far back against the walls as possible. Whilst the other cars pull away, you always look at the cars heading towards you just in case one is heading right at you! Once the last car has cleared the grid, it’s a mad dash to the end of the pit lane where we wait for the start. You’ll have read all about the race on the website already so I won’t say too much but the result wasn’t as good as we might have hoped but it is encouraging to see how quick was when he had clean air and a clear track.
Immediately after the race, I check the data for any issues and nothing shows up which is always a good thing. Next is pack up. Everything has to be packed down and then into the trucks ready to go straight to Turkey for the next race. In Monaco, this is really challenging as there is only room for one truck at a time. It takes us some time to finish as you might imagine.
Unbelievably the ash cloud is causing some concern for our journey home for the third race in a row but hopefully we can fly home tomorrow as planned. So that was my Monaco weekend. It was hard work, logistically difficult and tiring but the setting more than makes up for it in charisma and atmosphere. It is a very special race and I look forward to coming back next year.
Saturday, Race Week
It’s Saturday in Monaco and we get to the garage early again. First up is pit stop practice which takes about 20 minutes as we go through our final rehearsal for the weekend. Once that’s done, we fire-up the car and check for any issues. This morning there was a problem with a unit on the car which requires a bit of investigation and after that, we head over to the motorhome for some breakfast. Usually that is a ten second stroll from the trucks but in Monaco, we walk down the pitlane, over a bridge, down the side of the marina, back in the paddock and finally find the motorhome. All whilst negotiating the crowds!
The final practice sessions runs fairly smoothly with just one minor issue which needed to be solved before qualifying. The two hours between practice and qualifying is usually busy as we run through all the final checks as it’s the last chance we have to change anything before the cars go into Parc Ferme. The two issues we had are sorted in time so we are all set for qualifying now.
Qualifying is always busy but in Monaco finding a gap on track is the most important thing. That means we have to be ready for anything and at any point. Q1 and Q2 were fairly straightforward as Nico only did one run in each session. A very short delay in getting Nico out of the garage for his run in Q3 meant that our two cars were too close together on track and we had trouble getting a clear lap for either of them. So Nico ended up in sixth position when he had the potential to be on the front row and Michael was in seventh place. Everyone was disappointed not to have achieved what we could have done but that is sometimes how Monaco is. But anything can happen in the race here which is why it’s so exciting here.
Once qualifying is over, we can relax a little before the cars return to garage. It’s a chance to check the data carefully in case we missed something during running. Once the cars are released from Parc Ferme, we have a bit of work to do as the cars have to have the FIA cover on and sealed by 6.30pm. Once this is done, we can no longer touch them again until 9am on Sunday. We have our cover on by 6.15pm and so after that we can leave the garage and venture back to the hotel.
This evening, I arranged to have dinner with some friends from other teams. We head up to the old town near the palace where we find a nice little pizzeria and I manage to order everything in French. My mum will be proud of me! After that, we head back down to the area around La Rasscasse which is the last corner of the track. It’s always busy all week but Saturday night is especially popular. It’s nice to soak up some of the atmosphere here as it’s unlike any other circuit we go to. Bars and restaurants line the circuit with seating on the circuit itself and there’s a great atmosphere. It’s quite a sight at night with hundreds of people eating and drinking exactly where cars were racing only hours before.
We head back to the hotel after a brief stop on one of the boats in the harbour to say hello to some old friends and have a reasonably early night ready for race day. Anything can happen on race day in Monaco…
Friday, Race Week
It’s Friday in Monaco and as you may already know, it’s a non running day. So we have a little lie-in and arrive at the circuit for 9am to pick up where we left off last night. This involves checking over the race gearbox and engine. These can both be changed very quickly if needed, however at this stage we take more time and ensure everything is checked and checked again. My colleague Cristian (he’s Spanish but has a random nickname of Dave as we already have a Chris on the team) checks the engine data and once both of us are happy, then the mechanics can carry on preparing the car.
The bodywork is fitted and the car is then taken to the FIA patch to check that everything is legal. Everything in Formula One is so close to edge that 0.5mm on a bit of bodywork is enough to fail scrutineering. Once this is done and we have safely passed, then it’s back to the garage. There’s some parts arriving before the car can be finished so we have to wait for a while. I take some time to call my wife Vicki as she’s gone to Norway for a few days. She’s half Norwegian and on Monday, it’s their National Day. She’ll be there for that while I’m travelling home from here.
The parts arrive and the car is finally put together. We have pit stop practice at 5pm which takes 30 minutes to ensure we are all on form and ready for the weekend. After that the car goes through the final set-up preparation which is the last job of the day. We finish at 8pm which is just enough time for us to find somewhere showing the League One play-off first leg between Swindon Town and Charlton! I’m not a fan of either team but Bernard (real name Lewis Jones) who is the ‘sparky’ (or electrician!) on Nico’s car is a huge Swindon fan. Luckily they win 2-1 otherwise he wouldn’t have been happy. After that it is bed time as tomorrow is a running day. And qualifying in Monaco is always exciting…
Thursday, Race Week
Thursday is the first running day which is a tradition that is unique to Monaco. Everything follows the pattern of a normal Friday but it just takes place a day earlier instead. We arrived at the circuit for 7am for the morning checks on the car to make sure everything is good to go before the car is fired up and shift checked. Once that was done, I checked the data for any issues and thankfully there were none. There can issues arising unexpectedly which is part of the reason for the early starts every day as it allows plenty of time to change anything that has a problem.
Once I am happy the car is ok, it’s time to head over to our new motorhome and grab a bowl of cereal. I’m not one for a huge breakfast so some cereal and a cup of tea are just fine. The first practice session starts at 10am and we fire the engine up 30 minutes before to keep some heat in it. There’s one final fire up at 9.55 before Nico gets in the car. Once the session is underway, I check the car’s systems on track. It’s a lot of numbers and wiggly lines to most people but to me it tells me that the car is running fine. I give important information to Jock (Nico’s race engineer) during running so he can advise Nico of any setting changes that may be needed. Once the session is over, I make a list of issues that need to be worked through before the second session.