As we approach the pit box in front of our garage, Ian Clatworthy is standing outside. He is focusing intently on his computer as usual. Actually no-one really calls him Ian around here. Like a lot of people in the Formula One paddock, Ian has a nickname: Bear. And if you saw him, you’d know why. Perhaps it’s evident from the photo!
However Ian is not just standing there and checking his emails or surfing the net… he’s about to operate the pit stop light system from his computer. Ian is our IT trackside engineer, and we talked to him to understand just how important IT is at the track for the teams.
The days when Formula One racing was just about a man, four wheels and a basic steering wheel are long gone. Now the sport relies on electronics, computers and software to such an extent that you wouldn’t be able to start the car without a computer. Ian operates all of our IT systems at the track – and it’s a big job for the big man: “My responsibilities include construction and building the IT infrastructure, running the IT service over the weekend, and developing the kit at the track.”
The team’s IT requirements run to far more than just the two cars and Ian covers many areas: “There’s the garage of course, but also the motorhome, the engineering office, the trucks and the pit wall. It takes around two days to get everything in place at the track, which is actually quite quick when you realise the amount of tools and systems that we require.”
Ian doesn’t physically operate on the car these days but his work at the track allows everyone else to do their work efficiently: “I used to be a part of the refuelling team during 2009, but obviously with refuelling being now banned, I don’t any more! I now help with the pit light system during the stops. The system, which replaced the traditional lollipop, is another great example of how IT has helped the sport progress.”
“The engineers rely on me for their IT requirements, and they need all of the systems to be operating well to make their decisions. All the tools and systems on which they base their decisions are provided by the trackside IT system.” Obviously, getting everything right is crucial for Ian and the team: “It can be quite stressful! When everyone relies on the system, you have to get it right.”
“During the ash cloud situation last year, one of our engineers worked on the car from Brackley during a race weekend”
If things don’t go according to plan, the team will know exactly how to react: “If a system fails, we have a detailed plan of what to do. This plan covers all ‘disaster scenarios’ and gives everyone a solution to a given problem. It’s all written down and we just need to follow it.”
Technology can also come in quite handy, as Ian explains: “Last year, one of our engineers was supposed to fly late to the race in China because he was about to become a father. Then the ash cloud arrived and it quickly became quite clear that he wouldn’t be able to fly. His role was absolutely crucial to the running of the car so we used our ‘race control room’ back in Brackley, with cameras pointing to the car and all the tools he needed… and he managed to operate from the factory!” The team also have live radio, camera and data back at base and at the Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines factory in Brixworth
Technology has even made Parc Ferme obsolete. Ian explains: “Parc Ferme as we used to know it, where the cars were all parked in the FIA garage, doesn’t exist anymore. The FIA now used live fisheye cameras in the team garages and know in real time if someone is working on the cars when they’re not supposed to…”
While we finish talking, pit stop practice is about to start in the Monaco pit lane. ‘Bear’ puts his headset back on and focuses… “One-two, check systems.”