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On the pitwall with the Marussia F1 team
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Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Jun 2013   |  7:45 am GMT  |  21 comments

During Free Practice 3 at the recent Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal I had the chance do something I have never done before in 23 years in F1; to go on a team’s pitwall stand. I’ve listened in on team radio and observed in plenty of garages, but never sat plugged into the famous ‘prat perch’ and got an detailed insight into operations.

It gave me a chance to get closer to the sport and to really understand how a team like Marussia operates. And it was an eye opener.

With Marussia technical director Pat Symonds staying in the UK that weekend, there was a spare seat on the pit wall and Marussia’s Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon offered it to me for the Saturday morning session. I was given Symonds’ radio, plugged into the main desk and could hear all the radio traffic for both Jules Bianchi’s and Max Chilton’s cars as well as any intercom messages on the pit wall.


It provided a unique window in on the operations of the team. It is all about clear communication and fast, clear, decision making.

That Saturday morning FP3 session was wet and the start was delayed by barrier repairs, but when it started it was all about deciding when to go onto slick tyres. This provided a fascinating case study in how a team makes a crucial decision like this.

The level of discussions and real time analysis going on was as impressive as you would expect. They knew exactly what everyone else was doing, how the crossover point from intermediate to slicks had been hit by Gutierrez on a sector by sector basis. At one point the engineer in charge Dave Greenwood observed that, “If we were racing we’d have gone to slicks by now.”

With just two hours to prepare the cars between FP3 and qualifying, the highly experienced team principal John Booth knew that he didn’t want to put excessive pressure on his rookie drivers to try to set times on slicks on a cold, damp track and face possible crash damage. But at the same time, they are here to learn and those last few laps on slicks were an invaluable learning exercise.

Some experienced drivers like Webber and Alonso went out on slicks first, the track was cold and the tyres were taking their time to come up to temperature. The Williams pair went out and suddenly the decision was made to send Marussia’s drivers out. It was well judged; in the end analysis they waited about 90 seconds longer than ideal, but they still got enough timed laps to get a sense of the conditions, in case qualifying should turn out the same way. In the end it was wet and never quite got to slick tyres.

And to help them make the vital decision on timing, the management figures on the pit wall have screens in front of them that are an Aladin’s cave of software and real time analysis tools that any F1 fan would kill for.

At the click of a mouse it was possible to view the runs of each driver in the field shown in blocks to make quick and easy comparisons, there was a Tyre Deg chart, showing the drop off in performance of each car, there were dozens of ways to look at and analyse what was going on, all tools used by the strategy team.

All F1 teams have their own easy to view graphic of a driver tracker which shows where its cars are on the circuit and the cut off point for decision making on a pit stop. Marussia’s is a circle with clear delineation points. It shows the gaps in the traffic and the cut off points for decision making. It also has a countback facility, which recalibrates timings based on the car’s progress around the track.

With seven minutes to go in the session, on a damp but drying track, Greenwood knew at a glance that it was possible to do four and a half timed laps. It meant that Chilton’s engineer was able to inform his driver exactly what time he had left and by pushing a bit harder on the out lap Chilton duly got all his timed laps in.

Interestingly, while Bianchi struggled to get the slicks up to temperature in those conditions, Chilton managed it and set a good time.

Greenwood is an experienced engineer; he worked with Fernando Alonso at Renault in the mid 2000s.

Marussia has a deal with McLaren for this kind of support and they have modified McLaren’s system for their own purposes.

Analysis of fuel corrected lap times of Chilton's Marussia (green) and Vettel's Red Bull (blue). Typical of the sort of graph you see on pit wall


What struck me the most about the experience is what a high level the team operates on. The difference in level between the backmarkers and pace setters in F1 now is the smallest it has ever been.

At the track Marussia operates to a military discipline just like McLaren or Red Bull, but the difference is that they build and run the cars on a quarter of the budget; so less time in the wind tunnel (they use McLaren’s), less CFD and that adds up to many points of downforce and a few seconds on the watch.

* To hear the feature I made with Marussia F1 Team, including team radio inserts, listen out for 5 Live F1 show on Thursday night of the British GP weekend – 27th June. It will also be available on this link BBC F1 Podcasts

* Apologies for the glitch this morning on this post which meant that comments were off.

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21 Comments
  1. KGBVD says:

    I get the feeling that it was the impression of discipline and professionalism that was missing from HRT.

  2. John M says:

    Very cool. That must have been an amazing experience; one very few people (even journalists) will ever get a chance at.

    The driver comparison chart is really interesting. I see a couple things that it highlights. One, a key component of experience (Vettel) is consistency. He does have some deviation, but in general, it does seem Vettel’s times are more consistent over time. Two, with that being said, the biggest difference between drivers appears to be the car they’re driving. I’m not trying to say Chilton is in Vettel’s league, but clearly the car makes a huge difference in what a driver is capable of doing.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing James. Really cool.

    1. Ian says:

      I expect a lot of the deviation on Vettel’s graph could be attributed to passing backmarkers like Chilton!

      1. John M says:

        Or, is Chilton’s deviation due to slowing down to allow faster cars to pass?

        ;-)

      2. Ian says:

        Fair point! I remember reading an article with one of the drivers from the ‘new’ teams which said there was quite a lot of technique involved in getting out of the way at the best point to minimise time loss.

  3. cromodora says:

    Does Ferrari also get to stare at Miss Marple on the pitwall?

  4. Nadeem says:

    James great work and congrats to Marussia to allow it. They I believe give so much more back to fans than the big teams. This is what us fans want. Stop so much secrecy. Other teams are starting to do more but the tools they have you mentioned blows me away.

    This is what F1 needs to cmmunicate to fans and the world.

    1. That has been one of my vocal points about F1, but as soon as it gets even a tiny bit closer to the fans than it is now, it will lose parts of the high status and it won’t be that much attractive anymore. This is what high figures think.

      My view is that as soon as you allow something like that, it will boost your interest even more. Need money? Sure, charge for that service, but make it possible.

  5. Brad says:

    “Beautiful” insight. Thanks very much James!

  6. Iwan says:

    I still say if they can get so close and run it at such a high level on their budget, then everybody should.

    That way they can reduce costs, reduce ticket fees and race in front of packed, sold out stands.

    1. Martin says:

      I’m not sure the revenue model works that way. CVC is out to make as much money as possible. It gets a cut of track licence fees, track side advertising and TV rights. The remainder basically goes to the teams. The circuits only way of making money is through ticket sales. Since ticket pricing is up to the circuits and it is the main revenue source for them, it comes down to cost x demand calculations as to what gets them enough money.

  7. Martin says:

    Hi James,

    It wasn’t clear to me if there was anything on the pit wall that wasn’t available in the garages (besides the offer of a headset to listen in on and a focus on particular data set). In the days of stopwatches there was a point to being there. Now it seems to be way to get key people out of the way of mechanics when cars come in and vice versa so everyone can focus on their duties.

    Are there any operational things, such as FIA being able to contact people that mean they have to be there? I’ve heard email mentioned, but this isn’t always guaranteed immediate delivery.

    Cheers,
    Martin

  8. George says:

    Wow, with that much data available it makes Button missing his quali lap even more of an own goal, wasn’t somone watching it happen and letting him know ?!

  9. Grayzee (Australia) says:

    Great insight, James.
    Oh, to be in your shoes…..fly around the world…get to see EVERY grand prix….from the paddock!….access to all kinds of areas….and people…….and…..you get PAID to do this!!
    If you ever need a personal assistant (to carry your microphone, perhaps…)I am ready and waiting!!
    Cheers

  10. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    Marussia are my favourite underdogs.

    1. Grant H says:

      Underdog more like a blind 3 legged horse

    2. McHarg123 says:

      Agree. A bit of Super Aguri about them!

  11. Steve Fox says:

    Great insight, thanks James

    Did you get a feel for how much decision making comes directly from the pit wall vs. from the team back at the factory?

    1. James Allen says:

      With Marussia it’s on the wall, some teams like the front runners feed more data in from the factory, but the final decision has to come from the person on the wall

      The amazing thing is how much is going on, loads of voices talking and so much data to take in to make decisions on

  12. Elie says:

    Great stuff James and as usual thanks for sharing. Next stop perhaps an “old driver test” for all those who have been close to the sport an loyal for so many years- perhaps you can be out front man for that too !

  13. McHarg123 says:

    I had the chance to go into the Pit lane at this years Australian Gp just before FP3 and Qualifying. It was just amazing to see the sport you love so much right up close. I’ll never forget it!

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