This season we have seen how starts are almost as important as qualifying in setting up a driver for a good result. Crucial places gained off the line by Alonso in the Spanish Grand Prix or Raikkonen in the Australian Grand Prix, for example, set them up for their wins in those respective races.
Starts at Monaco make a huge difference; last year 13 cars ended the opening lap in a different position from their grid slot.
So how is it done? What is the secret of a good start?
JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan provides the answer.
The two crucial technical elements in a start are tyre temperature and clutch preparation. The grippiness of the tyres on the track surface and the stability of the clutch are first order priorities in getting the perfect start.
Each driver has a control engineer alongside his race engineer and they are responsible for making sure all the preparations are correct for the race start. This work begins early in the weekend with practice starts; at Monaco for example the drivers are allowed to do practice starts at the end of Free Practice.
Ideally you want your driver to practice his start from the grid slot he expects to occupy on Sunday. The control engineer can then analyse the tyre grip, the level of grip from the track surface and the tyre temperatures, as well as the clutch settings based on the wheelspin experienced. All of this is analysed ready for Sunday.
With the preparation of the race clutch, what you are looking for is something which is consistent. It’s about finding a particular bite point where the clutch is stable.
On the parade lap to the grid, you see the drivers doing burn-outs, lighting up the rear tyres. This gets temperature into the rear tyres and gets them into their working range. You can’t really have enough burn-outs.
The performance engineer and control engineer monitor the temperatures on that lap via telemetry and advise the driver how many more to do.
The tyres will have been in warmers and the wheel rims will have been heated up while the car is on the grid. The mechanics will leave it until the last possible moment before leaving the grid to remove the blankets, in order to retain the heat.
Also the brakes put heat into the rims on the lap to the grid and this maintains the temperature. The preparation of the tyres by the team and driver on his way to the start grid is critical to the start.
Some drivers complained, for example, that pole sitter Nico Rosberg had led the field around too slowly in Barcelona, which meant that they lost tyre temperature on that slow lap. Not something Mercedes suffers too much from…
The grip level of the track surface can make a difference to a start. The most extreme example of that was the new surface in Austin last year where the dirty side of the grid was at a massive disadvantage to the clean side. So much so that Ferrari penalised Massa with a gearbox penalty so Alonso could start on the clean side.
Normally the difference between the clean and dirty side is between one and two places gained on the run to the first corner.
Ferrari has had consistently strong starts for the last few years, which has made up for their deficiencies in qualifying.
What is their secret? It’s about procedure and about getting the above right and also giving the driver the best possible chance of doing it consistently.
When the driver is ready to make the start, he releases one of his two clutch paddles on the steering wheel, holds the engine at 13,000rpm or the exact level he is instructed by the control engineer and then when the lights go out he releases the second paddle. The aim is to match the torque demands and not have too much wheelspin, and conversely not bog the engine down either, to have the perfect getaway.
Getting the driver used to doing that under pressure in a repeatable way is very difficult, as we see from the inconsistency of starts of many F1 drivers. Ferrari has the control systems optimised and the drivers are able to perform consistently.
All of the above plus a consistently accurate picture of tyre temperatures, grip levels, tyre compound information as well as engine mapping and driver discipline makes for a perfect start.