F1 insight: How to do the perfect Grand Prix start
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 May 2013   |  8:40 pm GMT  |  167 comments

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.

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1

Interesting, thanks!

2

You overlooked the use of KERS at the start, which is vital as well. I think most of the drivers use most of their first lap KERS charge at the start. Knowing the exact moment to enable it without inducing wheelspin can also give you that slight advantage in overtaking a racecar ahead of you as you enter the braking zone of the first corner.

I do it all the time playing F1 2012 on my PC! 🙂

3

On the dual clutch issue, as said in J Allen interview to Christian Horner on September 11, 2011 (it can accessed here in this website):

“Another question many fans want to know is how much of this is dictated by the electronic systems on the car and how much is driver operated.

““Well you have two clutches, so the driver will release one lever and then feed in the other,” explained Horner. “So how they prepare the clutch on the way to the line is important, the engineers give them instructions on the number of burn-outs they need to do. They rehearse religiously to get the clutch clean – the best it can be for the start.

““Then it’s about matching the torque demand from the engine, through the clutch bite point and synchronising that. The drivers have the throttle position which they manage with the foot, then with the clutch he needs to keep his arm light, dumping one lever, feeding in the other one. At the same time he has to use his mirrors to see what’s around him.

““It’s very easy to overslip the tyres, creating wheel spin. It’s easy to underslip, where the engine bogs down and you have a bunny-hop start.

““So it’s a very small window that you are operating in.”

4

Interesting article. And speaking of starts, we all know how good Alonso is. There are many good starters and some that never seem to get better.

One that is normally not spoken about much is Vettel. I don’t like the personality of this guy and I often find myself hoping he screws up, but he is undeniably a very good starter.

In Spain the attention was on Alonso, but his start was also brilliant.

5

Last year, David Coulthard said that weaving before the start puts zero heat in the tyres and does absolutely nothing. He claimed it was more of a psychological crutch for the driver.

6

James you forgot to mention reaction times, the average is around 0.25 secs, and no driver in particular seems to stick out for being too fast or too slow to react.

7

.so it’s the same for everyone, more or less!

8

We are talking purely about the start nothing else and over the last few years both Ferraris have been consistently quick.

James why has someone else’s reply been excluded from this because it highlights a very valid point about launches- it’s not just the great Fernando Alonso . Let me guess our friend Val from Montreal

9

Sorry this was intended to reply to post 16. Above

10

Great article, had no idea it was so technical. Shows F1 is very much a team sport. Difficult for the average punter to understand how much work goes into get a good start.

11

And then they complain that they can’t even get their heads around 4 stop strategy. F1 definitely isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t try so hard to appeal to the people who couldn’t give a damn about getting a bit more informed about it, in order to appreciate it even more.

Articles like these are absolute treat to read as far as I’m concerned!

12

James, why are team members not allowed to sit at the pitwall during race starts? Where do the race engineer and control engineer monitor telemetry during starts? Inside the garage?

13

Yes.

It’s in case of a startline impact, wheel flies over the pitwall etc

14

Very interesting article.

However when you say “you can never have enough wheelspin”, surely as we see in quali where in the past people have opted to not make extra runs in fear of degradation, this states that every bit of rubber on the tyre counts. Is’nt it possible to take too much life out of the tyre and place yourself even closer to that metaphorical cliff before the race has even started?

Even so interesting stuff.

15

You can never have enough burnouts, for temperature

16

So does the driver just simply release the second clutch lever like an on/off switch, or does it have to be released slowly like the clutch on a road car? If it’s the former, then the driver doesn’t really have a lot to do aside from build the revs and react to the lights.

17

With Webber it is the obvious question, how can a fast racer be such a slow starter.

If it really was driver error on Webbers part,you would expect Helmet Marko would be kicking him to death over it, yet all at redbull seem silent on the matter.

18

Your comment about Marko is the most telling: this guy seems to bring up just about any potential folly of Webber to use against him, but strangely this one has been left off the list.

As Mark himself would say: “dig deeper”…

19

Although Alonso’s starts are good, in all the 5 races he only gained a position in Melbourne and in China with the start. So off the line to the first corner. So mostly the starts are equal to the others.

20

the secret to gain off the start line?

no fancy analysis required.

start behind Mark Webber.

21

Just get ready to turn!!

22

The clutch and the grip are pretty much everything in the drag racing. The properly executed burn out is also extremely important. I am not surprised that is largely the case with F1 as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyHxG9vUJIQ

For anyone who hasn’t seen an FC burn out.

Thanks for the great article as always.

23

I have to admit that I have not seen any cars doing burnouts during formation laps. Only a lot of weaving to try to warm up the tires. Is it because the TV cameras did not show cars doing the burnouts which I imagine is not so easy to do without slamming into the car in front. It would not shield Ferrari from suspicion if what is written is not spot on.

24

All drivers always do 3 or 4 burnouts generally at the exit of the last corner, the thing is, you don’t see smoke because they’re very short just to rise the temperature and not to degrade them.

25

I never knew they did burnouts on the at all until I watched a video from Merc’s sight where Nico walks you through the procedures of the warmup/parade lap.

I watched pretty closely and they do spin the tires a few times right before the start of the grid. It’s not a burnout that is easily seen as there seems to be very little smoke.

26

So, a slow parade lap could be a tactical ploy!

27

With Hamilton (or Rosberg) as tour guide pointing out the sights of glamorous Monte Carlo! 🙂

28

It always is. The pole setter dictates the pace of the parade lap. If at the same time that particular pace helps others, good for them. But the pole setter is helping himself.

I´d like to know what happens when the SC is on track leading.

29

Something I’ve always wanted to know – does doing burnouts on the formation lap increase wear on the rear tyres? If so, is there any advantage to be had by not doing burnouts and having longer lasting tyres? Maybe not for the front runners but further back could it help?

30

No because tire degradation is a greater factor than wear

31
Pete_from_Nepal

“last year 13 cars ended the opening lap in a different position from their grid slot.”

Not sure what this means James!

If only the first of the 13 cars overtook, then all 13 changed positions. What I’d like to know is how many actually overtook/crashed out. Thanks!

32

That would possibly be the best opening lap of all time, one guy making 13 overtakes on lap one!!!! at Monaco!!!!! However if the first of the 13 cars had crashed it would change all 13 places rather less spectacularly

33

Very good

34

Grosjean had an “incident” and he qualified 4th. So theoretically, if no passes for position were made into St. Devote, then 20 cars could have finished the first lap in a different position from which they started.

35

‘Not something Mercedes suffers too much from…’

Cheers for the article, and good to see you have a good sense of humour too 🙂

36

One, even two places lost starting on the dirty side.

So you can beat everyone except the pole sitter in quali, then be penalised for your effort. Maybe the even grid numbers could be placed say half a metre forward to compensate.

37

One of the very best articles ever on the JAonF1 site ! Really informative.

38

Thank you guys,

you ‘ve been once more informative and useful.

39

I think there is a bit more to Ferrari’s great starts. I suspect if the FIA started poking around they would find something on the fringes of legality. They start too well and do it too consistently for it to just be chalked up to driver skill and tyre temps.

40
Justin Bieber

ah yes conspiracy theories.. so entertaining..

Here’s a FACT = ECU

41

Invisible rope tied to MWs car under tension to give them a sligshit effect!!!

42

For example…….?

A traction control system would be obvious – you can hear the engine. ngine note is what gave away RB’s part throttle over-run blowing the diffuser. So just wondering what you think is responsible.

43

I remember Brundle driving the Ferrari F1-2000 and noting that the power delivery was linear, and that while it didn’t have traction control, it felt like it did. I suspect that it has more to do with the engine mapping

44

I’ve thought this too. Hard to think of when they last had a bad start. But anyways …

I hope they police that 1st chicane at Monaco better than last year! So many cars just went thru there, making no attempt to make the St Devote chicane. They should erect temp barriers there for the first lap, then take them down once everyone’s thru.

45

Yes see my comment above

46

Can’t agree more. FM & FA are in a slingshot on the grid, while MW is up to the hubs in quicksand.

This is too consistent to be down to chance, Ferrari has something. While Webber has to be his own culprit, finger-boy has no such problem.

Yes, this is worth a look (again). James, you remember me beseeching you for some insight on Mark’s leaded feet on the grid, about a year ago? There is always some lame explanation from MW, tries to act like it’s not an issue.

47

Or, just maybe, they have designed their car to be quick off the grid, knowing that is the best way to recover positions lost due to inherent poor qualifying performances of the car.

49

I remember years ago they had Tad Czapski working on the electronics, and he seemed to be able to program cars to jump pretty quickly. Maybe it has something to do with his legacy?

50

James, thank you for this article. There seem to be no mystery in what Ferrari does. Why other teams cannot do it?

51

Other teams do it, as of this season Alonso has not gone past Vettel after the 1st lap.

52

Another news: Merc has just pouched the entire Ferrari pit crew.

53

Fernando Alonso

54

Not really Felipe has been equally impressive if not more so on some starts from worse grid spots in traffic

55

Indeed Massa regularly passes Alonso on the start. Its hard to recall Alonso ever lepfrogging Massa off the line.

56

It means that Ferrari have a clear edge in launch performance than the rest

57

No where near as consistent as Alonso, or as successful. Some of Alonso’s over-takes in the first 2-3 laps of (a lot of) races are incredible.

59

Can anyone explain why Mark Weber has difficulty making good starts? It can’t always be his fault. The car, the crew, the team must be responsible as well!

PK.

60

I did read in Wheels magazine in a feature on Webber (probably at the end of 2010) where there was reference to the weight difference between Webber and Vettel (around 10-12 kg I believe) and the associated increase in centre of gravity leading to a weight distribution disadvantage. There would be more dynamic weight transfer with Webber to the rear wheels during the launch, so for the same clutch settings a perfect start for Vettel could lead to a slight bogging down for Webber. As they are often on different sides of the grid, they would have different settings anyway. It could be that Red Bull in trying to save weight is making the clutch quite marginal, and the greater weight transfer with Webber is putting more load through it than it wants to cope with. The greater weight transfer would increse the revs that he’d use, and that would generate more heat in the clutch prior to moving and that could reduce the clutch stability further.

61

It’s easy to do some rough calculations in regards to c.g. and Webber’s weight differential to Vettel by looking as some basic information:

1. All the cars are at the same minimum weight.

2. Weight distribution front/rear is set by regulation.

3. Ballast is added at the lowest possible points to keep the c.g. low.

4. The c.g. of Webber and Vettel is probably located at about the same point , so Mark is giving up 15 kg of low mounted ballast and replacing it with 15 kg of weight with a higher c.g.

5. Making some assumptions about actual c.g., if the c.g. of Webber’s car is 30 cm above the ground, the c.g. of Vettel, with 15 kg less body mass and ballast of 15 kg added low as possible, is 29.98 cm above the ground.

We could do a calculation of weight transfer at the start, but it looks like a very small difference, and not enough to explain Mark’s awful starts.

62

Yes, you are correct, I did make a mistake in calculations converting pounds/kg for the cars minimum weight (in a hurry at work). My assumptions were c.g. at 300 mm, 50 mm chassis height above the track. By moving 15 kg to the bottom of the chassis for Vettel I see a change of c.g. to 295 mm vs Webber’s 300 mm, approximately 1% with a 790 kg car/driver. I think this is too small to be critical.

63

I found your maths a bit odd. If we assume Webber’s CoG is the same as the car’s at 300 mm, then we are moving 15 kg from just above ground level to 300 mm up. This is a bit more than 2 per cent of the car weight. So we would expect the CoG to move a similar amount.

Rearward weight transfer, to use a suspension text book that I have is the weight (force) x height / wheelbase. So in this case if we assume 1.5 g for the launch acceleration, you get 2.25 kg rearward weight transfer. The weight transfer from Vettel’s ballast is effectively zero as it is nearly on the ground. In Webber’s case this same 15 kg is being transferred. You can ignore all the other masses in that consideration.

The CoG movement is about 7 mm, again around 2 per cent, not 0.2 mm.

With a starting weight of around 790 kg, the 2.25 kg will be about 2 per cent of the 118 kg weight transfer through the car. Not necessarily a lot on top of the static weight of the car, but if the Red Bull’s clutch stable operating window is small, for example to save weight, this could be a contributing factor.

There may be other factors, such as the length of time Webber has the first clutch paddle engaged, which if that is transmitting some drive with the car being held against the brakes, could generate more heat and reduce stability further. Vettel may be more comfortable bringing everything together later.

64

…that’s my $64,000 question Paul. The next one is why it has been an issue that has gone largely unresolved for the past three years? Usually starts are refined to a fine art and seem to be something largely controlled by the equipment, yet when Mark’s starts are observed there is not often a lot wrong with the driver input. It seems strange that when F1 engineers leave no stone unturned that RBR have yet to get on top of this one.

65

Marks are refined. He looses exactly 3-4 places everytime.

66

Yes, thats Marks greatest skill which no other driver seems to have mastered. He’s been good at it for a decade or more now. 🙂

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