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Mission control

Mission control
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First Published: Fri, Oct 14 2011. 08 43 PM IST

Grease lightning: Changing all four tyres of an F1 car during a race sometimes takes just 3 seconds.  Photo by Nitin Akolia/Mint.
Grease lightning: Changing all four tyres of an F1 car during a race sometimes takes just 3 seconds. Photo by Nitin Akolia/Mint.
Updated: Fri, Oct 14 2011. 08 43 PM IST
Milton Keynes, around 80km to the north-west of London, houses a building within which, on certain weekends, 18-odd people can be seen hunched before rows of computer screens engrossed in reading and creating data. “There is a Nasa-like (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) atmosphere in the room, with tiers upon tiers of desks, and all those people,” says Anthony Ward, brand head for Formula One (F1) team Red Bull Racing.
Grease lightning: Changing all four tyres of an F1 car during a race sometimes takes just 3 seconds. Photo by Nitin Akolia/Mint.
This Operations Room—the “mission control”—its eyes and ears seldom wavering from the F1 race in progress, works upon a strategy for the team’s drivers to conquer the racetrack, wherever in the world they might be driving. Streams of data is transferred to the pit perch located on the race track itself, where the head of race strategy (HRS) culls this information to formulate a strategy appropriate to the driving styles and the race situation. He discusses his strategy with the engineers specific to the two drivers on the track and then, along with the HRS, relays the information to the drivers.
As soon as the news of a driver’s entry into the pit lane is announced, it ricochets across the garage, alerting the 20-odd crew. This bunch of people, the veritable lubricant that keeps the racing team’s engine oiled to perfection, practise around 80 pit stops a day to prepare for the races. The car approaches the pit lane, slowing down by the metre, and the crew springs into action.
Mechanics work on the stripped-down chassis. Photo by Ramesh Pathania/Mint
The car is guided into its pit by the “lollipop man”, named so because of the distinctive shape of the long “stop/first gear” sign he holds in front of the car.
Everyone in the crew, from those responsible for the chassis, gear box and hydraulics to sundry mechanics, converge on the car. It is hauled in from the pit lane towards the garage, jacked up and checked for any signs of trouble. Fans are put into the radiator to cool them down, while some crew members change tyres as quickly as possible. Others change the wing settings and check the balance of the car, all to the satisfaction of the driver. Three mechanics work on changing a single wheel—one removing and refitting the nut with a high-speed air gun, another removing the old wheel and the third fitting in the new one.
Time is of the essence, and while the Red Bull crew is known to change tyres within 3 seconds, the entire operation can take well over 10-15 seconds before the driver is flagged off the pit lane out on to the racetrack.
Somewhere in the pit perch, a pair of eyes scans the entire operation, jotting down any lag in the whole procedure or the performance of the car. The head of car engineering thus prepares for the next race inside his head. He, along with the crew of 49 people present at the pits during the venue, is always on tenterhooks, running a race as furious as the one on the tracks.
anupam1.v@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Oct 14 2011. 08 43 PM IST