The driver is but the face of an F1 team

It may seem that the Driver is almost entirely responsible for his own success or failure in a Formula 1 race. But the drivers, be it the legendary Michael Schumacher or the young champion Sebastian Vettel, be it Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton, will be the first to concede that there is more to a Formula 1 team than just the driver.

“We had a very good car but more so we had a very good package, a very good team, a lot of good people around and all of those people were happy to work hand in hand, work together, 100 per cent committed. I think that’s the only way you can be ready to have such a year with all of those results that we’ve had so far,” Vettel said after sealing his second World championship title earlier this year.

While the Driver is the face of any F1 team, there are numerous others who form the team – from pit crew who change wheels in a jiffy during pit stops to engineers who do not get to see on our TV screens during a race. Of course, there are hundreds of employees in the factories where the cars are developed and refined. Here is a brief guide to some of those who play important roles in an F1 team.

Let us first look at the members of the Pit Crew.

There are 12 Tyre Changers – three at each wheel – who do the most visible work during a pit stop. One is charged with the responsibility of using the pneumatic spanner to remove and reinstall the single nut that holds the wheel in place. Another is assigned the task of removing the wheel that needs replacement and the third puts the new wheel in place.

There are two Jack Men – one in front and the other at the rear of the car. They use simple lever-based jacks that allow the car to be lifted so that the wheels can be changed. The rear Jack Man is the only person who is not in position when the car comes in for a pit stop while the front Jack Man’s job is the riskiest since he is standing right in front of a car whose powerful engine is running!

There is also a Fire Safety Man, who is hoping that he is not called to work play during a pit stop but he is always standing by with a fire extinguisher to stop an accidental fire that may break out. Similarly, there is a Starter Man standing by with his equipment in case the car stalls during the pit stop.

In some teams that do not use an electronic traffic light system at pit stops, there is a Lollipop Man who stands with a long paddle like sign that helps a driver identify his correct pit stop, then holds the sign to remind the driver to keep his brakes engaged during the pit stop and then to remind the driver to engage the car in first gear when the jacks are lowered before finally raising the paddle to inform the driver that he can drive away.

The Chief Mechanic leads a team of specialised mechanics assigned for engine, chassis, gearbox, and hydraulics on each car. They work on the set up of each car. Selected mechanics also double up as the pit crew during pit stops.

The Race Engineer acts the go-between for the driver and the rest of the team. He is in radio contact with the driver. During the race, it is his job to find out what the driver is happy with and what he’s not. They discuss the car set-up, the tyres and the fuel levels, interpret and communicate the information to the support engineers. They are also conveying information from the Chief Engineer to the driver, translating technical issues into a language the driver can easily understand.

Some teams also have Heads of Track/Circuit Engineering to co-ordinate the overall strategy in a role that is similar to theTechnical Director in other teams. The Technical Director has taken over from the Designer is the lynchpin of any F1 team. His role has been described as the conductor of a technological orchestra comprising of multiple departments – design, engineering, aerodynamics, driver – that are responsible for putting the car on track.

The Head of Aerodynamics is responsible for all the aerodynamic performance of an F1 car. His team and he are dedicated to work around all the air-flow around the car so that the car cuts through air, aiming to reduce its drag while adding downforce at the same time. All teams are continuously introducing updates, even for gains as small as hundredths of seconds per lap.

The Team Manager is in charge of the day-to-day operations, including logistics and overseeing travel to the races and tests and liaising with the technical and production departments. He also oversees the operations in the garage and makes sure that all the procedures are adhered to (he has to know the rulebook inside out), liaising with engineers on technical matters and providing them with information on the pitwall to give them an over-view of the race. Besides, he is in touch with the FIA.

The Head of Communications oversees all external and internal communications and ensures that the team is positioned correctly and that the stakeholders, from partners through to the fans, receive the maximum reward for their engagement with the team. With the social media mix constantly evolving, Twitter and Facebook have become key part of his or her plans to enhance people’s experience of the team.

The Chief Executive Officer of a team gets to work in many areas – the sporting aspect, the commercial side and the regulatory issues.  The Team Principal, usually the team owner or a person of his choice, has the total control of the team, making the critical decisions on the choice of drivers, engines, gearboxes, sponsors, and is responsible for the other members of the team.

Of course, there is a full-fledged test team, including Test Drivers, that is constantly working on the feedback after each race to evolve the car that much more to gain the cutting edge. And, finally there is the F1 factory where excellent facilities – including a windtunnel – and staff come together to design and produce the machines that drivers combine with to showcase terrific drama on our TV sets.

(This piece is the result of reading up a large number of articles available on the Internet and was written for Prabhat Khabar).