It’s relatively easy to think that Formula One racing is an individual sport. To the casual observer, or even for the avid racing fan, it is hard to underestimate the crucial role that a driver plays for winning glory for his team.
But for every Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Jenson Alexander, you have countless specialists working furiously behind the curtain.
Who are these people?
Beyond skill, technology
It can be said that since its inception, F1 racing has always been a technological arms race between the competing teams. With even the smallest modification, one side can get a leg up over the other teams.
But now, more than ever, teams have become more reliant on one critical piece of technology –
While a racing car is running on the track, it is also collecting invaluable data on practically every aspect of the vehicle’s performance. These include the condition and performance of the engine and its parts, the rate of degradation of each tire, and how the car responds to the driver controlling it.
On average, a modern F1 car collects data that is equivalent to roughly four terabytes of information. That is on top of the data collected during practice runs and the qualifiers.
That massive amount of data will then be collected and used by a team of engineers, analysts, and drivers to tweak the team’s car for optimized performance.
Due to the importance of the work of these technicians and specialists, many racing teams have allied themselves with tech companies to get the necessary leverage to boost performance on the racetrack.
A day in the life
Amendments in F1 regulations in 2008 substantially reduced the number of team members given slots at the track. From 100, this number was reduced to just 60. Apart from that, Formula One also limited the time that cars can be tested while practicing on the track and in the wind tunnels.
While these amendments may seem like a significant setback, F1 teams have taken these changes in stride and used it as an opportunity. With the number of available slots in the racetrack drastically reduced, many organizations turned their focus on their operations centers where their crew works with sponsors and specialists.
The bulk of the work in these mission control centers happens during practice. This is the time when the data collected during race day and simulators come in. The team’s engineers then work with various team members to evaluate the data and make suggestions for improvements.
Come race day, the team watches the race while collecting data. The pit crew, on the other hand, performs a diverse array of functions. One such function is determining which strategies to implement, like asking the driver to pit or to continue running beyond what was initially planned. The most successful teams, in essence, are those that deftly balance the thin line between reacting to the other teams’ strategies and anticipating their moves on the track and pit.
Meet the team
Although the driver is the one you would call the main man in the team, several people within a group also hold key positions crucial for success.
Here’s a brief list of these people as well as some of the work they do:
For many fans, the team boss, after the race car drivers, is the most prominent team member they see on the racetrack.
The functions of the position vary from team to team, depending heavily on the type of team ownership. Some teams are owned privately with the owners making a substantial investment and taking sizeable risks to get their car to compete in the races. Other groups are owned by car manufacturers and high-level executives double as team bosses.
Ferrari’s Enzo Ferrari is among the most well-known team bosses, founding his racing team during the 1940s. Even after Fiat bought Ferrari, he stayed on as the team boss.
An F1 team is not just about racing. Each team has a commercial side that must deftly be handled by qualified professionals. That’s where a commercial director comes in.
One of the primary responsibilities of this team member is related to sponsorship. Companies pay millions of dollars to see their logos on the race cars, and it is the commercial director who determines the placement of these logos.
The technical director leads a team of specialists that include scientists, engineers, and designers who work together to build the best race cars. Many industry experts believe that this position is equivalent to or even more important than the drivers.
Aerodynamicists aid in the design of cars. Specifically, their primary function is to find ways to limit the impact of air resistance on vehicles.
Designers, on the other hand, are tasked to create the race car’s basic layout as well as determine which materials to use in building it. Usually, a team has two chief designers. One works for the current season while the other will work for the upcoming one.
The research and development team is tasked with trying new technologies and materials that the team can use to gain leverage.
The next time you watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix races in Abu Dhabi on TV or in the actual circuit, know that several people are working silently behind the scenes. The driver may get the glory for his performance, but behind his success is a team of unsung heroes.
Oliver Kent is the Managing Director of ZK Sports & Entertainment, operating in the Middle East for over 10 years now. He is currently leading the company’s recent appointment as the Exclusive Marketing and Sales Agent for F1 Experiences in the Middle East.