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Exclusive: What goes on inside Formula 1's race control room

Formula 1’s race control is the most secret – yet important – room in the paddock, so what goes on in there and who’s making the decisions to make everything tick?

FIA race control

F1’s race control was thrust into everyone’s living room in 2021, when then-race director Michael Masi decided it was a good idea to air his communications to the TV audience. Following his departure ahead of the 2022 season, race control reverted to its old, and rather secretive self.

Courtesy of Formula 1’s official partner Rolex, Motorsport.com got some exclusive access at the Miami Grand Prix. Behind a very ordinary-looking door – as we walk in before Free Practice 1 begins, FIA driver steward Vitantonio Liuzzi is on the phone and gives us a cheery wave – lies the hub of the race weekend…

It’s a sizeable windowless room, with over 30 people assigned roles, sitting at three rows of desks. Those towards the front of the room are locals, assigned roles by the FIA’s US automobile competition committee ACCUS, who will also perform the same roles in Austin’s Circuit of the Americas or at the Las Vegas street race. 

The first thing that strikes you as noticeable is that it’s very quiet beyond some short chattering into headsets – nobody is talking much directly to the person next to them. The other is the high number of females in the room, probably a 50/50 gender split.

The majority of the FIA staff – from the sport’s governing body that runs the sport – sit at the back of the room, with an elevated view above everyone in front of them and the huge video wall that almost spans the front of the room.

“They have the seats that are furthest back for the best view of what everybody else is seeing, so that they can kind of oversee all of the information,” says Roman De Lauw, the FIA’s F1 communications officer, who is our guide to who’s who and what they all do.

FIA race control screens

FIA race control screens

Photo by: Rolex / James Moy

The smart blue desks at which they are sat, which are stacked with electrical communications equipment, are transported along with the FIA’s other kit – such as weighbridge scales and the safety cars – to each of the races. This ensures the systems are the same at every race, and each has a myriad selection of buttons and a set of video screens.

At the far end of the row is the video analyst, and towards the middle is the race director, Niels Wittich – who sits next to the local clerk of the course (in Miami this is Paul Waiter) and his deputies. They are all in direct contact so that any incidents can be quickly reviewed and any actions – such as a referral to the stewards or safety car decisions – can be made.

Our guide explains: “When the race director asks for something that he hasn't seen live on screen, or that he wants to see a replay or an onboard, or if he wants to see if there's a piece of debris on track somewhere, then he'll ask the video analyst who will find that and play it for him.”

While the race director takes care of the sporting side, running the race to the FIA rulebook, the clerk of the course is responsible for what physically happens at the track.

“The clerk of the course and his assistants are the ones who know the track inside out, they were taking part when the track was constructed, so they know the exit roads and where the marshals posts are, etcetera.

“Basically, the race director is in contact with the people who are on the desk here and the clerk of the course, and they are the ones who will be giving out the orders of what to do on the track.”

Sat to the other side of the race director is the lady who deals directly with the safety car, who gives the ‘standby’ or ‘deploy’ orders – and she also keeps the driver up to date with where the leader is at. “The safety car is an FIA property and we're directly in contact with the driver, so we do that part ourselves directly,” De Lauw explains.

Next to the video analyst is the race control messaging system operator, who works with the standard messaging system that informs teams (via page three of the timing screens) of any actions or reviews.

Next to her is the sporting director and race control analysts, and their job is to be in direct contact with the teams. He adds: “They're all in contact directly on comms, instantly, so they can discuss things, and then the other two people with him are the ones who will be dealing with the teams and their requests.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Erik Junius

“So, if a team has made a complaint like you hear on the broadcast, ‘We think our driver has been hit by another driver at this turn – could you have a look at it?’ or ‘We've been impeded during qualifying’. Then, basically, the race director gets those messages through the analyst, and then the video analyst can find the moment, clip it up, and show him.”

We then take a closer look at the race director’s desk, while not trying to get too close to bother anyone…

“The video analyst’s screen is replicated here so that whenever the race director asks for something, then he can see it directly,” points out De Lauw. “He can see live what the guy is doing, so that's pretty convenient.”

Having got a good eyeful of the complex messaging system, which covers the track’s status with any flags clearly indicated, from over the shoulder of the actual race director as cars begin to line up at the end of the pitlane, we suddenly feel our stay here has been out welcomed…

“Let’s just stand to the side there, so we don't disturb them now,” suggests De Lauw. “You'll have seen that on their desk that they can kind of dial into anyone really that they want to through radio contact. And they've all got iPads to make sure that they can also see the live timing and additional screens if they need to double check something on the regulations.”

Any order given by the race director such as yellow, double yellow, safety car (or virtual) or red flags are made like this, and actioned by the clerk of the course via his people who are in contact with the marshals’ posts.

We get an example of the process, as the clock ticks towards the practice hour, as the clerk of the course’s assistant is busy talking into his headset while pressing a series of buttons.

Cars line up in the pit lane

Cars line up in the pit lane

Photo by: Rolex / James Moy

“He's currently speaking to marshals and making sure they’re all in position before the session starts,” says De Lauw. “Also, for example, if we start a recovery of a vehicle that stopped on the track and we need to send a crane, or if we send marshals on to the track to collect some debris, then these guys would be the ones who were in contact with marshals around the track.”

On another row of desks is the FIA’s medical crew analysts, who have access to any data that is sent out by the drivers’ biometric gloves, which monitors their heart rate, or accelerometers to measure g-force of impacts, which are located in the drivers’ earplugs.

“Whenever there's a big impact, it will automatically trigger an alert on his screen,” says De Lauw. “And he will directly know how bad the impact is and where on track it is.

“We have an accelerometer in the car but having one inside the helmet is even better in terms of measuring it for medical purposes. The measurements are occasionally different, because the body also absorbs some of the impact, rather than the car, which is really stiff and doesn't absorb much.”

The medical team can thus alert the race director if there’s an emergency with a driver, and whether the safety car and medical car need to be deployed.

He adds: “If the medical car needs to be deployed, on some of the tracks we've got some shortcuts that they can take to be there quicker, and the medical teams also know where all of the ambulances are spread out on the track. We also have extrication teams on track in case a driver is stuck in his car and he can’t extract himself directly.

“They've got teams in place so that they can remove the drivers outside of the car, they can cut the halo should they need to.”

Race action at the Miami GP

Race action at the Miami GP

Photo by: Rolex / James Moy

As well as the health of the drivers, the status of each car’s hybrid system is also monitored closely here in case of a mechanical failure that would lead to marshals recovering the car: “One of them has it on his screen at all times, but we also have someone directly on comes from our technical team because we have instances where, for example, if the car completely shuts down then the ERS light isn't visible anymore, so it's still important that he knows what was the latest status of the car before it completely broke down.”

Another row of desks is dedicated to the timing of events, to ensure that the meeting is running to its preordained schedule, or if it does get delayed that everyone knows and is acting accordingly.

What helps is being able to see every millimeter of the track on the big screen, so as well as the TV feed that you watch at home, I counted at least 25 CCTV cameras covering the track. These are split into rows of five, so as Kevin Magnussen’s Haas leaves the Miami GP pitlane on his installation lap in FP1, you can watch him drive around the track from many angles. And the timing screens are also permanently on display here.

“In the past, we had plenty of small screens,” says De Lauw. “Now we tend to have a massive screen divided into small screens where you can see everything.

“And if you need something specific, the race director asks, ‘I want to see this turn and this angle’ or ‘I want see drivers’ right at turn seven to check for debris’. And then we've got access to all the onboard cameras of the drivers and the helicopter camera, which all available on the FIA desks.”

Miami GP marshals remove the damaged car of Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, from the circuit

Miami GP marshals remove the damaged car of Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, from the circuit

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

As we leave race control, De Lauw points out the race stewards’ room across the hallway, which Liuzzi has vanished into now the session has started. Apparently it’s smaller room but with the same access to all the video screens.

There, Liuzzi sits alongside Nish Shetty, the chief FIA steward this weekend, Andrew Mallalieu (president of the Barbados federation) and Dennis Dean (the national steward). This is where decisions are made if the race director has referred an incident on track.

“The video analyst clips the incident up and sends it to the stewards,” he adds. “That’s all the camera angles, including onboard and maybe even helicopter, and the telemetry from the cars, the radio messages from the teams. They can see everything to give a penalty or declare no further action, or they can decide to speak to the drivers or to the team afterwards after the session.”

With the session now in full swing, our time has come to move on and visit the FIA’s own pit garage, where we see the weighbridge used to scrutineer all the F1 cars (there is also a second one in the pitlane that’s used in live sessions). Next door is the garage for the safety and medical cars, and – as Bernd Maylander is in his usual cheery mood – I get him to take my photo at the wheel of his stationary Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series!

Bernd Maylander in action in the Safety Car

Bernd Maylander in action in the Safety Car

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Having told him where we’ve just been, he regales a story of being in race control when a serious accident occurred in free practice – which is his down time, as the safety car isn’t required after track checks have been made.

“It was a big crash, very spectacular,” he recalls. “The driver was absolutely fine but it was one of those large ones where you think at first, ‘is he OK?’

“The reaction in race control was amazing – very calm, zero fuss, just everyone doing their jobs to react to the situation. It was very impressive, so professional.”

And that’s what race control is all about: staying in control and ensuring everything runs as it should to the letter of the rules.

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