Robert's guide to Hockenheim I enjoy Hockenheim and I'm looking forward to going back there for the first time since 2008. It's an interesting track, although I feel the old Hockenheim circuit had much more character, but I never raced it. It's...
Robert's guide to Hockenheim
I enjoy Hockenheim and I'm looking forward to going back there for the first time since 2008. It's an interesting track, although I feel the old Hockenheim circuit had much more character, but I never raced it. It's a track where sometimes you are very quick and you don't know why, and sometimes you are slow and you don't know why. I find it quite tricky to find the right balance and optimum performance, but it's a track where you can find a good rhythm.
In terms of the set-up, it's the kind of track where you need everything. There is a long straight so you need quite a good top speed, but you also need downforce for the final sector. So there are two different ways to approaching Hockenheim: some cars are very quick in the first and second sector and then struggle in the final sector, where you need the downforce. Other cars do the opposite, sacrificing their top speed, but doing very well in the third sector, the stadium complex.
The current track has a couple of corners that are quite interesting, especially turns one and 12 -- which are both high-speed. When you look at turn one from outside of the car, you would not imagine that you would go so quickly through this corner because it's so short, but you can carry quite a lot of speed actually. Turn 12, the entry to the stadium, is also a nice corner, although lately you are not able to use so much of the outside kerb because there is some artificial grass and that makes it quite a tricky place.
All the other corners are medium to low-speed corners and are quite tricky. Turns 16 and 17, for example, which make up a double right-hander just before the start-finish line create quite a lot of understeer. It's a long corner and a bit off-camber and it's a bit like a double-apex corner.
Turn 13 is quite interesting. There's a lot of camber so you can go very deep into the apex and get quite early on power. Of course, you have to watch that you don't lose the car out of the camber in the exit of the corner.
The best overtaking opportunity is the big braking zone before turn six, which is a really low-speed hairpin after the long straight. It's a first gear corner and we have seen lots of action there in the past.
Inside the engineers' truck
Weighing in at 35 and a half tonnes, the Renault F1 Team's engineering truck is an impressive piece of kit. It's a home away from home for the engineers; a mobile office with working space for 30 people. It's where some of the key decisions are made during the race weekend, a sanctuary for the drivers to debrief and a quiet place where the engineers can pore over the data.
"The truck is the hub from the point of view of engineering the car," explains Vitaly's race engineer, Mark Slade. "In the lead up to the race, it's where all the information comes in, and where everything gets decided, especially during the practice sessions when we're concentrating on setting up the car."
So who's in there calling the shots? Well, each driver has a team of engineers monitoring his every move on the racetrack. While the race engineer spends the sessions on the pit wall and in the garage, the back-up team consists of a performance engineer, a control systems engineer and two engine engineers. To do their jobs they have a vast array of computer screens and monitors to follow the action, as Robert's performance engineer, Jon Marshall, explains:
"All the engineers use two laptops, simply because of the number of software packages we run to monitor the car -- it would be too much for one machine. So we each have four monitors running from two laptops. Above those we have another bank of screens with the TV feed and timing data. There's even a web cam set up in the garage so that we can see the state of the car without having to leave the truck. In total, I think there are over 60 screens just in the one truck."
During the sessions, the control system engineers have the task of making sure all the systems on the car are working correctly, while the performance engineers concentrate on extracting the most from those systems. If they spot anything in the data that could improve performance, or could lead to a failure on the car, they'll be straight on the radio to inform the race engineer. In fact, it was their quick reactions at Silverstone that spotted a slow puncture on Vitaly's car. They made the call to pit the car, avoiding a potentially dangerous situation.
When each session is over, the drivers usually head straight to the truck to begin downloading their thoughts in the traditional debrief. Before the engineers start analysing the data, they hang on the driver's every word because it influences how they interpret the data. "Obviously one of the problems with analysing data is the fact that the driver is driving in a way that gets around the problems with the car," explains Mark. "So the data will not necessarily show you what issues you have with the car. You have to find out why he's doing things the way he is, and then identify the issues you need to resolve."
But surely with so many laps completed, and so much data to analyse, it can feel a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack? How do they know where to begin? "That's part of the skill," smiles Jon. "It's all about focussing on the problems that are relevant, or the opportunities to improve. So we have a regimented list that we go through to cover all the major systems on the car."