The Renault F1 Team's third driver, Franck Montagny, helps us decode the on-board television images -- who looks good, who doesn't, and how can you tell? During each television broadcast, the directors like to show on-board images from the F1 ...
The Renault F1 Team's third driver, Franck Montagny, helps us decode the on-board television images -- who looks good, who doesn't, and how can you tell?
During each television broadcast, the directors like to show on-board images from the F1 cars. The view used most often is taken from a camera mounted above the roll hoop, and allows the audience to see the driver's helmet, and the position of his hands on the wheel.
"These images are very interesting, and I spend a lot of time watching them," explains Renault F1 Team's third driver Franck Montagny. "They let you see two things -- how well somebody is driving, but also the behaviour of each car."
According to Franck, the Renault drivers can be identified easily: "On the entry to turn 1 at Indy, they were easing the car into the corner at first, then turning the wheel very quickly and suddenly," he explains. "This allows you to settle the car, and to calm it down by generating some understeer."
"Fernando is very good at this because it resembles his natural style, and Jarno seems to have adapted to this as well. However, it's quite a difficult thing to get right -- you can lose control quite easily and spin the car."
The Ferrari and BAR both give an impression of being at ease: "The drivers make only limited movements," continues Franck. "Once the car has taken its line into the corner, the drivers make very few corrections. That shows they have lots of grip. Among those cars that seem to need a lot of work at the wheel, I would look at the McLaren, the Sauber or the Jordan."
Some drivers also do a lot of work with the controls on the steering wheel. "Michael Schumacher is a typical example," says the Frenchman. "He is always adjusting the car's handling, perhaps in consultation with his engineers. During his qualifying lap at Indy, Fernando also made some adjustments to his differential settings."
The shape of the steering wheel is also important. "Some of them seem to be moulded the fit the driver's hands," explains Franck. "Some are big, some small. The most important thing is for the driver to feel comfortable: this is his most important tool! It's quite common for steering wheels to be slightly different for two team-mates -- things like the shape of the boss, the padding, the location of certain buttons..."
Finally, you should also look out for head movements. "When the head moves a lot, it shows the car is quite nervous. The Williams and the Renault, for example, are quite stiff cars, and the drivers' heads shake around more than those of Michael Schumacher or Rubens Barrichello," concludes Montagny. "Generally, these movements go hand in hand with steering corrections -- and especially at low-grip circuits."
During the race, the on-board cameras can also be a rich source of information: they might show a car's handling dropping off, and allow others to detect any problems. Tyres are often a parameter whose behaviour changes significantly during a race, and this is the best indication of exactly what is going on.