Tyre changes during the race are back for 2006. Does that mean major changes for the team? Not really -- it's all still about meticulous preparation, and perfect execution. By re-introducing tyre changes during the Grand Prix for the 2006 ...
Tyre changes during the race are back for 2006. Does that mean major changes for the team? Not really -- it's all still about meticulous preparation, and perfect execution.
By re-introducing tyre changes during the Grand Prix for the 2006 season, the FIA has radically altered the physionomy of the races. Like in 2004, refuelling stops will once again be accompanied by tyre changes, and the strategic opportunities to jump ahead of the competition that come with this type of 'sprint' racing.
However, to make that move, you need to make sure firstly that the race strategy is the correct one, and secondly that the team in the pit-lane can execute the plan perfectly...
At the Renault F1 Team, this job falls to a highly-trained group of people. The winter preparations reached their maximum last Friday, when the entire race team travelled to the Barcelona test in order to rehearse their manoeuvres for 2006.
It was an operation that involved 11 trucks, and all the new pit equipment for the 2006 season, as the team ran through a demanding schedule of preparation and practice. It was vital preparation for the new challenges of the 2006-style race weekend. This is what they worked on...
Race pit-stops. During this exercise, the time the car spends stationary is dictated by the flow rate of the refuelling machine, which pumps 12.5 litres per second (limited by the regulations) into the car.
The Renault F1 Team's operating methods will be similar to 2004: at each corner of the car, a mechanic pulls off the old wheel, another puts the new one in place, while a third operates the pneumatic wheelgun to loosen and tighten the wheelnut.
The mechanics' still is put to the test here: if the nut is too loose, the car will have to stop again to have it tightened. Too tight, on the other hand, and it will cost time at the next stop... That's why they train before the first race -- to make sure that in the heat of battle, everything is instinctive.
The other key players in this choreographed ballet are the jack men, at the front and rear of the car, and the refuelling team: two men holding the hose, which weighs 40 kg! Then, other mechanics carry fie extinguishers, are ready to replace the nose, adjust the wing, clean the visor or clear debris from the colling ducts.
In total, some 22 people crowd around the car at pit-stop time. And they do so around an R26 that has been designed to make the stops quick and reliable. That means the wheels and uprights are designed to mesh perfectly: you cannot lock the wheel nut on if it hasn't been done right.
Qualifying. The new qualifying means the teams need perfect organisation in order to get the most out of the hour-long session. During this time, the cars must compete in three sessions: Heat 1, 15 mins; Heat 2, 15 mins; Super-pole, 20 mins.
Given that the circuit is often quickest at the end of the session, the team will need to be ready to make a lightning-fast pit-stop at the end of the session -- for both cars. Time management throughout the hour-long session was also something the team rehearsed in some detail last week in Barcelona.
So what's the key to managing successfully the demands of the race weekend? It's simple. Training. Before the season starts, the mechanics will complete more than 200 practice pit-stops. Then at each race weekend, the team trains on Saturday evening and Sunday morning (at least 25 stops per session).
And they practice for every situation: have the cars collided in the first corner? Does a sudden rain shower mean a quick double stop is required? The team runs through all the possible scenarii so that nothing comes as a surprise in the heat of battle.
"From a simple puncture, to changing car parts, we try and train for every situation," explains Steve Nielsen. By the end of the year, the team will have practiced over 1000 stops. Back at the factory, video footage is studied to let each team member see where they can economise their movement, and improve performance.
And of course, the drivers have their part to play as well: if Fernando or Fisico stop more than 20 cm beyond their marks, it could cost several seconds. So that's why they practiced as well last week -- to make sure everybody is at the top of their game, in every area, come March 11th in Bahrain, and the first 2006-style qualifying session.