3rd edition of the Indian Grand Prix is just around the corner, the roar of 2.4 litre V8 engines would soon be doing rounds at the Buddh International Racing Circuit. To sense a level of excitement and the kind of logistical & technological aspects that go into a F1 race, we were invited by GE (Global Electric) and the Caterham F1 Team to their paddock to witness behind the scene preparations for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race.
The introduction of Formula 1 about two years ago did raise the bar for motorsport domination in our country, but its popularity hasn’t really caught the imagination of many Indians. Nevertheless, for those who are motorsport fanatics and follow F1 religiously, this was a unique opportunity to grasp in those behind the scene busy garages over a busy yet tantalizing race weekend.
Starting from our VIP pass to our entry to a restricted area that only allows free movement of F1 personnel along with a selected media; we were taken directly to the Caterham F1 Team building by one of their representatives to have an interaction with their Chief Engineer. On our way, we were explained that the line up of team garages depended upon last year’s “Manufacturer’s Championship Table” which is why Red Bull Racing was in front followed by Ferrari, McLaren - Mercedes, Mercedes, Lotus and so on. We were also told that unlike Europe and rest parts of the world, in India each Formula One team had their own Team Building instead of a Motorhome. A Motorhome basically refers to a structure made on wheels that provides resting accommodation to the members of the team.
On our arrival to the team building, we were given a hands on demonstration of one of the most crucial elements in a Formula One car that keeps the driver involved at all times when on the track. Yes, the most important steering wheel, which was of course from last year’s season. In perspective, it had a whole lot of buttons as is visible in the picture. Each one has its own relevance ranging from suspension setup to tyre selection to KERS to torque to wind adjustment and many more functions.
Underneath part of it comprises of a pair of peddle shifts along with clutch switches which come in handy as the driver only utilizes his feet for braking and acceleration. Therefore there is no clutch at the feet. Having seen and felt the steering wheel, we were introduced to their team’s Chief engineer – who explained to us GE’s role in interpreting race data recorded via a number of sensor placed throughout their F1 car. It’s amazing how technology plays such an important role in each and every component that constitutes in making a car competitive on a race track.
Then we were versed with different kinds of Pirelli Tyres currently being used this season. Each team is provided with two specifications of dry tyres, which the team must use during the duration of a particular race. Unless it’s wet, the combination and timing needs to be right in accordance to track temperatures, which would ideally help teams progress well and grab positions. Overall, there are 6 different types of compounds comprising of Orange – Hard, White – Medium, Yellow – Soft, Red –Super Soft, Green – Intermediate and Blue – Wet. In total for any given race week end each driver is allotted 6 sets of harder prime tyres followed by 5 sets of softer option, 4 sets of intermediates and 3 sets of wet weather tyres. During this entire exercise we were also shown, how teams maintain the temperature in tyres when they are about to be bolted onto the car during or before a race. We were also informed that in 2012, Caterham F1 Team used a total of 21,400 dry specification tyres along with 2,100 wet weather tyres.
With tyres covered, we passed through a very narrow corridor to the busiest part of the garage, wherein the construction and preparation of the race were in full swing. There were a number of engineers working both in the front as well as the rear. However, the most interesting part was to see a stripped down version of the V8 itself being fired and tested right in front of our eyes. I Must say that the 30 second window between each acceleration attempt was enough to make one deaf, no wonder why all the technicians were wearing head phones while working on the machine. Besides these, there were restriction on photography in certain parts of the garage especially one area where in the Renault engineers were in thick action preparing the engines that were going to be powering the two cars.
During the excursion, we were also informed that an average of 80,000 components constitute to a competitive racing car which is in fact mind boggling if one comes to think of it. Out of these, about 5,000 components are made in house by Caterham F1 Design team. Out of so many components, we were shown the brake rotor that is made up of carbon fibre that can withstand a temperature of 800 degrees centigrade. A quick fact, with so many components on board an F1 car, it weighs 642 kgs including the weight of the driver. Don’t you think that’s really impressive?
Out near the main straight and a part of the pit lane is the team’s brain centre from where all communication takes place between the team and their drivers. It is here that the team head along with his engineers strategist the way ahead for a particular race in regards to pit stops. Last but not the least, we were also provide a grand tour of the pit lane, where in we saw glimpses of other team garages such as Lotus, McLaren Mercedes, Mercedes, Force India, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing to name a few. A glance of the SLS AMG pace car was just the icing on the cake required to compete a memorable experience of a paddock right before the race weekend.
To sum it all up, this is a life time opportunity not to be missed and especially since there is an uncertainty on F1 returning next to next year one can only say enjoy it till you can.