The scientific world has, for the last few years now, been getting very excited about the prospects of a relatively newly discovered material, graphene.
Only now is it becoming more widely known about as the potential uses and applications start to approach reality.
A brief trawl across the internet, which I recommend you do quickly now, will provide a wealth of information, as ever, some more accurate than others, some perhaps sensationalist or fantasy, but there’s no doubt that the potential to revolutionise many industries and our daily lives is tremendous.
Graphene was discovered at The University of Manchester, England in 2004 and, in basic terms, is a flat, 2 dimensional layer of carbon atoms (only a single atom thick), bonded together in a honeycomb formation. It’s actually these graphene sheets, or layers, which when stacked together, form the more commonly understood and widely used material graphite.
When separated into graphene sheets, scientists found that the new, molecular level material displayed an entirely new set of properties, properties which bucked the trend that most substances follow when they’re reduced in mass or density. After nearly ten years of research and development, governments and commercial entities are finding more and more ways in which this remarkable discovery can be applied to a range of industries and hundreds of patents are being applied for each week. Interestingly the UK, where Graphene was discovered, has relatively few patents to date, the most, by far have been granted to Chinese industry.
Graphene boasts a set of superlatives no other known material can come close to. It’s the strongest, thinnest, lightest, most impermeable, most conductive of both heat and electricity and is flexible, transparent and non-flammable to boot.
According to a Columbian engineering professor studying the subject, “It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of cling film”, pretty impressive.
Graphene’s so thin, 300,000 times thinner than a human hair, it would take 3 million sheets, stacked on top of each other to reach just 1 millimetre in thickness.
It can comfortably stretch by 20% of its width and length and yet is relatively stiffer than a diamond
It can carry more electricity more efficiently, faster and with greater precision than any other material
Graphene now holds the record for thermal conductivity, it’s better than any other known material
It’s the most impermeable material ever discovered, even tiny helium atoms can’t pass through it
The amazing transparency of graphene makes it useful as a potential solar cell component or for touch screen computers
It takes a bit of getting your head around a material which is effectively only two dimensional, a single sheet of atoms you can actually pick up, but equally for those that are getting their heads around it, the possibilities are potentially ground breaking and seemingly endless.
Of course, while the prospect of a wafer thin touch screen computer I can fold up and put in my pocket is fascinating, naturally I want to look at ways the new ‘wonder material’ might impact Formula One.
The last revolutionary material to transform our sport, was of course carbon fibre and transform it, it certainly did.
When McLaren raced it’s MP4-1 in 1981, it was the first chassis to made from carbon fibre composites and was truly ground breaking in it’s strength to weight properties. Obviously in Formula One, good strength to weight translates directly into performance and safety gains and so is therefore invaluable and it wasn’t long before it became the ‘only’ way to make an F1 car.
One of the obvious potential uses of graphene could be to transform the way the parts of an F1 car are made. If graphene sheets can be laid up, or dispersed into other composite materials, the product could be made far stronger and lighter by using less of the more traditional composites, whilst taking strength from the ultra thin nano material. Imagine a carbon/graphene chassis at a fraction of the weight and thickness of the current model. Crash structures like the nose or side impact zones could be made much smaller, but with increased effectiveness, therefore perhaps even changing the overall shape and aerodynamics of the cars as we know them?
The heat conducting properties of graphene will undoubtedly be of enormous benefit in F1. Engine bays, exhaust outlets and brakes are all areas where teams are always trying to find new materials to use as heat shielding or for heat transference. Currently, heavy metals or composites coated in ceramic are used or gold foil sheets at great expense. With a single atom thick sheet of graphene, heat can be not only be incredibly effectively drawn away from hot spots, but transferred to other areas where it can be used for different applications… and all with almost zero weight penalty or space constraints.
Another area where heat build up has one of the biggest drawbacks is inside electronics. The crucial workings inside all computers are normally limited in their packaging by the ability to, not only manufacture smaller and smaller components, but the provision to allow enough space for airflow around those components to prevent overheating. Graphene can help on both counts and the possibility of placing sensors, receivers, processors and ECU’s etc, in areas never before thought possible, will be mouthwatering for teams and the likes of McLaren Electronic Systems who provide the onboard computing power for the entire grid as things stand. They can be smaller, lighter and do considerably more, much faster than the systems used today. Engine manufacturers too, would love to be able to make heat resistant electronics in the same way.
On board displays could be wafer thin, located inside a driver’s visor or wrapped around the flat edge of the chassis opening or the steering wheel, saving 99% of the weight and bulk of the current units.
Graphene is said to be the best electrical conductor known to man. In simple Formula One terms this means that electronic signals can be sent significantly faster around the car or even around an individual electronic component. ECU’s could process infinitely more data and do it much, much faster and this could give engineers and drivers more information, more accurate information and perhaps information they can’t currently get.
Today, when a car is reversed into its garage, there’s a delay as the enormous amounts of data from the run are downloaded onto the garage systems for engineers to begin analysing. With graphene garage cabling and system components, that data transfer could be almost instant and the knock on effect is a faster transfer of information to the relative factories and around the garage and therefore a much faster response time by engineers and mechanics to enable the car to get back on track.
Inside the garage itself, the current banner systems, or walling, with the teams’ sponsor logos could go, being replaced by floor to ceiling, wafer thin, transparent touchscreen displays. Sponsor logos, advertisements, basically anything they want, could be shown dynamically on the walls over the weekend. Drivers could bring up Skype or Twitter on a section of wall and respond to fan questions from the garage during the day, all in view of the public at the track and pitlane TV cameras. The possibilities are almost endless.
The weight of the currently heavy and bulky wiring harnesses and their connectors, running the length of an F1 car, could be slashed, or even dispensed with all together as the ‘wiring’ or ‘circuits’, could be integrated into the chassis itself or just laid flat in a sheet along the chassis sides.
One of the most interesting areas of development to potentially impact the sport and the automotive world as a whole, is the use of graphene to produce super-capacitors.
The KERS units on modern F1 cars generally use Lithium-ion batteries to store the energy recovered under braking. They work, but are heavy and cumbersome. In fact, batteries in general aren’t particularly good at storing energy, bizarre though that sounds. In relation to other energy storing materials like fossil fuels or petrol say, the amount of energy stored per kilogram is far, far less. They’re also not particularly quick to recharge. In the automotive world this has been one of the biggest drawbacks and downsides to the advancement of fully electric vehicles.
Graphene will change this.
Whereas a capacitor, another device for storing energy, will charge and discharge much faster than a battery, it doesn’t hold anywhere near the amount of energy for its size. The answer, approaching quickly over the horizon, is the graphene based super-capacitor. Because of the material’s properties, it can not only hold enormous amounts of energy, but discharge it quickly and recharge just as fast. Mobile phone’s which will use this technology soon, will hold a charge for considerably longer than today and have the potential to fully recharge in around thirty seconds!
With the possibility of making super-capacitors small, light, powerful and efficient, it’s not too difficult to imagine a very different Formula One where the focus is heavily weighted towards green, energy efficiency on a whole other level to that coming in 2014. Look further down the line and, much as the purists won’t like it, the day’s of F1′s combustion engine formula as we know it will surely be numbered.
However this new material, and others like it change our lives, there’s no way Formula One’s escaping it. Those intrigued by the technical prospects, the ones who embrace change and progress in the sport have every right to be excited by what graphene will bring. It’s no understatement to say it will revolutionise this, and almost every other industry, so for the old fashioned, traditional camp, stuck in their ways and opposed to our sport moving with the times, it might be time to rethink the way a future Formula One might look?
As well as the ways that graphene might be used by the teams, it’s important to say that it will clearly affect many other areas of Formula One.
These are exciting times in the way we watch the sport at home. The electronics inside TV broadcasting equipment can be revolutionised too. FOM and television companies might look at low level airborne cameras for example or minute devices in new locations onboard the cars and the speed of data transfer across the world will be transformed. At home, we could watch on any number of futuristic devices, perhaps the size of an entire wall, or more than one wall, giving a panoramic experience of F1.
With similar technologies being applied to the aerospace industry, it’s easy to see how travel and freight costs and timescales might be reduced dramatically too, something else which would affect F1 and it’s ancillaries.
Some of these advancements are clearly further away than others, but there’s no doubting that graphene’s a very exciting discovery for the world. It’s currently expensive, but as with everything, before too long it’ll be mass produced and accessible to all. In Formula One terms it’s the kind of thing that designers have dreams about, although having spoken to the drawing office at a leading team on the subject, whilst they’re not yet looking at it in serious terms, it’s certainly on the radar and one day, someone will take the lead like McLaren did in 1981.
Press Call, or Hard Pressed Call?
After almost four months of waiting, Formula One fans were finally treated to the opportunity of watching their favourite drivers break the silence and talk collectively about the event we’ve all been desperately looking forward to, the first Grand Prix of 2013.
The first driver’s press conference, commanding a half hour live TV slot and being frantically transcribed around the world, did absolutely nothing at all to enhance the excitement on the eve of the cars breaking cover for the very first time at a GP this year.
The age old media model of sticking a sportsman in front of a microphone or television camera before or after their big event, certainly has provided some great moments at times over the years.
Kimi in 2006 talking on the grid to Martin Brundle before his last race for McLaren and Schumacher’s last before retiring first time round. I was there, about to strap him into the car for my last time and remember thinking, that’s what I’ll miss about working with Kimi, he’s unique and there’s never a dull moment.
Jose Mourinho, upon his arrival to the English Premier League, announcing himself as “The Special One”, and his subsequent tactical playing of the media to his, and his team’s, advantage at every opportunity.
Who remembers Eric Cantona, with his short and sweet, bizarrely cryptic message about seagulls and sardines, to the assembled press following his conviction for the assault of a football fan in 1995?
Little gems like this are few and far between, even more so in today’s world and even more so still in the tightly controlled media world of Formula One.
Almost all Formula One drivers today say exactly what they’re told to the press and media folk at each Grand Prix and at a time of year when teams are more secretive and protective than any other, the leash around their star name’s neck is noticeably shorter than ever.
Thursday’s press conference at Albert Park, Melbourne was duller than most. Partly because, despite excited fans around the globe tuning in on the edge of their seats, only one out of the six involved looked like they weren’t hard pressed to be there. Homeboy (no, not Lewis), Australian Daniel Ricciardo beamed from ear to ear and appeared enthusiastic to even be in the press line up, let alone about to begin a crucial season, whereas most of the others came across like they were appearing in an Al Qaeda hostage video at gunpoint.
That was one reason it was dull. The other was undoubtedly the array of inane and repetitive questions from the worldwide media.
Anyone whose even stumbled across Formula One in the last few weeks knows about the difficulties faced by all teams with regard the incredibly low temperatures and poor conditions during pre-season testing. The casual follower will also know that no-one, either team or driver, is likely to predict its position in the pecking order right before the first race of the year.
Despite these givens, a series of questions, to which most people could have quite accurately predicted the answers followed and the responses barely raised an eyebrow. Asking a driver if he can win the race, or win the championship, is he motivated this year or how will the new tyres affect the car, generated the kind of ‘pissed off’ or deflected responses you’d imagine from some of them and made for almost uncomfortable viewing at times.
On a slightly different tack, which at least provoked a couple of smiles, one journalist from Germany asked Seb and Fernando to “describe each other as a person and as a driver”. The question was met with standard answers about the pair’s mutual respect for each other as you’d expect, but at least endeavoured to unlock a tiny bit of the personality of each and received perhaps the longest answers to any posed during the session.
The bottom line is it was dull TV and although the headline writers went away and did their best to churn each answer into a story, very little came out of the whole affair.
Is it time to change the way we do things here?
The microphone in the face of a driver or team principal during the heat of battle, type interview, will always produce some great answers, insight and controversy and should always have it’s place. However, have the days of individual freedom to speak openly at pre-arranged press events run their coarse?
With Formula One being the secretive, closed off world that it is, teams and their press officers are inherently wary and protective when it comes to dealing with the media. They’re terrified about giving too much away and, to be honest, stuck in a distant era shaped by widespread industrial espionage based around a very different set of F1 regulations and technical freedom.
Today, the sport’s slowly waking up to the fact that by showing fans behind the scenes images of their garages, or allowing their drivers to communicate directly with fans through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, it won’t cost them a world Championship.
Former Williams chairman, Adam Parr, commented earlier this year about the need for race fans to start demanding more from our sport. He’s right. There’s absolutely no reason today for fans to not be granted direct access to the teams, their factories, garages and drivers. It has all round benefits, commercial or otherwise, for everyone concerned and is surely the way we should be moving forward.
With that said, how about opening up the Thursday driver and Friday team principal conference to the fans of the sport?
Social media can deliver live, on the spot questions through written, spoken or video formats and because it’s the fans asking, those lined up to answer should feel a certain responsibility to put on something of a show with regards their answers.
If Lewis Hamilton knows he’s talking to a fan through Skype, rather than a ‘dreaded’ journalist, there’s no way he’d be anything other than enthusiastic in his response.
In the same sense, a fan sitting at home, watching on tv and sending a question through Twitter, will ask whatever’s on his mind. He won’t be worried about asking something difficult and having his media privileges or relationship with that driver disrupted at this early stage of a long season. He might ask something about the driver’s personal life, not about the cars and generate an interesting insight into the superstar’s ‘real’ persona away from the track.
The other thing of course, is that by doing something along these lines you not only let fans feel closer and more involved in the sport, but you open up the range of questions by an unlimited number. A producer off screen can obviously filter them, but he has millions, instead of just five, to skim through and choose from.
Journos still get their stories, perhaps some even more juicy ones and fans help to create a TV slot worth watching.
A sceptical, or new fan of Formula One watching Thursday’s live press conference would’ve been forgiven for turning off from the sport in disappointment. On the eve of one of the most hotly anticipated championships for some time, a selection of it’s premier stars sat in front of the cameras and looked uninterested and bored. They certainly didn’t look like a group of privileged young athletes, living their dreams, private jetting from luxurious holiday to winter retreat and back again…feeling refreshed and thrilled to be addressing their fans ahead of the new campaign…which is what I suspect most of their fans hope they are.
F1 has many areas which need addressing in order for it to move with the times, fan integration’s a big one and after watching thirty minutes of dull live television on Thursday in Australia, this surely has to be one to consider?
Difficult times at McLaren
McLaren’s going through a very difficult spell right now and doing it all very publicly too.
On track, it’s fairly clear that the MP4-28′s struggling. It’s slow everywhere, inconsistent in terms of handling and in terms of its tyre management, and suffering with the way it rides the kerbs or lumps and bumps in the track. It’s difficult to work on, meaning changes are time consuming and because of the wide range of problems they’re finding, changes are the one thing they’re having to do lots of.
It’s reported Martin Whitmarsh revealed on Saturday a front suspension component fitted incorrectly in Jerez meant that the car ran in an unconventionally low state on the very first day of 2013 pre-season testing. The car was quick out of the box, so to speak, and rivals sat up and took a bit of notice with raised eyebrows at the McLaren after that first day.
Whilst the car performed well in those conditions at Jerez, it was clear, once the team discovered the mistake, that it wasn’t a setup sustainable at other tracks or with heavier fuel loads on board. With the ‘fault’ corrected, the team have struggled to find the form of that first day and the necessity to run at more manageable ride heights has hugely contributed to the car’s handling issues.
The team admitted that Friday’s woes in Melbourne were, in part, due to their attempts at operating again at such low running heights on the bumpy street circuit.
Away from the obvious troubles emanating from their pit garages, McLaren Electronic Systems Ltd (MESL), one of the group’s companies operating out of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, UK, are having issues of their own.
MESL are the sole supplier of the Standard ECUs and electronic display units used by all teams in Formula One and have substantially upgraded their hardware and associated software for 2013.
The changes to the SECU’s have been dictated by the need to prepare for the sweeping technical changes coming for 2014’s cars. With the systems capable of handling 500 useable data channels last year, the new units have the ability to manage twice that number this season, as that’s what will be required for the new formula on the horizon.
The substantial upgrade has had a number of teething troubles during pre-season testing, causing some teams to lose track time at a crucial period of the year, as they try and integrate it with their own onboard systems… and it hasn’t gone down well.
Of course testing’s one thing, but today the system allegedly caused serious telemetry issues for front row sitter, Mark Webber. His disastrous start has been blamed on problems sending back clutch and KERS data from the car to the pits on his out lap to the grid, something which is key for engineers to be able to set up the clutch position in order to make the optimum race start.
McLaren have since denied this and blamed the fault on Red Bull’s own in-garage systems.
MESL and the teams need to get on top of this quickly as the McLaren Group already have enough on their plates, trying to turn a dismal and desperate start to the new season into something positive to show the world.
It’s only race one, but it won’t be long before the media start writing up the inevitable stories about McLaren’s championship being over already and pointing to the fact that Lewis Hamilton and Paddy Lowe have moved on as potential factors.
The truth is that they’ve taken a massive gamble, something Paddy was instrumental in engineering before announcing his departure. Lewis, whilst a magnificent driver and someone the team would ideally love to have with them, isn’t the reason for the problems and whilst you may argue the team might’ve just scraped two cars into the points today if he was in one, he’s not the answer they need.
Right now they aren’t managing to make it work, but they’re a big team, with big resources and some very clever people at Woking, who won’t rest until things are turned around. Let’s not forget, this time last year Ferrari were in a very similar position with the F2012 and the struggles forced them to dig deeper than most in search of pace and technical development. McLaren will do the same and only a fool would write them off so early.
It’s all about the tyres again.
One thing this week in Barcelona’s confirmed is that, although the new Pirellis do indeed have a slightly larger operating temperature window than last year, we still saw most people struggling like mad to ‘switch them on’. Of course the first two days were simply too cold, I didn’t see the average temperature for that period, but I can tell you I needed a jumper, jacket and scarf in the pitlane and I haven’t been to many F1 races over the years where more than perhaps a gillet was required at worst.
I’m not sure Pirelli normally use a clothing based method to define the ideal ambient and track temperatures for their tyres to work in, but I would suggest that in Melbourne we need to be looking for short trousers if possible, but at the very least t-shirt conditions to get the best from the supersoft and medium compounds. If we’re not seeing predominant use of sunglasses and lotion around the paddock, we may find everyone wanting for more grip and going through tyres far quicker than intended.
To get back on track so to speak, we were seeing tyres on average, running in the second half of this test at temperatures around the 60-70 degree mark, still some way short of their intended or ideal working range of 75-100 degrees. The tyres, which incidentally aren’t rubber as they’re often referred to as, but are made up of a specific chemical, man made compound and engineered to ‘switch on’ or activate at a certain core temperature. By activate, I mean changing state slightly, becoming ‘sticky’ and reacting with the track surface to give the extra grip the drivers are looking for.
The temperature needs to be achieved in the right way, by heating the core of the tyre as well as the surface and working both areas simultaneously without pushing them too hard before the ‘critical’ level’s been achieved. The driver has various tools available to him to help with this, but needs a good understanding of how the process works in order to do it properly.
During an out lap in qualifying, or on the way to the grid, we’ve all seen cars weaving left to right and spinning up the rear wheels to increase tyre temp ready for the crucial lap, engineers are generally on the radio at this point informing the driver if he needs to work one end of the car more than the other as they monitor the numbers back in the garage (except in Kimi’s case of course, where he “knows what he’s doing”). The team can also ask the driver to adjust his brake balance, meaning the split in the amount of braking force applied to each end of the car when the brake pedal’s operated. The brakes generate an incredible amount of heat inside each wheel and that heat radiates through the wheel rim and into the tyre, helping to increase the tyre’s core temperature. By playing with brake balance on an out lap, the driver can create more heat at the front or rear, depending on where it’s needed.
McLaren developed a system on their car last season which utilised a pitstop adjustable opening in the brake ducts to allow more or less of the hot air from the brakes to be directed into the wheel and help during a race if the team was struggling to maintain the necessary temperatures. There’s talk of more teams working on similar systems on this year’s cars at the moment as tyres are proving equally important to get right.
Without the correct chemical reaction of the compound, the tyre simply doesn’t stick to the road, the car slides around, not only making for a slower laptime, but importantly the sliding around overheats and quickly destroys the surface, making matters worse and you’ve lost your opportunity for the optimum lap.
With such little meaningful running in representative conditions, the practice sessions at the first few Grand Prix and in particular Albert Park, are going to be really important to all of the teams. They still don’t really know how the characteristics of their cars will change in t-shirt and sunglasses conditions, let alone what the supersoft tyre does at all. The teams who did try that option here in Barcelona found it lasting for something ridiculous like three or four corners before it was degraded by the process I’ve described, simply because they couldn’t get anywhere near the required temperatures into it.
Any downtime in P1 or P2, unlike this week where they’ve had a chance to make up for it and recover, will cost teams dearly come Australia and that’s something McLaren and Lotus need to sort out and ensure doesn’t happen pretty quickly.
Well folks, that really is it. Next stop Melbourne.
After possibly the least representative set of pre-season tests we’ve had for a long time, it’s very hard to draw too many conclusions before we get to the first race.
Jerez, which seems like an age ago now, gave us little due to the poor condition of the track. At that point, the teams were carrying out the basic system checks, learning their new procedures and bedding in personnel, equipment and even drivers in some cases.
Barcelona ‘one’ gave us little due to some incredibly cold conditions and inclement weather, with the teams struggling to get tyres anywhere near their intended and required operating temperatures.
This week, we started off in much the same way, cold and wet, but the last two days have been interesting as the sun came out and so did the cars’ latest developments.
Although the track surface is considerably different here at Barcelona to the one we’ll race on in two weeks time, temperatures over these two days reached the closest levels to those likely to be seen in Melbourne. Even more interestingly at the same time we’ve seen the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton yesterday and Nico Rosberg today, suddenly find pace that’s been nowhere to be seen before now. As you’ll have heard many many times over the course of this pre-season, laptimes have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but never the less, the car’s certainly taken a considerable step when they’ve managed to get heat into the tyres.
Red Bull too, look strong as ever, earlier in the week there was a definite feeling around the paddock that there was an air of concern about their underlying pace from other teams.
McLaren are undoubtedly struggling a little more than they’d hoped, inconsistency over longer runs one of their biggest issues, combined with too much downtime inside the garage making, what should be, routine, quick changes to the car. They have strung some decent laps together, but I’m not entirely sure they understand what made them quick and that worries them.
Lotus looks to be quick, but unlike last year, they’re managing, at the moment, to heat up tyres quickly, but suffering over longer runs, pointing to decent qualifying form, but poorer race pace potentially. Reliability’s still clearly an issue for them, after managing only 50 laps today with Kimi at the wheel for the only time this week.
Ferrari could be one to watch out for too. New parts around the rear end, exhaust and diffuser areas, were being closely guarded, but despite Filipe’s upright failure yesterday, Fernando gave it a good run out today and it doesn’t look too bad at all.
All of these conclusions are based on the cars as they are right now, here and in these conditions and I have a strong feeling that we could still see a decent mix up come Sunday evening in a fortnight. It’s most important to remember how crucial tyre temperature is to Formula One today and just how much difference twenty degrees can make to the characteristics of the car. I really believe that issues some teams are struggling with today could’ve disappeared down under and, conversely, those happy right now may come up against new and unseen dramas at the same time.
One thing’s for sure, all of the top cars look very closely matched, as expected, and 2013, at least in the beginning could and should be very interesting indeed.
Let’s hope so.
Today’s a big day for everyone here at the Circuit de Catalunya. It’s the last chance for the teams to tun their cars on track before shipping everything off to Australia at the end of this week and into the first Grand Prix of 2013.
Today will see most of the teams run their last major upgrades before the race, although we can expect more from the bigger outfits right up until the last minute in Australia. In days gone by at McLaren, flights would be booked in advance to arrive at various times across the race weekend, right up until the latest point it was physically possible to get parts from Melbourne’s international airport, to the circuit and bolted onto a car. If the race team needed something, the call would be made and one of the numerous factory workers on standby would be whisked onto an aeroplane with the new parts in tow.
Once today’s over, the teams will head back to base to prepare the cars to travel. Some teams will strip their car here this evening, packing all parts into marked containers and, along with the chassis, be whisked back to the factory in the back of a van as it’s faster than waiting to pack up the entire garage and drive everything home in the trucks. At HQ, a team will be waiting to meet the van’s, whatever time of day or night, and distribute everything to the various departments to be serviced, checked, rebuilt and, repainted.
The smaller teams then have until Friday morning to load everything into their containers and deliver it to the airport, whereas the larger teams, with one of the bonuses of finishing well in the previous year’s championship, have an extra day as part of their ‘late freight’ benefits from Bernie.
Either way, it’s a very busy week for everyone and with personnel flying to Australia over the course of next weekend, there’s no time to relax now, and before you know it, we’ll be in November and thoroughly wrapped up in 2014.
So day one of the final test’s done…or is it?
It’s all too easy to forget that because the cars have stopped running around the track and the tv cameras have switched off, there’s still a whole nights worth of work to be done inside each team’s garage.
Whilst the circuit was still alive with action, the half of each race team not involved in running the car today, was back at the hotel trying to sleep in preparation for a long night turning things around ready for tomorrow. I say trying to sleep, because many of them are staying in some of the very local hotels nearby and of course, once eleven Formula One cars fire up and start tearing around this circuit from 9am, they do tend to make a little bit of a racket.
The ‘night shifts’ began appearing here earlier this afternoon at around 4pm onwards and have a significant crossover period in which ‘days’ hand over the car after an initial ‘set down’ (where the car’s setup is measured in controlled static conditions to determine if any parameters have changed or moved and to confirm that any deliberate mechanical changes made during the day, had the desired effect), a debrief and a full checkover. The day running crew then create a joblist based on mechanical changes required for the next day, repairs that may be needed, driver changes if necessary and the extensive list of service items which need to be carried out depending on the amount of mileage achieved during the day’s running.
That list will keep the guys busy until perhaps six or seven o’ clock the next morning, by which time the car will be put back together, re-prepped, engine fired up, set up and left with the engine pre-heaters connected to the on board water system ready to get things up to temperature before its first fire up of the new test day.
Formula One engines, unlike the engine in a road car, cannot be started up cold. The manufacturing tolerances are so finite and precisely engineered so that the engine operates at a carefully determined level of expansion of all of the metals and alloys whilst at running temperature. To ensure these levels of thermal expansion, the heaters both heat and circulate the water inside the car’s cooling system to the required temperature before it can be started up each morning. Here at Barcelona this week, the ambient temps are so low, particularly early on, that even with the heaters it can be difficult sometimes to achieve the necessary water temperature.
Right, I’m off back to the hotel, but as you all reflect on the first day’s running from this, most crucial of all tests, spare a thought for the many guys and girls still working away until the sun comes up (let’s hope it does come up) tomorrow morning.
Oh, and if you’re in the UK and are lucky enough to have Sky Sports F1 HD or Sky 3D, tune in tomorrow for more live coverage of the test, with me, Crofty, Herbert, Ted, Brundle and co. Some of the 3D shots look great!