Grand Prix Vignettes

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Radio contact: The use of short-wave radio contact between the cockpit of a racing car and the pits has been in use in Indycar racing in America for some years, but it is only just beginning to appear in Formula One racing. Virtually all Formula One drivers use helrhets equipped with microphones and earphones, wired to an external plug on the side of the helmet, and these are used for conversing with the team manager or the team engineer while in the pits, particularly during testing and practice. As driving positions (and the cars) got lower and lower, and the noise from exhausts got louder and louder, it was evident that some form of communication was necessary other than shouting at one another. The pit staff have earphones and microphones they swing across in front of their mouths, so that when the car stops they can plug into the driver’s helmet and hold a fairly normal conversation without having to get down on their knees and shout to overcome the sound of passing cars. These communications systems are extensible and you often see two engineers and the team manager all plugged in, in series, to their driver while something important is being discussed. A means of communicating while the driver is out on the circuit was an obvious next step, and this year Renault and Williams are using pits-to-cockpit radio contact.

It is essentially a one-way system, controlled by the driver, which means that he will only use it when he is not fully occupied with driving round a corner. It would be asking for trouble to have the team manager or the engineer speaking into your ears just as you are on the limit of adhesion through a 150 mph corner. The driver has a contact button or contact strip on the steering wheel which he can press with a finger or thumb without moving his hand, and this immediately puts him into contact wtih his pit staff. It is usually the engineer that is looking after him, and the engineer knows instantly that he is being called up for he gets the full blast of a 650 bhp engine noise into his ears! With the Williams team, if Rosberg is on full song with the Honda V6 at peak rpm then it is very difficult to converse above the noise. The Renault does not appear to be so harsh. This radio contact is particularly useful during testing and practice, for it means that the driver can report on what has been happening as he slows down and enters the pit lane. If some adjustments have been made to the aerofoil settings and the driver has decided he wants to go back to the previous setting, he can tell his engineer as he heads for the pit lane, so that when he arrives at the pit the mechanics are ready for him, knowing exactly what they have to do, thus saving a lot of time.

If something has gone wrong the driver can warn his pit staff of what to expect, and during one test session this proved very useful to Derek Warwick. His Renault developed a minor water leak, which came into the cockpit, so as he slowed down to see what it was he radioed the Renault pit and told them about it. When he arrived at the pits there were three engineers, the team manager and twelve mechanics waiting in readiness. Without any words being spoken (or shouted), the car was whirled into the pit garage, lifted up on to trestles, the cowlings removed and work was in progress by the time Warwick had unbuttoned his seat harness and removed his helmet. This prompt action meant that he was soon out on the circuit again with the leak repaired. He had a similar occasion to be thankful for the radio contact during one race when he got an unexpected flat tyre. As he cruised round to the pits he was able to alert the team and not only tell them why he was overdue, but also which tyre was flat, so that when he arrived everyone was ready for him and the minimum of time was lost.

Renault also make good use of their radio contact for the vital fuel consumption information. At pre-determined times in the race the driver calls the engineer for a tank-contents reading (in litres) and compares the figure given by the digital counter on his instrument panel. If he has more litres than the calculated figure he knows he can continue to drive hard on high boost pressure, but if he has less than the calculated figure then he knows he must ease up on the rpm or lower the boost pressure. Like all radio or telephone contacts you get the unexpected transmission, such as during qualifying when Tambay was in contact with his pit as he was badly baulked by a “rabbit”. Some choice French swear-words came over the air!

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