Behind the Grand Prix scene --- The trade and industry

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Some people think that the money from the big sponsors like cigarette companies or food and drink companies is what keeps Formula 1 going. It certainly helps to pay for lots of good things like new transporters, the employment of adequate staff, good working conditions, motor homes, colourful uniforms, fancy paint jobs on the cars, even the racing cars themselves, but these things alone would not get a Formula 1 race underway, or keep it going.

Without the support of the trade and industry who supply everything from a sparking plug to a brake pad, a Formula 1 car would be a rather ineffectual device. At every Formula 1 Grand Prix there is a small contingent of technical people whose combined efforts keep the whole Formula 1 scene running smoothly. Without the support of the firms who supply plugs, clutches, brakes, clutch lining and brake pads, ignition systems, shock absorber, and all the other bits and bobs that are needed to make a racing car work, and work efficiently, everyone would be in real trouble and all the cigarette or drinks money in the world would be of no use. In the same way the tyre manufacturers are of equal importance as we saw at the beginning of the season when Michelin saved Formula 1 from extinction. Tyres are such a big and important subject that thee will be dealt with in a later article. Meanwhile let us look at some of the smaller, but none-the-less important branches of the trade and industry.

The technicians from the various firms who supply parts to the teams are at their busiest during the morning test-sessions and afternoon qualifying sessions on the two days before the actual race. By race day everyone should know what they are doing and should have all the equipment they need. On many circuits brakes are critical, not because they do not work, but because tyre technology provides improved adhesion, ground effects help as well, and we have a lot of brave drivers like Jones, Laffite, Villeneuve and Piquet who can apply the brakes incredibly late and incredibly hard. To see them braking at the end of the straight at Zandvoort from 170 m.p.h. is something worth seeing, though here the brakes are well up to the job. At Zolder the braking is not to visibly hard, but due to the stop-go nature of the circuit, they never get a chance to cool off and temperatures can get critical. Monza, with its chicanes is also very hard on brakes.

Quietly going about their business and keeping a close watch on things are, Alan Campbell from Ferodo Ltd. and John Moore and Simon Arkless from Associated Products Ltd. Apart from the Tolman team who use Mintex brake pads, all the Formula 1 teams use Ferodo friction pads for their discs brakes. Apart from Ferrari who use Brembo brakes all the trains are using AP-Lockheed brake discs and most of them are on Lockheed calipers and hydraulics. Before the teams leave their home base to go to a Grand Prix they have been in touch with Campbell at Chapel-en-le-Frith, the home of Ferodo, and he has made sure each team has an adequate supply of suitable brake pads for the circuit in question, each team being responsible tor its own requirements as regards the number of brake pads. At the circuit if a team runs short or hasn’t got suitable pads Campbell can mediate between teams to “borrow” some pads to help someone out. Usually everyone goes to a race with more than enough pads for all their cars. During the practice days you will see Campbell and Arkless attending to the top teams in particular, but always available to all the teams for advice. AP Racing keep a careful watch on disc temperatures, checking them with a probe thermometer when the car stops or “reading” the effect the heat has had on a series of temperature-sensitive paint daubs put on the outer edge of the discs. The Ferodo man can judge the pad situation by wear measurements related to distance, a study of the pad rnaterial and the disc temperatures.

On circuits that are hard on brakes the teams invariably stock up with a variety of pads with differing friction properties and consultation with the Ferodo man after an analysis of practice will decide exactly what to use. Brake cooling ducts are an important variable and at circuits like Zolder or Montreal there will be larger ducts and at Hockenheim or Osterreichring the cooling ducts will be quite small. Application of the brakes from high speed down to a low speed, for a sharp corner, is no great problem provided there has been time for the brakes to cool off since the last application. It is circuits where the brakes have to be used for one corner before they have had time to cool down since the previous one that are the headache. The days of a driver being careful with his brakes and “nursing” them or “saving” them are long gone: today there is only one place for the brake pedal and that is “hard down” and the fact that they can apply this technique is thanks to the brake people who are continually working on the problem, either with different friction material specification or improved discs. It is a never ending research and without the technical support of firms like Ferodo and AP Racing Formula 1 would not be as fast and furious as it is today.

All the finegoing applies also to things like shock-absorbers, and the Dutch Kent firm have virtual monopoly it Formula 1. Their technicians attend all the races and have a workshop van with them at all the European races. They are continually servicing and replaeing absorbers throughout a meeting and making sure that everyone has the particular settings to suit their suspension. The Koni workshop van is not found among the flash motor homes and lavish hospitality units. You will find it tucked away behind the pits among the transporters with a continual stream of people moving to and fro carrying shock-absorbers or giving advice, or merely keeping an eye on things to see that all is well. Often you will hear a driver complain after practice that a shock-absorber was “clapped out”. If it is true the follow up is removal and a check by the Koni people, adjustment or replacement as necessary, but all the time supplying the needs of the teams.

The sparking plug world is shared by Champion and NGK, though Champion have the lion’s share of the Formula 1 world. The Champion man is John Glover, who is at all the races making sure that everyone is happy, supplying something special if it is needed, offering advice or checking that an engine is all right, for the sparking plug is the best indicator of what is happening inside an engine. If a team has engine trouble which they cannot trace a close inspection of the sparking plugs can often point the way to an impending fault. The turbo-charged engines are often causing the Champion man to look closely at plugs and proffer advice in consultation with the engine designer. This is all happening quietly behind the pits or amidst the throng of people surrounding the cars. Closely allied to this activity are the ignition people and Lucas. Contactless and Magneto-Marelli all have technical people at the races, especially during practice and testing. While an engine problem may appear to be the province of the sparking plug people it can also involve the ignition system. The electrical people can be called on for help with all the other things on a Formula 1 car that involve electricity. Geoffrey Johnson is the genial Technical Engineering Manager of Lucas Ltd. and he attends all the races, ready to help or advise throughout the whole of the meeting, while you can be sure he has been in constant touch with the teams prior to their leaving base.

All these firms who support Formula 1, and for most of them you can say all other forms of racing as well, have a constant liaison with the racing teams and in the workshops and garages everyone knows that without the support of the trade and the industry Formula 1 would look pretty thin.

D.S.J.

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