As season moves closer to home base,drivers head to office

Off track: F1’s european races give drivers more time to personally interact with staff at factories

Written by New York Times | Published:May 12, 2012 3:20 am

BRAD SPURGEON

As the European portion of the Formula One series gets underway this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix,a race is finally taking place in a country closer to the teams’ home bases — all of which are in Europe.

While that means a lot less travel for the teams and drivers compared to the first four races — in Australia,Asia and Bahrain — it also means the beginning of a period during which drivers have a little more travel of a different kind to make. While race drivers may look like guys passing their lives around race tracks and on beaches or at sponsor events,the close proximity to their team factories — where the bulk of a team’s hundreds of employees work and make the cars — means their lives now begin to look a bit more like that of the average office worker.

In a sport where so much of the success depends on the brains and mechanical and technical artisans and workers at the team factory creating the best car possible,the key that helps the whole enterprise flourish comes in the form of human interaction.

Drivers visit their team factories to talk with technicians and engineers to build up human synergy,to pass on technical tips and information from the human point of view — rather than relying on all the computer sensors that cover a modern racing car — and to motivate the troops.

“You cannot replace the human contact,” says Graeme Lowden,president and sporting director of the Marussia team founded two years ago as Virgin and now 10th in the standings. “If the designer knows the driver personally,then he thinks,‘I’m going to go that extra mile,because it’s for Charles,or it’s for Timo,and they are great guys and I know them and they come and talk to me and they have a coffee,’” Lowden added,referring to the team’s drivers,Charles Pic and Timo Glock.

Even at teams with long histories the job is of vital importance,said Bruno Senna,a driver with Williams. “Whenever I am back in Europe I go to the factory,spending one or two days,depending on what we have to do. The human factor is so much bigger than people imagine,especially from the outside,in Formula One,” he said. “It is absolutely much stronger than I imagined.”

Senna said he has meetings with the aerodynamics engineers,with chassis engineers and even with the mechanics. All the drivers go to spend hours driving in the simulator as well,to give more technical feedback to engineers and familiarise themselves with the tracks.

At Mercedes,which won its first race at the Chinese Grand Prix last month,Norbert Haug,the motorsport director,said that face-to-face interaction was important. “I think human factor,the motivational factor,the clap-your-shoulders factor like,‘Hey guys,great job and the car is heading in the right direction’ — this probably gives you the next tenth of a second,” Haug said.

Heikki Kovalainen,driver with Caterham,said he goes once or twice a month to the factory during the European season and more frequently during the off-season. “I think it is good to go,rather than just always do it by e-mail and phone calls all the time,” Kovalainen said.

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