Excitement is mounting with only a few days to go until we find out who is the 2010 World Champion. Quite rightly, in Formula 1, the main focus is indeed all about the drivers, but they would find life pretty tough without the race engineers, their link to the team and the men who hold the key to unlock their performance. We spoke to Jaime Alguersuari’s and Sebastien Buemi’s race engineers for a look at this special relationship as the season comes to a close.
Andrea Landi: race engineer to Jaime Alguersuari
The relationship between driver and engineer is a special one in that involves both parties having one hundred percent trust in one another. In the past eight years I have seen it is very difficult for the driver to understand everything that goes on with the car and the feelings a driver has might not necessarily be the true situation. So you need to get a feeling for what it is they mean and you can only understand this by building up something race by race. The difficulty is in understanding what they want to say. That’s why all you can do is have total trust in him and build on it.
We have access to hundreds of thousands of elements of data and theoretically we can see everything on the car, but when you change something on a car, the first source of information you have to follow is that supplied by the driver, because during a free practice session at a race weekend you don’t have time to go into all the detail from the data. You make changes and adjustments to the car during the session, based on the driver’s feelings so the driver is the first guide to how the set-up and the session will evolve.
When Jaime joined us he had no experience of F1 and in fact very little experience of any sort of racing. I was pleased about this because it meant I had a blank canvas to work with, as I believe it can be more difficult for an engineer to run a driver who has a lot of experience. In some ways though that might be easier, because maybe you get better information, but on the other side he is already “formatted.” With a young driver you can start something together. You can teach him how to work and how is your style of engineering. Starting from zero is a challenge, but if you push and you have good material you can build something really good.
With Jaime, you can see the improvement race by race and, believe me, it was a huge step from last year to this year. There is still much to improve on both sides and there is always something to learn. Jaime has evolved a lot and in the first instance the biggest improvement was in terms of his physical condition. When we started, he was not strong enough to maintain concentration throughout the race but this improved remarkably over the winter. At first, new F1 drivers usually feel lost and panic if the performance is not good. If you panic you do not think about how to solve the problems you have. Here we made another big step and I am happy with the way we tackled difficult moments, of which you have a couple in almost every race weekend. In this situation, I told him this is the moment when he has to show he is older than his years and stay calm. There has been a big improvement in this respect. In the first two free practice sessions we are not looking for performance we are looking at car set-up and try to understand what is going on. Sometimes we test something that does not work, so the lap time does not come and drivers are fixated by lap time. Jaime has learned that this is not important and he concentrates on how the car is evolving, its balance etc. Then we can start thinking about performance in FP3. It is one of Jaime’s strong points. I am really happy with the rapport and the relationship we have built together really happy.
Riccardo Adami: Race Engineer to Sebastien Buemi
I have worked with Sebastien for two seasons, his entire time in Formula 1 in fact and we have a good relationship. As we come towards the end of our second season together it has been very important to build up that relationship and get to know one another very well. This is the key to getting up to speed as soon as possible during a race weekend so that we can be well prepared and ready to deal with any situation. The level of understanding is also important when it carries over in terms of supplying information back in the factory for the post-race debriefs. This understanding is not just a technical matter in terms of interpreting the driver’s comments about the car. It also extends to the psychological and motivational side of the job. So, from this point of view it is important for me to have an understanding of Seb’s character and for him to know me. The reason you need a very close relationship is that in the intense environment of a race weekend, sometimes you need to make decisions regarding for example tyre choice or set up in almost fractions of a second. I enjoy working with Sebastien as he is very open-minded and willing to try new things on the car without any issue. He does not have fixed ideas about what he does and does not want on the car and so working together is an enjoyable experience.
If I think back to the first few tests he did in the car, when he had no Formula 1 experience, his learning curve got steeper and steeper. A driver coming from the lower formulae faces a big challenge stepping up to F1 because although in GP2 where Seb was before, he would have experienced working with a race engineer, in F1, you have to work with other engineers too and a bigger crew of people. It is important therefore to work very closely with everyone and this comes back to an earlier point about motivation, in that it is the role of a driver to keep his crew motivated and eager to work. Seb has grown quite a lot in terms of leading the team. Understanding the relationship between all the people in the team and how they work together is a big part of a driver’s job and at first he did not have that. At first he did not understand what was going on around him but now he does. It?s been a big improvement. Apart from what I would call these psychological elements, his technical understanding of the car is a lot better compared to his first year. This season has been a difficult one, but we got through it working together day by day, trying to make as few mistakes as possible from both sides. Speed is not an issue, Seb is not lacking in speed, he is fast. If this has been a difficult time for him I am sure we can recover from it quite soon because he has the skills needed to do so.
© RIF | Toro Rosso