« Previous | Main | Next »

Ted Kravitz - the Hungarian GP from the pit lane

Post categories:

F1 Mole | 12:30 UK time, Wednesday, 29 July 2009

McLaren really know how to spoil a special moment with their matter-of-fact radio messages after a win.

With any other team we hear some emotive congratulatory words from an engineer or a team boss.

But after his win in Hungary, all we heard on TV that was broadcast of Lewis Hamilton's radio communication was a few words of heartfelt but understated thanks from his engineer, followed by an instruction to "go to yellow Golf 8 and standard procedures". Party on!


By the way, the 'G', or Golf switch is for the engine. It is used to control the fuel mixture and engine revs.

Showbiz moments aside, McLaren have managed to make up a deficit of two seconds a lap since the start of the season, which is a deeply impressive achievement.

Most of it has come from ditching their original front wing, floor and diffuser concept, which was causing the air under the car to stall, and get jumbled up before it reached the diffuser.

Since the German Grand Prix, they have a front wing with two sizeable holes in the endplates, a new floor and a beautifully intricate double diffuser with a massive hole in the middle.

The air is now flowing smoothly under the car and being expelled at high speed out of the diffuser, as it should be.

As well as investing in elaborate double diffusers, McLaren have continued to plough time and money into small things that might make a difference, regardless of expense or complexity.

Their latest is a pit stop traffic-light system, but not the kind used by Ferrari last year and then abandoned after the mix-up in the pits that cost Felipe Massa a win in Singapore. McLaren's system exists to warn the team of traffic in the pit lane.

There are two red lights on the rear pit gantry. These are linked to a sensor which looks at a zone about one garage length up the pit lane.

If the sensor picks up a car in this zone, the lights stay red, and the lollipop man holds the McLaren in the box.

But if there are no cars in the zone, the lights go green, and Lewis or Heikki are cleared to be released into the pit lane.

It frees up lollipop man Pete Vale to concentrate on whether the refuelling and tyres are finished, rather than constantly checking the pit lane for traffic as well.

We saw it in action at Hamilton's first stop, when he was held in the box for at least two seconds as Rosberg came down the pit lane.

The red lights worked as they should, although McLaren might reflect that since there was no penalty given to Red Bull for their early release of Webber into Raikkonen, they might be losing out by being so cautious.

Other teams seem to manage perfectly well with a more 'human' system. At Williams, they measure out a point in the pit lane for lollipop man Carl Gaden to look at. It's typically halfway between Red Bull and Toro Rosso, the teams ahead of them in the pits.

If another car has passed that point, it's not safe to release the Williams. If it is ahead of that point, the Williams will be able to accelerate quickly enough to avoid an accident.


At the end of the race I wandered down the pit lane to the Brawn timing stand. Ross Brawn, his team manager and engineers sat impassively, staring at Rubens Barrichello coming home 10th.

Brawn then sighed, unplugged his headset, hunched over his worktop and dropped his head, just taking a moment to himself. No-one was saying anything on the pit wall.

I had genuinely never seen him like that, hence my "Are you all right?" first question. The weekend's events must have affected Brawn very deeply.

Sure, the cars had a bad race, and the tyres hadn't got up to temperature again, despite the track being hotter. And OK, Mark Webber had taken four points out of Jenson Button's championship lead.

But all that paled into insignificance compared to the part his car had played in the injury to Felipe Massa, a friend and a driver he had nurtured in 2006, Brawn's last year at Ferrari.

It was a very unusual thing to happen. The heave spring and damper is the part of the rear suspension that absorbs the vertical movement. So if you were to stand on top of the rear wing, the heave spring would take the load.

The rear torsion bars take the horizontal loadings, when the car is 'in roll', ie when it is going round corners. Brawn will be conducting their own inquiry into how the heave spring assembly fell apart in conjunction with the FIA technical department.


While Felipe Massa was in intensive care, nobody in the team, quite rightly, would discuss their options for car number three.

Marc Gene and Luca Badoer are the official test drivers, although it is Gene who comes to all the races and attends the drivers' briefings. Badoer comes to only four or five races a year.

Marc Gene was asked on Sunday whether he would get the drive for the rest of the season, replying that he did not know, and it was not the time to think about such things.

But now Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali has confirmed that he will be addressing the matter this week.

So with Felipe's speedy return the best outcome, let's assess the candidates.

Marc Gene is 35-years-old, and while he has excelled in sports cars, recently winning the Le Mans 24 hours for Peugeot, he has a single sixth place to his credit in F1.

He has not driven this year's Ferrari - he was due to test at the start of the season, but did not do so because of bad weather. Despite this, Gene must be the favourite.

The most mouth-watering option for the outsider is Fernando Alonso - one can imagine that F1 promoter Bernie Ecclestone would love that idea.

Alonso's Renault team have been banned for the Valencia race and it is believed that the Spaniard has a contract to race for Ferrari in the future. Even so, it must be considered unlikely that Alonso will drive one of the red cars at the European Grand Prix.

Alonso would not have any time to test the Ferrari, and as a result would likely be out-paced by Kimi Raikkonen, who would be well motivated to bet the man who has been tipped to steal his drive.

Quite apart from that, Renault would want Alonso back for the rest of the season after their ban - and that's assuming they do not get it overturned on appeal - and Fernando would take a load of Ferrari information back with him.

It could also be seen as an insult to Massa. Everyone in F1 believes Alonso is going to end up at Ferrari at some point - how would it make Felipe feel if they put him into the car at the first opportunity to give him a head start?

Which leaves Luca Badoer, Mirko Bortolotti or Michael Schumacher - and possibly, now BMW have announced their withdrawal from F1, Robert Kubica.

Kubica is known to be a favourite of Ferrari, but whether BMW would release him is another matter - and it would be harsh on Massa in the same way Alonso would.

Badoer last raced in F1 10 years ago and has not tested this year's car, although he did a lot of development work on its Kers power-boost system in a previous spec car over the winter.

Italian Formula Three champion Bortolotti is a massive prospect for the future, but is only 19.

Ferrari does not race teenagers, although the Italian did break the lap record at the team's Fiorano test track back in November at his first attempt, so is clearly pretty special. He is an outside bet.

And Schumacher? He could slot straight back into the organisation. Massa would give it his blessing, as he knows there is no long-term threat there.

Whether Michael wants to is another matter, but if Ferrari ask him in all seriousness to drive the car, I believe he would have to think long and hard about turning them down.


Speaking with Renault people at Budapest airport following their one-race ban, their complaint wasn't that allowing Alonso out of his pit box with an loose wheel nut shouldn't have been punished, but that the punishment did not fit the crime.

They argued that wheels have come off cars in the past, and the car has returned to the pits without penalty, which is true.

It's also true that teams have allowed cars to continue racing in a dangerous condition (Kimi Raikkonen in a McLaren with flat spotted tyres at the Nurburgring in 2005, for example, when he lost the win on the final lap when his tyre exploded).

Indeed, in the paranoid world of F1, there will be people who connect the relationship between Renault boss Flavio Briatore and FIA president Max Mosley, which has become strained in the political battles of this season, with Renault being harshly treated by the FIA. Real or imagined? You decide.

But while they might be frustrated with the ruling, Renault shouldn't be surprised they received a severe punishment for their mistake 24 hours after a driver was seriously injured by debris falling off a car.


More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.