During a Grand Prix weekend, race control lies at the very heart of Formula One, responsible for monitoring and supervising all stages of the practice, qualifying and race sessions.
Facilities vary between different circuits, but all will have several key features essential to allowing the FIA Race Director and his staff to make the right decisions to keep things safe, legal and to schedule.
Screens will provide images from every part of the circuit with a dedicated Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system. This enables the location of problems to be detected quickly - and the appropriate action taken.
Timing data will also be provided with the same information feed given to the teams (and similar to the information available on Formula1.coms 'Live Timing' section during race sessions). However, in addition the Race Director will have access to a plethora of additional information, such as the pit lane speed trap, allowing him to ensure that all sessions are run safely and within the regulations.
There is also telephone and radio contact with the principal marshals' posts, safety car, medical response car and the medical centre, so that in the event of any major problem the Race Director can remain in full contact with the relevant people. It is the responsibility of Race Control to order the deployment of the safety car when necessary and - equally importantly - to bring it back in at the right time.
The Race Director will be assisted by other FIA personnel, and also staff from the local circuit itself. A vital part of the race controls responsibility is that of referring to the race stewards incidents in which drivers may have transgressed rules or broken the sporting code that governs racing. The most common penalty given in such incidents is the 'drive-through' where a driver will have to make an unscheduled trip through the pit lane without stopping.
For more complicated disciplinary issues, such as who was to blame in an accident or for contact between cars, may be assessed at the conclusion of the race, rather than during it, as this gives teams a chance to defend their drivers conduct. In the event of a very serious incident - or if track conditions become dangerous (for example, due to very heavy rain) - the race director is also responsible for deciding if the race should be stopped.
It is a tribute to the unruffled professionalism typical of the men and women who staff Race Control at Grands Prix that races typically progress as smoothly as they do - and problems are pounced upon and contained very quickly.