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Focus - predicting the unpredictable: weather 22 Dec 2003

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL), BMW Williams FW25, leads Heinz-Harald Frentzen (GER), Sauber Petronas C22, around the famous Indy banking.
United States Grand Prix, Rd15, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, USA., 28 September 2003

There is one race variable over which even the best Formula One teams have absolutely zero control: the weather. But in such a pro-active sport, that doesn't mean anything is left to chance - you may not be able to control the weather, but you can predict it and prepare for it, and doing so correctly can provide a major strategic advantage.

The methods employed to predict weather changes are almost as hi-tech as the cars themselves. Gone are the days of relying on fir cones opening to tell you when it's going to rain. Today, the internet provides a fairly reliably picture of the conditions teams can expect over a Grand Prix, before the race weekend has even begun.

"We use UK-based meteorologists who use satellites and international forecasting centres, and we'll also utilise a local bureau, just to get an idea of variability and to cover all our bases," explains BAR Technical Director Geoff Willis.

Once the race has started, the technology becomes even more vital. At Toyota, team manager Ange Pasquali is of the opinion that the relationship they hold with French meteorological agency, Meteo France, has proved incomparably helpful to the team since it entered Formula One in 2002.

"Our co-operation started at Le Mans in 1997," he says. "Meteo France were a specialist at Roland Garros for the French Open tennis and they were doing extremely precise forecasts. They could get the covers pulled across the court a minute before the rain fell. I thought, 'If they can do it there, why not at Le Mans'? So we started this adventure with them, which we have continued into Formula One.

"At the track we have an expert working with a special tool, which is unique to us. It is codenamed M-Tech (Meteo Technologie) which we use at every race. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but it gives you immediate and long-term weather forecasts, including everything you need in a race - wind direction, wind strength, temperature, ground temperature, air temperature, humidity, any information that can help you run a race or test."

But despite the vast amounts of time and money Formula One teams invest in trying to accurately predict what climatic perils will befall their perfect strategy, things can and do go wrong, as Pasquali perfectly summarises: "zero risk does not exist because the weather is a natural element. You can't be clinical with the forecast or plan 100 percent. There is always a margin for error."

(The above is an edited extract from a much longer feature on weather prediction in Formula One racing. It is available exclusively in the January issue of Formula 1 Magazine.)