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Why the first corner is the most important 24 Jul 2006

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-20 leads at the start of the race. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, 24 July 2005 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D, Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW25, Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2003-GA and Ralph Firman Jnr (GBR) Jordan Ford EJ13 are involved in a first corner collision at the start.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Race Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 3 August 2003 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF105 at the start of the race. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary, 31 July 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, French Grand Prix, Race, Magny-Cours, France, 15 July 2006 The start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 9 October 2005

There are many corners with famous names in Formula One racing, such as the Parabolica at Monza or Becketts at Silverstone. But those are not the only corners that can decide a race: on every track, the corner drivers pay most attention to - and which often commands the most interest from the fans - is the first corner after the race begins.

The battle for the first corner is very brief. When the start lights go out, the drivers have just a few seconds to get into position among the mass of 22 cars charging towards the eye of the needle at the end of the start/finish line. For them, the stakes are extremely high.

“It is much easier to catch up or lose places at the start than during the rest of the race,” Williams’ technical director Sam Michael told team sponsor Allianz. “So only one motto applies for the drivers up to the first corner: keep your eyes straight ahead and put your foot down.”

That’s easier said than done at the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring. Of course, every driver tries to approach the first corner on precisely the ideal line, which as a rule is an extremely narrow corridor and only has space for one car. So the drivers have to concentrate fully on the perfect position and the right braking point and also watch very carefully what is happening in front of and next to them. A glance in the rear-view mirror can’t hurt either - because in these few seconds at the absolute limit, one thing is clear: anyone who makes even the tiniest mistake can not only completely ruin his own chances, but also those of his team mates or his rivals.

In order to keep their nerves in this exceptional situation, drivers have to be absolutely physically and mentally fit. In no other phase of the race is the pressure so great, or must they absorb and process so much information at the same time. Thanks to their concentration and training, the drivers are able to maintain their pulse at 130 beats per minute at the start. Then the body takes over from the psyche. While they race towards the first corner, the pulse rate climbs to 180. Under such stressful conditions, a normal car driver could expect a circulatory collapse.

The battle for the first corner is one of the most exciting moments in any Formula One race. It is no wonder that the drivers prepare for it specifically. Because every track is different, it’s important to analyse the racing lines through the first corner using video recordings from recent years. Sam Michael warns his drivers before every race to be particularly careful in the first corner, even though the drivers are perfectly aware of that. In those critical few seconds, so many things are happening around them that sometimes the drivers can forget. As a result, Michael is all the more relieved when everything has gone well and his drivers have mastered this difficult situation successfully. However, experience has shown him that “to get through the first corner unscathed takes luck as well as skill”.

Because jostling is inevitable in the battle for the first corner, the FIA has done a great deal to make sure it doesn’t have serious consequences for the drivers or spectators. The implementation of generous run-off zones in this area has guaranteed greater safety at the start, as has the restriction of frequent sudden lane changes on the start/finish straight. As a result, the car in front can now only change position once to prevent the car behind from overtaking, with anyone who infringes the regulation liable to be penalised.

All these measures have helped to keep the start exciting, whilst also making sure fewer and fewer drivers have their race finished right at the outset.