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The Formula One Race Engineer Unravelled - Part Three 23 Sep 2009

Jock Clear (GBR) Senior Race Engineer talks with Rubens Barrichello (BRA). Formula One Testing, Day Four, Barcelona, Spain, 12 March 2009.  
Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 13 September 2009 (L to R): Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team with Jock Clear (GBR) Honda Senior Race Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 2 August 2008 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 21 May 2009 Jock Clear (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix Senior Race Engineer celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia Spain, Sunday, 23 August 2009

Behind every great man, there’s a great woman, goes the saying. In Formula One racing it’s more a case of behind every great driver, there’s a great race engineer. It’s one of the most important roles in the sport, but one that’s not always that easy to understand, such is its depth of scope.

In the final instalment of our three-part feature, we speak to Brawn GP's Jock Clear, engineer to title contender Rubens Barrichello, about how the engineer-driver combination copes with the bad times - and how it feels when the good times return…

For Clear the driver/race engineer combo is very much a two-man unit, and he admits to feeling just as much disappointment as the driver after a poor showing. Last season then, when Barrichello endured a dismal year, racking up just two top-ten qualifying positions, four retirements and a measly 11 points, must have been horrible. You’d imagine in those trying circumstances it would be difficult to keep a driver (and himself) motivated, but Clear believes rather than being a constant battle, the frustration only really surfaces over a race weekend.

“It’s not a daily struggle; it’s a struggle every Saturday and Sunday,” he explains. “To be honest that’s the only time that you really find yourself feeling at a low ebb. You’re continually battered over the head with the fact that you’re not quick enough, or not reliable enough. But by the time you come in on Monday morning, you’re doing your job almost in isolation again.

“There’s nothing I can do on Monday morning about stopping Red Bull going faster, I can only focus on what we are doing. So it’s relatively easy to continue doing your job and enjoying your job on a weekly basis. It is only during qualifying and the races when you really do take another slap in the face and no one feels that more acutely than the driver.”

After his success at Williams with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, Clear then endured almost a decade of lean times. This year, however, he’s back at the front. Brawn have one of the fastest cars on the grid and are currently leading the championship. Together he and Barrichello have scored 66 world championship points, four podiums and recently their first victories at the European and Italian Grands Prix. Clear is understandably delighted he’s fighting for wins again.

“It feels absolutely fantastic, there’s no doubt about it,” he exclaims. “This is what we planned to do from day one in 1998 when the team was conceived. It’s been a tougher struggle than perhaps we’d expected it to be but I think it’s every bit as enjoyable as I expected it to be. Rubens and myself have enjoyed success in the past, so you know what it tastes like and therefore you know exactly what you’re looking for. I think maybe the trials and tribulations of the last eight or nine years do make it that much more enjoyable when you get there.”

At the start of the season, Barrichello’s team mate Jenson Button led Brawn’s title challenge, but a mid-season lull for British driver and a renaissance for the Brazilian means things are now much closer. Although firm friends away from the track, at races the duo are committed rivals. Clear and his counterpart on Button’s side of the garage, Andrew Shovlin (‘Shov’ for short), however, are not at war.

“There’s very little in the scope of my job that allows me to give Rubens the edge, other than trying to do my job as best I can and make those key decision maybe more correctly than Shov does,” he explains. “Essentially the race engineers have to work together to develop the car as best you can. There’s a huge transfer of information from one side of the garage to the other all the time, so I’d say there’s very little combative spirit.

“Again I don’t think you could work that closely with people unless you got on very well. You spend literally half of the year with them, eating dinner, having breakfast, travelling in the same car to and from the circuit. There’s no benefit to anyone if you start locking horns between the two engineers.”

That said, Clear is working hard to eek the most out of every race for his driver. As Barrichello inches ever closer to his team mate in the standings, Clear is the closest he’s come to winning the title in 12 years. But whilst hopeful of matching his triumph with Villeneuve this year with Barrichello, Clear is ever the realist.

“If we don’t go on to win the world championship with Rubens, and Jenson wins it, then I will forever be disappointed that we weren’t able to get Rubens a world championship,” he says. “It’s difficult to argue that I’m enjoying it more now than when in 1997 with Jacques winning the world championship, because a world championship is a world championship. But I think I’ll still have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed it in 1997 for different reasons. When I went to Williams the team already existed and they’d already proven themselves, whereas this has been a much bigger fight. Ten or 12 years on I think it’s more satisfying now because we’ve seen the team grow.”

One thing’s for sure, Clear is a race engineer through and through, and despite his experience, isn’t looking for a change in career any time soon.

“The best thing is that you are on the coalface,” he concludes. “People say to me would you want to be a technical director one day. I think, would I want to be paid a technical director’s salary? Yes, obviously. Would I want to do a technical director’s job? I’m not sure, probably not. I don’t think there’s any better job in the world in Formula One than race engineering.”

To read Part One of this feature, click here.
To read Part Two of this feature, click here.