The Formula One Race Engineer Unravelled - Part Three 23 Sep 2009
Behind every great man, theres a great woman, goes the saying. In Formula One racing its more a case of behind every great driver, theres a great race engineer. Its one of the most important roles in the sport, but one thats 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. Youd 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.
Its not a daily struggle; its a struggle every Saturday and Sunday, he explains. To be honest thats the only time that you really find yourself feeling at a low ebb. Youre continually battered over the head with the fact that youre not quick enough, or not reliable enough. But by the time you come in on Monday morning, youre doing your job almost in isolation again.
Theres nothing I can do on Monday morning about stopping Red Bull going faster, I can only focus on what we are doing. So its 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, hes 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 hes fighting for wins again.
It feels absolutely fantastic, theres no doubt about it, he exclaims. This is what we planned to do from day one in 1998 when the team was conceived. Its been a tougher struggle than perhaps wed expected it to be but I think its 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 youre 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, Barrichellos team mate Jenson Button led Brawns 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 Buttons side of the garage, Andrew Shovlin (Shov for short), however, are not at war.
Theres 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. Theres a huge transfer of information from one side of the garage to the other all the time, so Id say theres very little combative spirit.
Again I dont 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. Theres 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 hes 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 dont go on to win the world championship with Rubens, and Jenson wins it, then I will forever be disappointed that we werent able to get Rubens a world championship, he says. Its difficult to argue that Im 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 Ill 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 theyd already proven themselves, whereas this has been a much bigger fight. Ten or 12 years on I think its more satisfying now because weve seen the team grow.
One things for sure, Clear is a race engineer through and through, and despite his experience, isnt 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 directors salary? Yes, obviously. Would I want to do a technical directors job? Im not sure, probably not. I dont think theres 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.