You’re sitting on the pit wall during pre-season testing when your car stops out on track. It’s gutting – but what happens next?
From the moment the car goes off, we’ll usually know about it almost instantaneously, because we’ve got real-time telemetry. Then you’ll usually get a little bit of information back from the driver. Sometimes they can be very clear about what’s happened, and sometimes they just doesn’t understand it.
At that point, kind of a parallel process goes on. There’s a crew that’s gone out to collect the car and bring it back on a truck. Depending on the damage, there’ll be certain amounts of remedial work that will go on to repair that. At the same time, the driver is coming back in the medical car.
Concurrently, we’ll then have all the various ‘-ologists’ and analysts who are all looking into their bit of the car. And then there’ll usually be someone like the chief engineer or a systems engineer who’s trying to coordinate that body of work and trying to pick up all the various bits of information. So they might go chat to the transmission person who’ll say, ‘The gearbox was definitely working perfectly’, so you can eliminate certain parts of it as you go along.
Sometimes you can’t get to the bottom of it, and then you start to investigate a little bit more what the driver’s done. That’s usually the job of the performance engineer. They’ll be looking at the data and say, ‘Compared to the lap before, the driver braked at the same point’ or ‘He braked 10 or 15 metres later’. It may not still be apparent, so you’ll go and get circuit TV – we’ve got what’s called the ‘follow-me cams’, which effectively is just CCTV around the circuit. Teams will quite often be running some sort of camera analysis system on the car, too, so you’ll quite often try and get that off the car and understand it. And at some point, you’ll arrive at a fairly concrete conclusion as to what’s happened.
Now if that’s a driver mistake, that’s easy, we just have to fix things and we get back out. Mistakes happen, everybody’s human. If it’s a mechanical fault on any of the car systems, then we need forensic, detailed analysis of how that could have happened, why it could have happened, and the team won’t be prepared to send the car back out until it’s fully understood – safety is paramount.