The standard format of most races is as follows:
Line up on the grid
Drive a formation lap
Line up on the grid… again
Start the Race
Drive the Race
Finish the Race
Not complex. Not messy. Not taxing. Sometimes this format isn't quite followed. Sometimes things don't quite go to plan.
At the British Touring Car Championship season opener this past weekend, the race did not get going until the third attempt. Following two formation laps (as it is a short circuit) the first race had an aborted start as the pole sitter suffered mechanical difficulties. This would have almost guaranteed a huge incident so the safest thing to do was wait.
After another two formation laps, the cars lined up again. This time there was a huge incident on the start/finish straight and the race was red flagged after just a few hundred meters of racing. The cars drove around the track, stopping short of the grid to allow for clean-up. During this time the cars were in parc ferme, but mechanics were given access to allow for final checks and to ensure the cars kept cool.
After yet another two formation laps, the cars lined up once again. Finally we got the race started.
Whilst all of this was going on, the team radios were alive with chatter. The track and championship officials were communicating with team managers, trying to keep them informed of what was happening. The team managers were informing the drivers' engineers, and the engineers were informing the drivers. Questions about grid position, formation laps, fuel quantities, temperatures, pressures, strategy and tyre choice. The sheer amount of information being exchanged was colossal.
Throughout all of this though, the team remained calm and collected. There was no panic and, all things being considered, everything ran smoothly for the restart. And the reason for this sense of calm in such a chaotic situation?
Whatever the outcome, and whatever the circumstance, there is a process for dealing with it. Processes may be general and generic, but can be tailored to suit situations such as this. Having both the experience and confidence to deal with chaotic and fluid situations sets the difference between the good teams and the best teams. And each element within those teams must have that same mindset and that same preparedness.
Spend the time between races planning and practicing for every eventuality.
Fail to Prepare - Prepare to Fail.
You won’t always win. That is the nature of motorsport. Everyone wants to win and everyone strives to win, but only one team can win.
If you turn up to a motorsport event without believing you can win, then you have already lost. Henry Ford once said “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right”, and nowhere is that more true than in the competitive arena of motorsport. Being confident in your ability as a person and as a team is a big part of achieving that podium top step, but the danger is that confidence gives way to cockiness, which in turn breeds complacency. At this point, you have lost.
During the early 2000’s, Formula 1 was dominated by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. The combination of blistering performance from the car, and the unmatchable talent of the driver meant the races became “who’s coming in second place today?” contests. Following that, Renault dominated with Alonso. Then it was Red Bull with Vettel. And now it is Mercedes. Do you believe that these teams ever become complacent? Do you think they are ever overly confident in their victories? No. These teams, the engineers, the mechanics and the drivers, put the same effort in whether it is they are chasing their first win of the season, or the tenth. The work is relentless and even after a championship is secured, they push until the chequered flag of the final race. Everyone in these teams believe they can win.
All that being said, sometimes things don’t work in your favour. Bad weather, a puncture, an accident; things will work against you and the victory will seep away. Sometimes you will enter a championship with a car that is simply not competitive. When Mercedes turned up at the first race in 2014 with their wildly out-of-the-box-thinking split turbo V6, they dominated. No one else was competitive. But they all still turned up and they all still raced. At Canada, something happened. What Mercedes would call a disaster, and what Red Bull would call a miracle. The two Mercedes cars suffered almost simultaneous failures of the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (MGU-K). The result was the 20 second lead was worthless and Red Bull claimed the first non-Mercedes win of the season. Red Bull had ploughed through and it had paid off!
So no, you will not always win. You will not always make the podium. You will not always be competitive. You will not always even finish the race! But if you give your everything, to every race, eventually you will win.
Stick it out.
Tom is an engineer working his way through the motorsport industry, sharing stories, anecdotes and lessons to help new engineers coming through the ranks.