Have you ever noticed whilst driving on the public that you find yourself accelerating towards brake lights? If you haven’t, I bet you’ve seen others do it. Whether its stationary traffic, a red light up ahead, or simply speeding around to a parking space, people seem to race.
Motorsport is by nature fast paced. It rewards speed and aggression on the track. But you will often find that the best drivers are cool and calm inside the helmets, despite the danger and competition going on around them. They have an ability to recognise situations as either green, amber or red. They know when they can go hell for leather or when to use caution in attempting an overtake. They also can see the future and notice the gap they are going for is closing and won’t exist by the time they arrive. The drivers don’t race towards the red light. They recognise a missed opportunity and learn from it - they won't be fooled again!
As an engineer it is equally important to recognise the futility and risk associated with charging towards a goal that can’t be achieved. Recognising when to cut your losses and try a new tact is a skill that can be learned and one that can resurrect a race weekend. Within motorsport, safety cars, punctures and even the weather can cause the engineers to dramatically rethink their game plan and work towards damage limitation. Taking advantage of a futile situation before other notice is a key ingredient to the winning race teams.
When you see a light change from green to red, it is already to late. That opportunity has passed and you must immediately do two things:
You can often feel helpless as an engineer observing a race. You have done the setup. You have given the driver his tactics. You have worked to optimise everything. Now the uncontrolled aspects of motorsport are the enemy and mitigation becomes your buzz word.
Stop racing towards the red light, and start seeing the green and ambers to either side. Work on the next problem rather than the ones that have already passed you by.
Tom is an engineer working his way through the motorsport industry, sharing stories, anecdotes and lessons to help new engineers coming through the ranks.