Coming to a new Grand Prix venue is far from simple; neither for the drivers nor the team. There are certain variables we can predict and others that we can’t. Of course, there are the basics; we can start off by looking at the historical weather patterns of the region to see what kind of challenges we will be facing in terms of temperature and if there are any adverse conditions we should take into account. From there things start to get a little more complex, but thanks to technology advancements within the sport there is still plenty of work that can be done before the cars even turn a wheel to give us the best possible start to the weekend.
First of all, the FIA have provided us with a track map and dimensions which allows us to create a digital representation of the layout for simulation work. This in turn gives us the opportunity to establish things like expected downforce levels, static ride height settings and so on. There are still elements which we won’t find out until the drivers get out on track; the smoothness of the track surface, severity of the kerbs… the kind of factors which influence spring and damper settings for example. As far as those factors are concerned, we will start the weekend with what you might call an ‘average’ setup and work from there.
This may sound like a slightly basic way of doing things but – with the exception of very specific venues like Monza and Monaco – the nature of this year’s car means that we see very little significant variation in setup between circuits, so this should provide a good base line to start the weekend; particularly as the COTA layout is not too dissimilar to that of a Silverstone or Suzuka style track. The same is true with the engine side of things in terms if gear ratios and so on. We can simulate what should theoretically be the optimum settings for the track but these are just that; theoretical. We’ll start off with an option that should be close to the mark, but the drivers may want to tweak things slightly as the weekend progresses.
Another thing we can simulate in advance is the energy levels put through the tyres around the circuit and which compounds are likely to have the hardest time. Pirelli’s engineers visited the circuit in August to take measurements and collect samples, using sophisticated laser equipment to assess the abrasiveness of the circuit by closely examining the spacing and shape of the stones that make up the aggregate. We’ll be given that information on arrival when we’ll work with them to explore what levels of degradation and wear to expect. As with any brand new circuit we can assume there will be pretty monumental levels of track evolution but this is nothing out of the ordinary; even for certain circuits which have been around for years such as Monaco for example.
Once the weekend is underway, there is still plenty of preparation work which can aid us in having the car right on the mark come Sunday afternoon. As soon as the initial FP1 runs have been completed on Friday morning, a raft of data will be sent back to Enstone so that more accurate and detailed simulations can begin; particularly with regards to elements such as ride analysis. In this case, the data will be used to create a track file utilised with our seven post rig to investigate alternative spring and damper settings, giving us an instant impression of where improvements can likely be made for FP2 and beyond.
Obviously we’ll learn as much as we can during the Free Practice sessions, and we’ll work together as a team and try to predict and develop the best outcome we can. At the end of the day all the teams are in the same position, so it is all about doing the best you possibly can with what you have. For the drivers, learning a new circuit is not an issue. Neither Kimi nor Romain had been to Korea until this year, but within a couple of runs in FP1 both were right up to speed. Any driver worth his salt will adapt almost immediately; they just seem to instinctively know where to put the car. It’s always exciting going to a new track and the facilities in Texas look mightily impressive, so we’re looking forward to the challenge!
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Austin is our next stop for the United States Grand Prix; the on-track action getting underway with FP1 at 09:00 local time on Friday 16th November. In the meantime, stay tuned to our Official Website, Twitter feed, Facebook profile and Google+ page for race preview features, in addition to all the latest news from Enstone.