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Author Topic: Weather  (Read 2085 times)

Offline Wizzo

« on: April 23, 2006, 04:30:21 PM »
As with all Formula 1 races, when the tacticians of the race teams get down to defining their strategy for the Japanese Grand Prix, starting position and fuel consumption are not the only issues of concern. The weather is also given a great deal of consideration. To avoid unpleasant surprises, the teams invest a lot of time and money in weather forecasts upon which they can rely.

Japanese Grand Prix 2004: when darkness fell on the Suzuka Racing Circuit the Friday before the race, the paddocks were secured against the coming storm. The teams strapped down boxes and containers using safety lines and nets. Typhoon Ma-on was waiting just off the coast and had been sending heavy bursts of rain over the land throughout the entire day. Even the circuit was flooded. As a result, for the first time in Formula 1 history, nobody drove on the Saturday and qualifying was rescheduled for Sunday. As usual in Formula 1, there was only one priority: safety first.

Such natural forces do not, however, provide the teams’ weathermen with a simple job all the time. Because the weather makes no exceptions for Formula 1, their job is a delicate affair and one of the most thankless in the top class of motorsports, a job which only rarely offers the deserved reward. During the days before the race, all the relevant meteorological data arrives on their laptops from the most varied sources. They are then expected to draw the correct conclusions from the mass of information provided. Because so much depends on their forecast – a wrong estimation on their part can have the direst effects on the result of the race – they must not only take performance into account, but safety as well.

“Over the past few years, the weather forecasts have become an important detail in the race strategy,” says Dickie Stanford, the WilliamsF1 Team Manager. What he and his colleagues compile for their teams has hardly anything left in common with the weather forecasts seen daily on television. They are not only expected to predict whether it will rain, but actually when precisely it will do so, what temperature it will be at the time, whether there will be any wind and if so at what speed it will be blowing and from which direction. Additional complications are added by the fact that they need to make their predictions for a highly specific area, the race track, and for the relatively short time window of 90 minutes, the average duration of a grand prix. The necessary respect for their work, in view of these

requirements, is not lacking. Dickie Stanford says: “The teams rely entirely on these forecasts for their race strategies.”

Once the overall weather situation has been established, the strategists in the pits demand the details. If rain has been predicted, then they would very much like to know what temperature it will have. This is especially interesting for those responsible for the engine, as petrol displays different combustion properties at different rain temperatures and therefore needs to be appropriately mixed. To achieve the highest possible rate of accuracy in their forecasts, the teams undertake tremendous efforts. For WilliamsF1, the English meteorological company ‘Weather Eye’ collects all the relevant data and sends it to the small weather station that the team sets up in the pit lane at every race. Some teams rely on mobile radar stations located at the top of hills near the circuit; others constantly have a helicopter airborne, which might sometimes even fly along ahead of a rain front to gauge how fast it is approaching the race track. Thanks to the linking of the various information systems, it is nowadays possible to obtain highly accurate forecasts even for sudden changes in the weather. Dickie Stanford says: “This goes as far as being able, at some circuits, to predict almost to the minute at which corner it will start raining first.”

In the past, the teams had always had many possibilities of adapting their cars’ set-ups for a wet-weather race. The rules as they stand now allow only minimal modifications, which makes a weather forecast that is as accurate as possible all the more important – especially as the cars have to start the race with the set-up used for qualifying. That the cars are hardly adjusted for the rain can, on the other hand, provide for very interesting races because the drivers’ skill accounts for much more under such conditions. Not only do they need to handle a vehicle at the limit which is now more difficult to control, but they also need to come to terms with the constantly changing degree of grip. In unsettled weather, the proper tyre strategy also has a determining influence on the chances for victory. Like all members of a team, the weathermen do their very best. However, their forecasts are still not always right. “An accurate forecast,” says Dickie Stanford, “remains very difficult to achieve despite the highly developed computer technology.”

So the weathermen of Formula 1 are not all that upset if, as was the case last year, nature occasionally makes their job easier. Although it does not necessarily need to be a full-blown typhoon.

And did you know...

... that of 748 Formula 1 races that have been held since 1950, nine have had to be ended prematurely due to rain? The first of them was in 1950, when the Indianapolis 500 was still part of the Formula 1 World Championship. The winner, John Parsons, saw the chequered flag after only 354 miles. The most recent was the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix, which saw Michael Schumacher win after only 62 of 78 laps.

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