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Author Topic: Before the Start  (Read 1547 times)

Offline Wizzo

Before the Start
« on: April 23, 2006, 04:59:57 PM »

The most exciting moment of a Formula 1 race is the start. When the engines start to howl like a pack of hungry wolves as soon as the starting lights go out, when the tyres claw into the asphalt in search of the best grip and the cars fly towards the first corner like a squadron of fighter planes, a cold shiver runs down the backs of the fans watching in the stands and on TV. It is only a matter of seconds, but it gets under your skin.

As elsewhere, everything to do with the start is extremely well regulated at the Hungarian Grand Prix. The individual stages of the start procedure are itemised in detail in the racing regulations of the Fédération Internationale de l´Automobile (FIA), with timings stipulated to the very second. So what does happen, then, in the last 15 minutes before the start, and what is this final countdown like for the drivers and their teams? 

15.00 minutes: the light at the exit to the pit lane switches to red. Anyone not already on the grid or out on the circuit making their way to their grid position is out of luck – they must now wait and drive off from the pit lane behind the field after the start. Fifteen minutes to go. There is a rush of activity on the starting grid, at this point still the stage of vanities. While TV journalists wander through the grid rows in search of someone to interview, mechanics make one more check of all the cars’ major systems. Some of the drivers now want to be left in peace and to concentrate completely on the race, while others appear totally relaxed and stand chatting at the side of the track. Dickie Stanford of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team has experience of many drivers, and most of them wanted to talk to take their minds off things. Nigel Mansell did, as did Riccardo Patrese, and Juan Pablo Montoya “hardly ever stopped talking. It was only Jacques Villeneuve who was best given a wide berth as the start drew near”.

10.00 minutes: a hooter sounds and a board is shown: everyone except the drivers, team members and officials have to clear the grid. Tension mounts, especially for the drivers. The time for incidental small talk is over. “Anyone who still wants to talk now, wants to talk about the car, wants to be sure that nothing has been forgotten,” says Dickie Stanford. “Some of them are so worked up that they ask about the weather, even though the sun’s beaming down from a clear sky.” They simply talk, about anything at all.

05.00 minutes: most of the drivers are now sitting in their cars. The tyres must be mounted, and indeed from now on they can only be changed in the pits should they be damaged. Normally, Formula 1 drivers are reckoned to be men with nerves of steel. However, just before the start of the race many a favourite finds it hard to stay cool. Drivers’ pulses demonstrate just how great the tension is. While in the pits, as they were still getting ready for the moment of truth, their pulse may have been 60 beats a minute, it has now climbed to 90. The engineers go through their checklist one more time, checking things such as differential setting, brake power and temperatures. Together with the driver they make sure that he hasn’t accidentally flicked some important switch or other as he’s climbed into the cockpit. They can do nothing more at this point.

03.00 minutes: three double starting lights come on. The drivers are strapped in. Only their engineer, an engine man, the electricians and mechanics are still with them. Just in case.

01.00 minutes: engines are started. Only two of the double starting lights are still on.

00.15 minutes: now, only one double light remains. The last of the people from the teams have also left the grid, taking their equipment with them. It is now down to the drivers alone. If they need any technical help, they must raise their arm and wait until the field is out on the warm-up lap. In this event, a marshal with a yellow flag stands behind the car and warns the starters positioned behind it. In the pit lane, the teams’ rapid intervention crews await deployment. They also have a starter motor at the ready, in case one of their drivers stalls the engine as he tries to drive off.

00.00 minutes: the last pair of double starting lights goes out and five green lights go on: the start of the warm-up lap. Pulses climb to 110. There’s no going back now – the race is on!

And did you know...

... that the stress felt by Formula 1 drivers is at its greatest just after the start? As they race towards the first corner, their pulses climb to 180 beats per minute in a matter of seconds. Adrenaline and noradrenaline send their bodies into a state of emergency, roughly twice as intense as that of an athlete stretched to his limit on an exercise bike. And even this level is exceeded around the labyrinth of corners in Monaco, where instead of gravel pits alongside the track there are only walls and crash barriers. That pushes the drivers’ pulse rate up to a peak level of 210 beats a minute.

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