How high-tech F1 has changed the race engineer role

A Formula 1 race engineer’s job used to be to collect the feedback from a driver and translate that into modifications on the car.

How high-tech F1 has changed the race engineer role
Listen to this article

However, it has now transformed into a very complex role. It requires an individual to not only deal with the driver aspect, but be at the top of a communication chain that includes the pit-wall, garage and remote factory operations to offer analysis in real time.

In simple language, a race engineer is now a driver interface fed by real-time data.

Recent weather impacted races in Russia and Turkey, where race engineers and drivers had to make critical decisions on the hoof, brought to the spotlight the importance of this relationship between the drivers and their pit wall.

It was the perfect proof of how the engineer must now act as the channel for all the extra information he is being fed – both from the driver in the car, as well as strategists, weather experts and data analysts either in the garage of back at base.

The radio messages that we hear at home are just the tip of the iceberg then when it comes to understanding the success and failures of that driver/engineer relationship.

It is far from a one-way street of the engineer taking on board information from the driver to better adjust the car. Now, it’s a constant dialogue – and his role is pretty much to be the backbone of a successful weekend during every moment of track action.

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

For Ferrari’s racing director Laurent Mekies, who has previously worked for Arrows, Minardi, Toro Rosso and the FIA, the job for a race engineer is far more pro-active now that it was even a decade or so ago.

“The biggest evolution in this role was driver-coaching,” he told Motorsport.com.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, a track engineer could hardly have provided a driver with driving advice like he is able to do today, because there was none of the real-time data available that we currently have.

"Formula 1 has evolved a lot. The level of analysis and estimates in real time today gives us a much deeper knowledge of tyres. We can also read many more real-time parameters, and in general there are more sensors on the car.

"This allows us to interpret the data we receive from the car in real time and obtain information which is then passed on to the driver.”

The expansion of F1 teams, and this positioning of the race engineer as a funnel for all the information being fed to the driver from a range of outside parties, means communication lines are king.

Mess anything up in this process, and let a piece of dud information seep its way into the system – and that can spell the difference between a potential brilliant result and complete failure.

The increased complications of the expanded role means that training on communication skills is a must; as is constant analysis of performance.

"Each team has its own type of communication procedure, which goes beyond the aptitude of the individual engineer,” said Mekies.

“We do some tests, plus there is specific training. After the race weekends, we listen to and re-analyse both the communications you hear via the radio between the engineer and the driver, and those that take place in the internal communication chain.

"If you look at Sochi as an example, this information included weather forecasts, and the conditions of the tyres of all the drivers on the track, information on the car and the lap pace of the opponents, and all the data read in real time.

"It is a chain of command that is combined with communication protocols, flows of dialogue and decisions that pass from the remote garage, to the garage on the track, to the wall and finally to the driver. We need a time for discussion, decision and communication.”

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and colleagues on the pitwall

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and colleagues on the pitwall

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

But there is one aspect that needs to be tuned to the complete preference of one individual: and that is what a driver likes and wants to hear.

Each track engineer ends up developing his own approach to dealing with the role; trying to marry the flow of information with the character in the cockpit.

Mekies adds: “Not all drivers want the same amount of information. Not all want it at the same time, and not all want it in the same way.

"There are drivers who want to be motivated, others who prefer to be left alone. There are drivers who constantly ask for lap times, and that information helps serve as a reference point, let's say an extra charge. But there are others who prefer a more silent approach, with communications reduced to a minimum.

"But the relationship between the engineer and the driver is fundamental on this front, and it is necessary to understand the correct approach to put the driver in the best conditions.

“The way of communicating, as well as the tone of language, needs to understood in context. Sometimes a dialogue that seems more excited is aimed at the personality of the driver, and delivering what he needs to perform in the best way.”

But just as the drivers are under pressure to deliver everything on track with no errors, so too is there is a minimal tolerance of things going wrong that are expected from the pitwall. A race engineer’s job is not easy.

“It is not a role for the faint-hearted,” explained Mekies. “The challenge is to make fewer mistakes than others, because everyone makes them.”

shares
comments

Related video

Imola in, China out as F1 reveals 2022 calendar
Previous article

Imola in, China out as F1 reveals 2022 calendar

Next article

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence
How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future Prime

How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future

Multiple-title-winning designer and team boss Ross Brawn is finally leaving Formula 1 after nearly 50 years in motorsport. But he still has plenty of insights on what’s working and what comes next, as he revealed to Motorsport.com in a far-reaching exclusive interview in Abu Dhabi.

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2022
The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat Prime

The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat

OPINION: Mattia Binotto’s departure from Ferrari will naturally bring a range of changes across the Formula 1 team. But how the changes shape up and the impact they could have is set to be dictated by a key direction Ferrari’s top dogs will need to pick

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2022
The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants Prime

The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants

OPINION: Mercedes endured its worst season of the hybrid Formula 1 era, but was mercifully spared its first winless campaign in over a decade late on. It has owned up to the mistakes it made which led to its troubled W13. And while its task to return to title-challenging contention is not small, its 2022 season seems more like a blip than the beginning of a downward spiral.

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2022
The physical focus bringing out the best from Esteban Ocon Prime

The physical focus bringing out the best from Esteban Ocon

Esteban Ocon likes to point out he’s the first driver since Lewis Hamilton to emerge from a spell as Fernando Alonso’s teammate with a superior overall points record. While some may disagree, as LUKE SMITH discovered, the 2021 Hungarian GP winner reckons it’s not just luck which has made him France’s pre-eminent Formula 1 driver of the moment…

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2022
How Red Bull's dynamic leader Mateschitz shaped its F1 philosophy Prime

How Red Bull's dynamic leader Mateschitz shaped its F1 philosophy

The death of Dietrich Mateschitz last month has not only deprived Red Bull of its visionary founder, it has shorn Formula 1 of one of its most influential benefactors. Mateschitz himself was famously media-shy, preferring to let the brand do the talking on his behalf. And, while it’s now normal to speak of Red Bull F1 titles and champions made, Mateschitz never assumed it would be easy or even possible – as ANTHONY ROWLINSON discovered during this previously unpublished interview from 2006…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2022
Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom? Prime

Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom?

OPINION: Teams that have dominated for long periods throughout Formula 1's history often take years to get back to the top of the tree once they've slipped down. But it remains to be seen whether the same will happen to Mercedes after a challenging 2022 season

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2022
What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi Prime

What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi

Arguably the favourite in the battle to finish second-best in 2022's Formula 1 standings, Sergio Perez's two-stop strategy at Abu Dhabi couldn't take him ahead of Charles Leclerc when the music stopped - and several key factors ultimately precluded him from the much-coveted runner-up spot.

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2022
The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success Prime

The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success

OPINION: Charles Leclerc achieved his target of sealing runner-up in the 2022 world championship with a masterful drive behind Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. And that race contained key elements that may help him, and Ferrari, go one better in Formula 1 2023

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022