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No ifs, only buzz at the garages

india Updated: Feb 29, 2008 16:19 IST
Sanasi Kelkar
Sanasi Kelkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

THE OBJECT of concern is wheeled in. Every second is precious. Those who can fix the problem are notified in advance. They swarm on to their subject, probe it under the lights: looking, checking and fixing, their attention entirely on the task at hand.

A pristine operation theatre. That's what a Formula One pit garage feels like during a test session. The grim faces, the lit-up charts, the strange smells, experts poring over data that is gibberish to the untrained eye.

The only thing missing are sterile surgery masks.

The back end of the garage, however, is like a mini control tower of a space station. In a place called 'the data rack', around six engineers sit to monitor the info that comes in from 207 sensors on the car. Depending on the space at each racetrack, different areas of the garage are assigned for engineers, for composites, for bodywork and tyres; and for the engine and gearbox. Here is where the respective parts are prepared before they are put on the car (it's not just the tyres that are heated, but the engine as well).

It's anything but roomy, but there's a place for everything, including 'towers' with names of the crew where the radio equipment each needs would be kept.

In a bid to beat the clock as much as their rivals, a team strives to improve not just the driver or the car, but each aspect of its functioning. For instance, the pit crew practices 90 pit stops over a race weekend. Twenty-six people are involved in a pit stop and every night of a race weekend, they get someone to sit in the car and go through their routine.

Tasks that seem trivial during a pitstop on television are actually extremely important. Key people handle them. The man who holds the 'lollipop' which tells the driver in the pits to wait or to go is the chief mechanic.

"It's actually a very responsible task. He has to watch everything, and gives his signal only when it's all ready," explains Michael Gomme, a Force India pit crew member.

For outsiders, the whole process goes about silently (except the howls of the car, which are almost an ambience sound by now). Not for the team though, as members are constantly communicating over their radios.

Gomme explained that by the time Adrian Sutil came back into the pits during a test run, he would have communicated how the car was handling. The engineers would study the problem and convey to the mechanics what they need to do. Work on his car starts the second his car comes back. The driver is often handed a printout of the data to study before he is out again.

On a race day, there are around 65 people in the pit garage, each assigned his duties. Teams travel to the track with around 25 tonnes of equipment, which they have to unpack in two days. Once a season begins, the work never ends. By the time those at home have turned their televisions sets off after the champagne celebration on the podium, the team crew gets busy again, packing everything in its place and sending it off to its next destination.