The Safety Car

Safety cars have about half the bhp of a Formula 1 car, and are about three times as heavy.

The safety car is an incredibly important part of a Grand Prix weekend. It allows Formula 1 races to continue with minimal disruption after major events and incidents where marshals are needed on the track. If marshals are on track, the race is obviously too dangerous to continue at full speed, even with yellow flags waving. In these instances, the safety car will be deployed and the pack will close up behind it in formation until the problem or obstacle has been removed.

The major problem with safety cars is that not even most of the fastest road-cars can keep up with a Formula 1 car. Even flat out, they will generally not be running at a fast enough pace to keep the Formula 1 cars entirely comfortable – Formula 1 cars are susceptible to losing tyre temperatures and overheating whilst running so slowly. Since 1996, Mercedes-Benz has supplied Formula 1 safety cars to all circuits. The current safety cars will be the CLK63 AMG. The cars themselves are not standard – they have modified engines, outputting approximately 481 bhp.

Even at the slower speeds, the driver of the safety car must obviously be very skilled. Since 2000, Bernd Maylander has piloted the safety car. He is an experienced racer, having raced in the German Touring Car championships, and mean that he can drive the car up to near it’s limits to ensure that the speeds are high enough for the Formula 1 cars to function properly.

When the safety car is deployed, if it joins the track at the front of the field, the orange lights on it will be activated. This signals no overtaking is allowed. If the safety car joins mid-field, and circumstances permit, the green lights will be left on until the leader approaches the safety car. The orange lights will then be activated. The purpose of this is to allow lower-running competitors to keep running so they are not stranded a lap down when the race restarts. A Safety Car board will be displayed to the drivers as soon as the safety car is on track. The drivers will also be told the safety car is out over their team radios. This ensures that they are aware that the safety car is on the track so that they can prepare themselves.

At the start of the safety car’s final lap, it will turn off it’s orange lights. All cars must still remain behind the safety car in formation, with no overtakng. The safety car will peel off into the pits at the end of the lap. As soon as the cars cross the start-finish line, they are racing again and overtaking is once again permitted.

A short guide to taking Formula 1 photos

For the everyday amateur photographer motorsport photography can prove hit and miss. Capturing an image of a car traveling at high-speed whilst negotiating other fans, catch-fencing and atmospheric conditions is a daunting task for all but the professionals, who obviously enjoy better line of sight and have access to the very longest lenses! Below are some ideas to help you capture a prized image of a very special day.

Whether it be F1, BTCC or Moto-GP try and attend the practice/test sessions as crowds tend to be smaller and competitors often spend longer on track – speeds may also be lower, offering better opportunities to grab that shot. In addition, should you also attend the race, the testing/practice days will help you find the best place to stand.

SLR Cameras

Digital SLR cameras are now the equipment of choice. Aside from swapping lenses, they offer numerous other advantages over cheaper, smaller digital camera. For example, aside from a broader choice of shutter speeds on a SLR, smaller digital cameras can suffer from shutter-lag – a noticeable delay between pressing the button and capturing the image.

One of the most popular forms of capturing motorsport photography is through an approach called ”panning’. If you are going to practice panning, try and allow yourself some distance between you and the track initially. With the speeds in modern-day motorsport, you may struggle to pan fast enough to keep the car in the frame. As you pan, try and keep one part of the car in focus – the front wheel, driver’s head or engine cover (for F1) are favoured among professionals. Regarding equipment, try to use a lens offering some form of stabilisation – a monopod would also prove useful.

Shots of cars on the angle or coming towards you can be quite tricky the car will be moving so quickly it is often difficult to focus and keep the car fully in frame. Try pre-focusing and waiting for the cars to come towards you. Don t worry about trying to catch the car directly in the full frame you will probably be too slow if you try this. It s best just to snap when the car comes into view and crop the photos at a later date.

If your camera features a motor wind, it is advisable to use it. Set it to a speed of around 3 frames a second and wait for the cars to start coming into frame and then let the camera start taking the photos. This technique means you are more likely to get some decent shots.If you are taking pictures of F1 cars along the straights, 1/1000 seconds is adequate for a decent ‘still shot of the cars.

On a sunny circuit, set the shutter speed fairly high to get good quality photographs and to stop overexposure. Try bringing a variety of slower and faster film to ensure you have the best chance of good photographs. A faster film will generally be more flexible because it can be used in rain or shine, and slower films may not give good quality if the day is overcast. If you do use a slower film, remember you may have to open the aperture wide. However this will reduce the field depth and make the lens less sharp. It is worth leaving your camera on auto metering. The weather and light conditions are changing all the time so any presets you put in may not work for your entire time at the circuit.

Digital cameras

Most general digital cameras will not be good for decent Formula 1 photographs. The shutter lag time between actually pressing the button and the actual photo being taken is considerable compared to non-digital cameras, and will mean that you may miss a lot of shots because the cars are just too fast. If you only have a digital camera, sitting near the slower corners or at the end of long straights when the cars are either going slowly, or are coming directly at you, will increase the chance of taking decent quality shots. It isn t impossible to get outstanding shots from anywhere on the circuit, however it is more challenging with a digital camera.

Top tips for those first class photos

  1. Study the track in advance and identify what areas will be best for your shots and your camera.
  2. Book front row seats if possible (obviously a media pass is even better, but probably unobtainable for the majority of us!). Try to make sure that there will be no fencing obstructing your view.
  3. Book higher level seating if possible.
  4. Try to get to all three days of the race weekend the practice and test sessions will have fewer people and therefore better photo taking chances for you.
  5. A fast (or medium fast film) will give you better flexibility in all conditions.
  6. Be prepared to waste a lot of film!
  7. Use a film SLR camera if possible as shots of fast cars is harder with most digital cameras.
  8. Try to have at least one long range lens.
  9. Bring a monopod if you will be using long range lenses.

Finally, try to reduce the price of additional camera equipment by shopping around, fortunately there are numerous online services which allow budding photographers to compare camera and lens prices such as CameraPrices.com and CheckoutSpy.co.uk.

    Overtaking

    Many fans feel overtaking is one of the most exciting parts of a Formula 1 race. Every driver wants to finish the race first and so overtaking is one of the most important parts of a race to a driver. There are two main types of overtaking – gaining track position over an opponent by physically passing them on the track, and overtaking in the pitlane when one team has a better pit stop than another. This is more of a strategy that ‘proper’ overtaking.

    Overtaking is usually because one car is faster than an another and the second car is going sufficiently faster than the car in front to make an overtaking attempt. The higher the speed difference, the easier the overtake should be. However, most Formula 1 cars have roughly the same performance meaning overtaking is carried out with only small differences in speed. This means overtaking requires a lot of skill, commitment and bravery from the driver.

    As a Formula 1 car gets closer to the car in front, it moves into an area of turbulent air. The up-side of this is that it will be ‘towed’ by the car in front, because the lead car slightly reduces the air resistance of the car behind it, allowing the following car a slight performance advantage. However, the down-side is that the reduced airflow on the wings of the second car will reduce aerodynamic downforce significantly, particularly during a corner. This means grip is decreased. Drivers will often drop back in a corner, or follow a slightly different line so they drive in ‘clean’ air to ensure they keep good grip whilst cornering.

    Overtaking manouevres can also be made under braking – either at the end of being ‘towed’ into the corner, or because the second car has better braking than the first. If the second car has more grip than the first, the driver may also be able to overtake around a corner by taking a different line to the ‘optimum’ race line and overtake around the outside.

    If a driver has another driver directly behind him, he will probably adopt a very defensive manner of driving. This means he will try to reduce the angle available for the car behind to use whilst going into corners, where there is an increased chance of overtaking happnening. Providing the driver ahead changes only his line going into the corner and does not deliberately attempt to block the overtaking car, there are no problems. Narrowing the car behind’s angle through corners can make the overtaking car take a later apex and it may run wide. This means that if the overtake is successful, the overtaken car may still get back in front again becuase the overtaking car may be too far off line. Defensive driving tends to slow both cars down siginificantly which is why battling drivers may put in slower lap times than the other cars around them.

    Event officials are constantly monitoring overtaking battles to ensure the drivers are playing fair and no dangerous driving is taking place. If the officials do see any dangerous driving, the drivers will be called before the race stewards and they may be penalised.

    Testing the cars

    The role of testing in Formula 1 is very important. In the early days of Formula 1, cars were ‘tinkered’ with by mechanics who worked largely on instinct. In today’s Formula 1, every part of the car is tested systematically – both on their own and on the car itself, to ensure maximum performance and efficiency.

    At first, parts will be tested within the teams’ factories and wind tunnels. If the parts pass these tests, they will be put onto a race car. This car will then be tested out on real circuits with test drivers at the wheel so that the ability of the car can be tested and assessed. Cars which look great in the design phase may not perform well on track. Track testing is part of the evolution of Formula 1 cars where constant tiny improvements and set-up changes are made.

    Most Formula 1 teams will have separate test drivers to the race drivers themselves to take some of the work burden away from the race drivers. For this reason, it is a good way for a young driver to enter the World of Formula 1 and many test drivers have become successful full Formula 1 racing drivers. Test drivers for the major teams will drive several thousand kilometers over the course of a season – in fact, the will often drive more than the actual race drivers themselves.

    Open test sessions are held on a regular basis at FIA-approved circuits in various European countries. The teams can pay a portion of the costs and are then welcome to turn up with their cars and test. Some teams will also be able to hire circuits solely for themselves where they can test top-secret innovations and new race cars. The FIA are now trying to reduce the costs in Formula 1 to encourage more teams to try and sign up. Because of this, there is now a coluntary six week ban on testing during the late summer where no teams can test their cars at any race track. There is also a voluntary six week testing ban immediately following the end of each season.

    Any team that has finished fifth or lower in the previous year’s constructors championship is permitted to run a test car in the two Friday test sessions at each Grand Prix meeting. This rule was made to allow smaller teams with smaller budgets an opportunity to put in some more development mileage and testing on their cars.

    In 2005, all teams (with the exception of Ferrari) agreed to limit their testing within the season to 30 days. They also agreed that they would not test concurrently at more than one circuit. This was in a bid to further reduce costs. Ferrari opted out of this agreement because they claim they already had their own special testing restrictions in place anyway.

    Driver’s clothing

    Driver’s clothing has a very important part to play in Formula 1 – it offers the drivers great protection against the risk of fire. Fires are becoming rarer in Formula 1, however they are still an integral part of the safety equipment that all teams use. Overalls, boots and gloves are all made from special fire proof materials that ensure that if the driver does become trapped in a burning car, he will be protected until the flames can be extinguished. The overalls are multi-layered and are made of a type of aramid fibres. Aramid fibres, apart from having low flammability, have no melting point and they hold the fabric integrity well at elevated temperatures, making them the perfect material for fire-resistant clothing. The overalls are made as light as possible. They also allow the driver’s skin to ‘breathe’ to allow the sweat from the driver to escape during the race. Patches with corporate and sponsor logos are made of the same material and the threads used to sew the patches on are also made from aramid fibres.

    There is a handle located on each shoulder of the overalls. FIA regulations state that in event of a crash, the driver can be removed from the car whilst still strapped into his seat to minimise his injuries. The handles on the overalls are strong enough to ensure that marshals will be able to pull the driver out with his seat by the handles alone.

    The gloves are made as thin as possible so that the driver has the most amount of feel and grip on the steering wheel. The soles on racing boots are thinner than ordinary shoes to allow the driver to feel the pedals of the car easily. Again, both gloves and boots will be made of a fireproof material.

    Drivers will also wear flameproof underwear underneath their overalls and helmet to increase safety margins.

    Driver Fitness

    Drivers can lose up to 3kg of sweat in just one race.

    Formula 1 drivers are some of the fittest athletes in the World – a huge amount of both stamina and endurance is required. All drivers who enter Formula 1 undergo a period of conditioning beforehand to ensure that their bodies can meet the physical demands of the sport. Formula 1 cars can create up to 3.5 g of cornering force meaning drivers have to be incredibly strong to be able to endure these kinds of conditions over long periods of time. Formula 1 cockpits are also incredibly hot. This heat will also put huge strain on the body.

    Endurance training will generally include cardio-vascular training – usually running, swimming or cycling. A Formula 1 car puts odd forces on the neck and chest muscles and these forces cannot be easily replicated in a gym situation. Many drivers have special rigs that help them to improve their neck and chest muscle areas. Strong neck muscles are really important because they support the drivers’ head and helmet under the loadings that the car produces.

    Most Formula 1 drivers will adhere to a fairly strict diet, regulating the amount of carbohydrates and proteins that they eat. During race weekends, most drivers will eat pasta, rice and other carbohydrate rich foods to ensure they have enough energy and stamina during the race. Because of the huge amounts of sweat that is lost, drivers have to ensure they take on enough fluids before the race to keep their hydration levels up. Failure to drink enough water before a race could cause dehydration which could lead to a lack of concentration.

    Flags – what do they mean?

    There are a number of flags held by marshals around a track during a race weekend. Each flag communicates an essential message to the drivers. But what do they all mean?

    Chequered flag: Indicates to the drivers that the session has ended. During practice and qualifying, it is waved at an allocated time. During the race, it is shown firstly to the winner, and then to every car that subsequently crosses the finish line.

    Yellow flag: This flag indicates danger ahead. A single waved yellow flag means that drivers should slow down. Two yellow flags waved by the same marshal means that the drivers must slow down and should be prepared to stop if need be. Overtaking is prohibited in the area that the yellow flags are waving.

    Green flag: This flag gives the all clear. It indicates that the driver has passed the potential danger and all yellow flag prohibitions have been lifted.

    Red flag: This flag indicates that the session has been stopped. This is usually due to poor track conditions or an accident.

    Blue flag: This flag warns a driver that they are about to be overtaken and that they must let the faster car through. If a driver passes three blue flags without yielding, the driver risks being penalised.

    Yellow and red stripey flag: This flag warns that the track surface may be slippery, usually because of spilt water or oil.

    Black and orange stripey flag: This flag will be shown alongside a car number. This means that the car has a mechanical problem and the driver must proceed to the pits.

    Half black, half white flag:

    This flag will be shown alongside a car number. It indicates that the driver has displayed unsportsmanlike behaviour. This will be followed by a black flag if the driver does not take notice of the warning.

    Black flag: This flag will be shown alongside a car number. It indicates the driver should return to the pits, usually because they have been excluded from the race.

    White flag: This flag indicates a slow moving vehicle on the track ahead.

    Race Preparation with David Coulthard

    From early in his F1 career, David Coulthard became synonymous with stunning race starts, passing numerous cars before the first corner. As David begins his twelve season in F1, the driver tells us about his race preparation, a routine that has seen him become one of the highest point scoring drivers in F1.

    The first few seconds of Grand Prix are both the most spectacular and the most significant. At this point both driver and team have spent two days trying to secure the best possible grid position, but in an instant a driver can gain or lose three or four places, that’s if he makes it past the first corner!

    Like their cars, drivers are carefully prepared for every race. Millions watch as the drivers sit in their cars and focus on achieving the best possible start, analysing strategies and acting out every corner in their minds. This is important but the real preparation is usually undertaken away from the cameraman’s eye.

    “I usually go through the same routine the night before a race”, says the accomplished Scot. “A Grand Prix weekend is so intense that it is nice to keep some things as normal as possible”, on a typical night before a Grand Prix David would try to get to sleep before 11 o’clock but he is usually in his room by around 9 o’clock. “It allows me to get away from the rush and pre-event build-up and I try to read a book, watch television or listen to music. It lets me unwind, which is important”.

    With all the adrenaline and focus that is exhausted driving an F1 car at speeds of up to 200mph, it is unsurprising that David finds himself shattered come the morning before the race. However, David’s love for his sport carries him through his tiredness. “The feeling is one of excitement, because I love racing, and I really look forward to getting out in the car.”

    After breakfast in his hotel or motor home, David aims to arrive at the racetrack around 8am; this enables enough time to run through the plans for the day with the mechanics. This is one of David’s favourite moments of the weekend, “you know the race is around the corner, and you do feel the race-day atmosphere, but you can get away from it all in the car.

    However the race morning can be far from perfect for David, “there are people grabbing me and disturbing my train of thought when I am trying to concentrate for the race”. Distractions on race day include a serious debrief with his engineers, drivers’ briefing and parade lap, before speaking to sponsors and guests in the paddock club. After all these responsibilities are completed David can then grab a bite to eat while finalizing the race strategy with his engineers. It should be noted that just a couple of years earlier, DC would have also had to partake in the Sunday morning warm-up session too.

    Despite a four-hour gap between the end of the warm-up session and the race, David only gets around thirty to forty five minutes to himself to gather his thoughts. “A little before 1pm I like to get a lie down somewhere, or at least find a quiet area. It is usually in that period when I perhaps get a bit more focused. I wouldn’t say you get nervous, but there is an edge about you and you do keep looking at your watch. I think what might happen, and visualize different scenarios.”

    “I normally do a little warm-up about five minutes before I get into the car, if I have time. Its nice to have a stretch out and make your body feel good.” Now in the car David would typically do a couple of reconnaissance laps before threading his car through the masses of guests and mechanics on the grid. “At this point tension is mounting, and it’s important to keep a clear head.”

    Once David has taken up his grid position he has finished the majority of his race preparation and again has some time to himself. “I always get out of the car straight away. I’m a tall guy; the cockpit is a cramped area. So I get out and have a chat with my engineer, go for a walk and go to the bathroom. People might think we do this because we are nervous, but it is because we are drinking so much fluid – normally up to five litres on race morning!”

    With just ten minutes to go David puts his helmet on and gets into the car, now he becomes really focused, “I am totally concentrating on the race and I don’t even notice the crowd or any of the other pre-race spectaculars. All I can think about is the red lights going out and the race getting underway”.

    After the lights disappear David’s heart rate rockets as he along with twenty-one other competitors race towards the first corner upon their 850 horsepower machines. “Nothing excites me more than a Formula One Grand Prix. I love to race, it is what motor sport is all about, and the feeling of racing down to the first corner, with all the cars jostling for position, is just fantastic”.