The key to winning in Formula E is having the right set-up. And the Andretti Formula E team knows that the key to achieving success is constant feedback.
My apologies for the delay in updating you on the latest and greatest with Andretti Autosport and TE. It was a busy holiday season for me and we are now working hard to get ready for Buenos Aires. First, hopefully you had a nice holiday break. For myself, I could not ask for a better holiday in the UK filled with family, friends, and a lot of food! I also caught up with a number of my UK colleagues who had a lot of questions about my adventures with Andretti Autosport. One of my colleagues asked a question around the mechanical set-up prior to the race. I told him the question would make a great blog topic and that he will need to read the blog for the answer.
The set-ups are chosen by the race engineers; mainly determined by two key factors: the driver’s style of driving and track conditions.
Before we get into the set-up itself, I think it is important we recognize the hard-working group of mechanics. People may think being a race mechanic is a glamorous lifestyle, but few realize the early mornings and late nights at the races. I have had a chance to witness their blood, sweat, and tears first-hand. For example, during the Punta Del Este race weekend in Uruguay, the mechanics did four battery changes on Robin’s (Frijns) car. Yes, you read that right – four. It is not the type of battery you switch out like an AAA. Of course, there are benefits; like working on some of the coolest and most-advanced technology out there. And not to forget, being part of the Andretti family. On the Andretti Formula E team there is approximately a 50:50 split between the engineer and mechanic groups. Simona (de Silvestro) and Robin have their own set of three mechanics, who solely work on their respective cars. Then there is one crew chief and an experienced mechanic floater between the two sides, supporting where necessary.
After the cars are unpacked from their transport boxes, the mechanics give the cars a full inspection – checking the torque of all fastenings, bleeding the braking system, inspecting all major components for wear, and replacing anything that was damaged in the previous events.
The mechanics are responsible for all the physical changes made to the cars, while any software updates or changes are made by the data engineers. The set-ups are chosen by the race engineers; mainly determined by two key factors: the driver’s style of driving and track conditions. There is constant feedback (both verbal communication and data downloaded from the car) that influences how the race engineer tweaks the set-up in an effort to enable the driver to extract the maximum performance and therefore minimum lap time.
To give you an idea of some of the possible adjustments:
- Ride Height: How close the car sits to the ground. It is frequently adjusted to compensate for different track surfaces. Bumpier tracks require a higher ride height.
- Wheel Camber: This is the vertical angle of the wheel. By adjusting, extra grip can be achieved.
- Wheel Toe: This is the horizontal angle that the wheels are set to. Adjusting this also affects the grip and stability of car at high speeds.
- Tire Pressure: The FIA and Michelin set guidelines with minimum and maximums.
- Downforce: The car is equipped with adjustable wings (both at the front and rear). These can be changed between high downforce (more grip, less speed) and low downforce (less grip, more speed).
- Spring Rates: Different springs can be fitted, either making the suspension harder or softer (affects the grip).
When we have people visit the paddock, I always seem to get the question about what tools are being used. Quite honestly, there is not much difference compared to what you probably have in your own car or garage toolbox: sockets, spanners, and hex keys. The team do use some highly accurate setup pads which the car is put onto for baseline measurements. By establishing this common baseline, all measurements can be compared. No matter the event or mechanic who takes the reading, the team knows they are accurate.
I am running a bit late for a meeting, but will update you after the Buenos Aires race on February 6. We're analyzing a lot of the data from the Punta Del Este test session and figuring out how we can apply these learnings to the next race. We are always looking to improve.
Here’s to making 2016 the best racing year yet. Cheers!