PRE-BRIT GP FUN WITH RENAULT AND CATERHAM
We go behind the scenes with the Renault-engined F1 teams and go playing in a drifty Caterham
As it turns out, he might be one of the few people to have actually made it to Silverstone and back this weekend... This is his story.
Following a quick briefing, we (PH competition winners Paul Cox, Gareth Tucker and myself) head straight off to Williams. And almost before we’ve walked through the ‘invited guests of the team only’ door, we’re hit by the terrifying noise of an F1 engine start-up just a few feet away. At such close proximity, the noise is truly violent; revs spike when directed by an engineer’s laptop, accompanied by a terrifying scream that is incomparable to anything else. And this is even after watching F1 from the stands!
And there’s just so much garage activity on a Thursday, more than I expected; in all four garages, around a dozen men are working busily on the cars. Their work almost resembles a surgical operation; the garages bathed in harsh white light as components are intricately adjusted, tinkered with and gradually assembled into what you see on TV.
My highlight is being shown a steering wheel from last year’s Lotus. I struggled to comprehend everything at the time, so apologies if I miss details now! The back of the wheel features eight paddles, controlling clutch, gearchange, KERS and DRS. There’s a toggle for different engine mapping settings so that, for instance, extra fuel can be burned during safety car periods (this ensures the car finishes at its required weight). Most amazingly, there are three dials controlling the limited-slip differential, to control the slip at the entry, middle and exit of a corner.
For me, the relentlessness of the way each team works is fascinating; dozens of people constantly working, and analysing every aspect of the car’s performance in attempts to save a tenth or two. It’ll certainly be something I remember when pole position is secured by just that margin this weekend.
Drifting with Caterham
I’ll spare you the excuses; I can’t drift. I set low expectations, and wholeheartedly failed to reach them.
Even the instructions given by the Caterham CDX team were straightforward; arrive at the central doughnut cone slowly, dump the clutch at 6,000rpm, balance it with the throttle and stay away from the tyres. Easy as that…
So, I roll up to the cone, dial in what sounds like the right revs, jump my left foot off the clutch… and the car generates huge traction and spears me towards the cones. Not enough revs! I set myself again, focus on the tacho to ensure somewhere near 6,000 registers, and go again. And, seemingly almost before any drive has engaged, I’m facing the wrong way.
The rest of the evening is spent having passenger rides with the F1 guys and grabbing interviews when they could be dragged from the cars. I went in with Heikki Kovaleinen, who quite calmly spent two minutes displaying absurd levels of car control; he seamlessly went from larger drifts into small doughnuts, pirouetted just centimetres from cones, and all while looking like he could be doing the interview at the same time. The juxtaposition between his calmness and the tyre-smoking fury outside the car is really bizarre.