Another new track which means loads of extra work for everyone as data needs to be compiled. This track was added to the calendar 3 months ago and so much has to be done before the teams arrive.
The Formula One season has been challenging as adding new circuits at short notice makes things not so straight forward. This weekend in Portugal takes much more work to prepare for than a known track. 90 days is tight and challenging for the best of teams as this work cannot be rushed.
This circuit is far from flat so it has many new challenges.
I mentioned previously a few weeks ago that teams use Lidar scanning to obtain as much detail of the track as possible. This is specialised and is not a quick fly over with a drone as it is much more detailed than that. This is then fed into the simulators so that the team can get to understand the difficulties that they might face.
The teams rely on the in loop simulator which is similar to an aircraft simulator, but a car. A track the team already knows will take roughly 2 days of work for car set ups and to refresh themselves on what they are up against. Over the two days they will expect to cover 450- 500 laps or 9-10 race distances. Simulation drivers will do most of the work, but the teams drivers will also use the facility making sure they know the circuit off by heart.
The difference is when it is a new track like we have seen a number of times this season that more work is required. The simulation time will double and the teams drivers will spend an entire day learning the circuit. When the teams are at Friday practice the race engineers and drivers have the simulation team advising them as well.
This clearly shows the different levels of the track and why it was nicknamed the roller coaster.
Simulators are used to work out race strategy by loading data of other cars calculating various pit stops along with tyre degradation. Because simulators can never be 100 % correct the final decisions are discussed and not made by the simulator. Engineers along with valued team members come up with whatever strategy they agree on. Drivers during Friday testing on the track have to add the missing data so that the correct decisions are made.
This weekend has seen things that make racing slightly different and just shows the detail teams have to deal with. The tarmac has been newly laid and with rain yesterday it was showing the oil seeping through to the surface. This could hamper grip if the track remains damp forcing teams to add more down force. The down force pushes the car into the road making sure it obtains whatever grip there is. The oil film is there and may diminish as the circuit is broken in over the practice sessions allowing less down force later on. I do expect more down force at this circuit however than what we have seen recently due to the blind bends and changing undulation of the track.
Once the race has been completed that information is then fed into the simulator seeing how the car performed and where improvements can be made. Formula One is all about the data as that is how they find improvements and come up with new ideas.