Before, during and after

How do McLaren Honda get race ready?

We ask McLaren Honda to talk about the risks they have to consider before, during and after a race.  

Before | During | After

 

Before

Jonathan

We’ve built confidence with data and competence and experience and scenario planning and rehearsing and war gaming. There’s a number of things you can do to make that process more effective, but at the end of the day it’s going to require a judgment, and you want somebody there who’s ready to take that.

Mark

Strategically, what we try to do is align the objective of what we want to achieve at that given event, given our current performance level and the performance of our competitors, and we adjust our planning to suit. We break it up into two aspects. We look at what we would like to do, what would be our strategy if we were in isolation, and then we look at what all our competitors will do and we adjust how we want to go about it based on that.

Every race and every circuit has its own peculiarities—Mexico involves racing at altitude, so the air is thinner, the engines produce less horsepower, the aerodynamics produce fewer loads so the tyre behaviour is different; that was quite a big factor in the race [in 2015]. The engine manufacturers had to do a lot of preparation work.

Mexico involves racing at altitude, so the air is thinner, the engines produce less horsepower, the aerodynamics produce fewer loads so the tyre behaviour is different – Mark Barnett

You can simulate the conditions—although I believe some of the test facilities wouldn’t be able to go to such an extreme in terms of ambient pressure to run their engines. But the level of technology that everybody’s working with and the simulation tools and the virtual environment that everybody has now are very advanced, so whilst it may not have been practical to test physical componentry in that environment, they can do a lot of simulation work.

Simulation is one of those cyclical things: computing power increases and teams utilise it and it escalates. It’s also a resource decision: where’s the best return on investment? And that equation is continually changing.

During

Mark

On the pit wall there’s myself (so, head of strategy), the team manager who coordinates the pit crew, the two race engineers (one for each driver) and then we have a few others… it’s about eight on the team. It’s a challenge because you want to maintain your efficiency, so you’ve got to keep the team to the right size.

Jonathan

Whilst the peer pressure internally is high to perform, there is an understanding that it will be Mark’s team who will decide when the driver’s coming in to pit and not anybody else—because we’ve assigned them the responsibility and we’ve given them the best vantage point from which to have the necessary information.

If we disagree we’ll do it after the event – Jonathan Neale

Everybody else will have a strong view about that, but their view will be from a particular angle and they won’t have the balance of the other information on which to make that decision, so it’s really clear that it’s Mark’s guys that will make that call. Not Eric, not myself. If we disagree we’ll do it after the event.

Mark

I guess that’s why you have set responsibilities. Everybody is assigned a responsibility, and we need to trust that the people assigned that task will execute that. If we don’t operate like that, we lose our operational efficiency.

We lead the strategy from the pitwall at the track, and we have additional support from mission control. At certain points the talk is consultative but that’s just for an information flow to aid understanding. We have the ability to make real-time quick decisions.

Jonathan

Mark is making real-time decisions throughout the race. In extreme, he can be discussing whether the driver is going to come in on that particular lap and change the tyres up to about ten seconds before somebody presses on the button, go now!

Mark

You’re trying to buy yourself the biggest window you can. 

Jonathan

And that decision window opens up and that decision has to be taken now.

Jonathan

You’ll have technicians who are on point during a race weekend who have a particular parameter set: if an issue gets flagged up to them, they may have on the faults loop two minutes to assess a problem, maybe then 30 seconds to escalate it or find some containment. It’s in the minutes and seconds.

Mark

You do have to deal with a huge amount of adrenalin.

Jonathan

And emotion. 

Mark

Yeah. I guess it’s like any task: it becomes a bit more balanced with time and you get more used to it. You have to learn to deal with it, don’t you.

There’s always pressure, but it’s how it’s addressed and how it’s targeted.

After

Mark

For any given scenario you would like to have looked at something else, have maybe advanced your toolset slightly more: there’s always something extra and that’s what keeps pushing you forward and means you’re performing better one race at a time, next year, the year after, you’re never standing still.

Jonathan

In our after action reviews, there’s a constant refinement of the process and the information and what happened.

Mark

We’re being tested every two weeks directly against our competitors, so you’re very quickly reminded of your position. The unique bit of a Formula 1 team is the people it attracts: they’re all driven to succeed.

And the only way you can be successful...is by assessing the risk and pushing the limits within the boundaries that you set yourself – Mark Barnett

And the only way you can be successful—because you know that everybody else is trying to do the same thing—is by assessing the risk and pushing the limits within the boundaries that you set yourself. If we’re not at that cutting edge, the opportunities are lost.

Jonathan

The problem is, with the analytical data that we can always see opportunities to improve. Supposing we got second and third place in a race, the chances are we walk away and think, damn, we should have had first. You always leave something out there where you think, what if? That’s in the nature of people who are drawn to this environment and this kind of competition: we always believe we can do better than we’re currently doing.

Mark

Yeah, there’s always something.

Jonathan

Are we perfectionists? A little bit, well, yes. Competitive perfectionists. We do look for excellence in everything. Not so much compulsive but certainly obsessive.