Helicopters are the top topic for discussion at the Shanghai International Circuit today. A fairly thick fog has been making its presence felt at the massive race track that hosts Sunday’s fourth round of the World Championship. Although the skies cleared very briefly mid-morning, for most of the time it’s impossible to see the far end of pit lane from the windows of the media centre high above the track. Certainly a helicopter would be unable to fly in these conditions and no helicopter means no track action on safety grounds. Currently the weather forecast for tomorrow is uncertain so we’ll just have to wait and see.
The fog has also affected the general mood in the paddock as no one is venturing out of their offices very much, so the atmosphere is more like that of a winter test day at Silverstone than a round of the most important motor racing championship. Hopefully that will all change tomorrow and the place will come to life as Free Practice gets underway. Fortunately, visibility was better yesterday when Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat tackled their pre-event track walk. Time was when the ritual inspection of the circuit involved the driver and his engineer setting out alone. But as the cars get more complicated it affects all areas of the sport, even the humble track walk. So, accompanying our drivers we have the race engineer, the performance engineer (he’s the one who watches all the data like a hawk,) an electronics guy and the trainer. Why a trainer, when surely an F1 driver is fit enough to walk one slow lap of the race track unaided? Well, although we expect our drivers to be able to cope with driving around a race track in one of the fastest vehicles on earth, while listening to engineers and making endless adjustments with switches and levers, we don’t make them walk the track carrying a drink, a snack, a sweater and an umbrella!
There was a line of thought that when Computational Fluid Dynamics was invented, the Wind Tunnel would become redundant but it did not and similarly, despite the regular use of simulators, the track walk has still proved its worth: it gives drivers and engineers a chance to inspect the track close up, see where kerbs might have been modified from the previous year, how any resurfacing has been carried out and countless other small details.