JAMES ALLISON ON WHAT MAKES A GREAT F1 CHAMPION AND THAT MEXICAN GP
The race designer and engineer for Benetton, Ferrari, Renault , Lotus and, latterly, Mercedes AMG, gave a fascinating interview at the Science Museum.
I must start by thanking Facebook. Usually, the way in which this social media platform anticipates my likes unnerves me.
In this case, I was given access to a wonderful event. The advert posted on my timeline advertised a talk at the Science Museum in London, on the subject of the Science of Formula One. James Allison, and Toto Woolf of the Mercedes Benz Formula One team would be speaking, alongside others. The event was taking place on 31st October and the cost per seat was a mere £5!
I told my wife and she suggested that I bought a ticket for myself and my son, Aneesh, to attend.
Unfortunately, the event was for over 18's only, so I ended up going alone.
The event was part of a drive, by the British government, to encourage young people to take up engineering.
Now, in this country, pupils start university at the age of 18. So, to encourage the study of engineering, the attendees would need to be under eighteen. Go figure. I was not complaining!
This was a "Lates" night at the "Science Museum" which meant that the Museum was changed into a nightclub with a silent disco, via headphones, and stands selling hot food and alcoholic drinks.
I walked straight past, to the IMAX theatre, at the rear of the museum, where the talk was taking place.
Toto Woolf could not make it but the combination of James Allison of Mercedes, and Annastiina Hintsa of Hintsa Performance was a powerful one.
James Allison is a motor sport designer and engineer. He is the current Technical Director of Mercedes-AMG . His impressive CV, in Formula One, shows that he has, previously, worked at Benneton, Ferrari, Renault and Lotus.
Annastiina Hintsa is the Chief Operating Officer of Hintsa performance.
The website for Hintsa performance states that "Our mission is to guide individuals, teams and organisations to enjoy better life , and consequently better performance."
Hintsa physiotherapists look after the physical fitness , and well being, of many Formula one drivers.
There was also Dr. Karl Surmacz from McLaren technology. He had not been involved in Formula One since the days of refuelling. He gave a little insight into how technology from Formula one could be used in other industries. Otherwise , he was the awkward third wheel to Allison and Hintsa .
The three speakers and Dr. Oliver Chapman, on the right, who led the discussion.
James Allison gave a fascinating insight into the technology of the cars together with an appreciation of what makes a champion.
This was highly appropriate, and timely, in a week when Lewis Hamilton finally secured his fifth world Championship, in Mexico.
Champions care and truly immerse themselves in a team and strive to be the best.
He gave the example of Lewis Hamilton . When Lewis finished the race, on Sunday, as world champion, as many of you may have noticed, he was in no mood to celebrate.
This was because, as James Allison put it, "we, (i.e. Mercedes) sucked."Hamilton was more concerned about why the performance of the team had been so bad. That was what most of the post race competition conversation in the team was about.
Allison also explained, when questioned, that the Mercedes team had found discovered what was wrong with the cars, in Mexico, and that it was something which could be easily rectified.
I overheard him talking about tyre temperatures, after the event.
This bodes well for the constructors' championship.
Allison also explained that Champions have an enhanced ability to concentrate and focus.
He gave the example of the modern steering wheel in a Formula one car. Teams are not allowed to tune and change the settings on their cars remotely, during the course of a race, so drivers need to carry out those functions on the steering wheel. That is the reason why there are so many knobs and switches on the steering wheel of a modern Formula one car.
Allison brought along one of Valtteri Bottas's steering wheels so I had to have a go!
Allison said that one of the tests for a great Formula one driver was whether their lap times changed when they were required to change the settings of the car, via the steering wheel.
The great drivers could maintain their lap times. The less able drivers would slow down.
The physical and mental attributes of a champion are manifold. Annastiina Hintsa said that when she started coaching Formula one drivers , she did not see them as sportsmen. . She now realises that they are not just drivers of cars. They are supreme athletes.
The climate they operate in is a challenging one. Formula one cars are built so that the driver sits as close to the ground as possible.
Allison explained that the test is to give a diver just enough visibility so he can see the apex of a bend.
They therefore operate with precision in a low visibility environment.
They sit in the most unnatural of positions, in the cockpit of the cars, with their legs slighty raised whilst almost lying flat. This is bad for the spine and neck. Formula one drivers have to do a lot of back and neck exercises in order to avoid problems when they finally hang up their racing boots.
The cockpit of a Formula one car is a very uncomfortable place to be. Temperatures can rise to in excess of 50 Celsius and drivers lose up to 3kg of weight during a race.
They have to be truly fit in order to operate in such an environment. Ms. Hintsa explained that Formula one drivers are significantly fitter than Nascar drivers.
Hintsa take car of drivers through the correct nutrition and hydration. They ensure that drivers rest and recover , which is equally important.
James Allison gave a fascinating insight into the design of cars and the technology involved.
Modern Formula One cars have a gestation period of more than a year.
Allison explained that work had already begun on the 2020 Mercedes Formula one car. A few engineers were currently working on it.
The 2018 Mercedes car is a ghost ship , with a skeleton crew and most engineers now working on the 2019 car.
James Allison's idea to improve overtaking, in F1 was to replace DRS with a fan on cars just like the Brabham BT46B race car which took part in one Grand prix, the Swedish Grand Prix, in 1978. On that occasion, Niki Lauda won.
That car generated an immense amount of downforce by means of a fan, claimed to be for increased cooling, but which also extracted air from beneath the car.
Brabham BT46B .The infamous fan car from 1978. Allison thinks this innovation could lead to increased overtaking between the cars. By edvvc - Goodwood House, England / photo taken by edvvc. Source: www.flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=143362
Allison explained that the current Formula one cars are the fastest ever and that drivers emerge with Cheshire cat grins after a successful hot lap.
Questions were raised from the floor. Allison was asked how difficult it would be to design cars around 18 inch wheels when the current wheels are 13 inch.
Allison explained that every aspect of the car would need to be changed as the result of low profile tyres.
I asked Allison if he thought that Formula One would ever go electric. He explained that the current power packs are as efficient as you can get.
However, the switch to electric is inevitable because when road cars go completely electric , Formula one cars will, as well.
How they will get there, by what steps, is the question to ask. Allison relished the challenge.
In fact, here was a man in love with what he does for a living. The last word is his.
"Most of my friends have become bankers. When we meet ,at social occasions, they think what they do is unimportant and only want to know what I am doing."
"Engineering is a social profession. You almost only work in teams. The most lonely people are the drivers."