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DIARY OF A PU ENGINEER

Fridays are busy days for our team, as Honda PU Engineer Chris Wright outlines below. Find out what goes on and when in his diary entry from the Canadian GP - oh, and it's a long day! 

05:45 - ALARM

I’m up at about 5:45am on a Friday. The leave time is 6:30am, but we have breakfast at the circuit, so you don’t need to leave yourself much time at the hotel. You just get ready and come straight to the circuit.

We’ve got hire cars here in Canada so we drive ourselves in. I’m driving, and we normally have about three people in each car. It’s the other PU engineer and one of the systems engineers who are with me who also are assigned to Toro Rosso.

07:00 - ARRIVE AT TRACK

Once you get in, you make sure you don’t break the curfew. The curfew is a period during which team members who work on the car are not allowed at the track. You usually end up queuing outside the turnstiles waiting for the curfew to end - which is at 7am - because if you come in before you can get the team in trouble, so you’ve got to be careful not to do that.

The first thing to do once we get into the track is to have a look round. It’s easy to just go and sit at your computer, but it’s best to go into the garage and have a look at the car. Usually the team go in there and turn it on quickly enough so that we can then see that everything’s still alright overnight.

There are various other systems and it’s just good to check that you’ve still got air in it and that all the sensors are still working and that things are as you’d expect them to be in the morning.

A wise old trackside guy when I first started, his motto was ‘Have a good look round and then get yourself some breakfast!’. It’s a good rule to stick to. If you don’t have to take any immediate action, the next priority is breakfast, but even if we did have to do anything, Dave - our chef - is good and would sort us some food when we’re done.

08:00 - FIRE UP

The team usually do pit stop practice first thing and we tend to have breakfast at that point because we’re not involved in that. Next on the agenda is the fire up. You want to get it fired up as soon as you can because that’s when you’ll really find out if you’ve got any problems or something to take care of.

It’s important not just for us, but also for Toro Rosso as they want to know the engine’s alright and they’re the ones who would have to take it out if there are any issues.

09:00 - PROGRAMME MEETING

We’ve got lots of meetings during the day. The first one is the programme for the day which includes most engineers on the intercom and the support rooms back at the factories. The drivers are in that as well so that they hear what it is that we want to do during FP1 and FP2. Friday for us is like a test, so if we’ve got anything new to try, that’s when you’ll try them.

In that meeting you run through what the run-plan is basically. As the PU engineer it’s my job just to remind the team what Honda needs from the day, because it’s easy to just be focused on tyres and aero and all the rest of it. It’s just a good chance to find out who is planning what and when, so nothing catches anyone out in the team or away from the track.

10:00-11:30 - FP1

FP1 always begins with an install lap. The car has been in bits and built from nothing on Thursday, so we do an out lap and straight back into the garage without setting a lap time. Because the car has been operated by the driver and is up to temperature, we then take the bodywork off and check everything is alright.

Data is usually the best way to spot problems, but sometimes you can’t find that you’re losing all the oil as quickly as the guys can spot that by taking the bodywork off.

I sit at the rack in the garage - where the computers are and with an intercom - and during the install is when you really have to concentrate on every system and just make sure all the basics are right. There are some things you can’t check in the garage. For example, until the driver is at full throttle you don’t have enough load to know that there isn’t something potentially wrong.

That’s usually the most nervy period for me. After that, on the first proper run - run two, when they do timed laps - that is when you can focus on energy management and performance. The system engineer is looking after the systems then.

11:50 - FP1 DEBRIEF

There’s a debrief after FP1, where everyone just runs through their areas. So if there were some things I wanted to test I’ll comment on how that went, or if it got forgotten about I’ll bring up that it still needs doing during FP2.

Once that meeting’s done you generally review your data, make sure everything’s OK and decide what you’re going to do for the next session.

12:30 - LUNCH

Luckily, at Honda, they make a Bento Box, so it’s a prepared lunch and they’re ready and waiting for you in the fridge in the garage. So when lunchtime comes, you can quickly go and grab your Bento Box, take it to the rack and eat that while you’re listening to one of the meetings or working through your data.

All days are busy, but you can only really stop once the sessions have stopped. In the preparation between FP1 and FP2 you use all the time available so don’t stop for lunch.

14:00-15:30 - FP2

We don’t test as many things in FP1 because it’s not representative. The track’s dirty, the drivers are getting used to it and you’re never going to be as quick in that session as you eventually will be. We usually run conservative PU settings in FP1 because there’s no point pushing it in that session. So we tend to cram most of the test items into FP2.

In FP2 we do low fuel runs - a small amount of timed laps to get the driver ready for qualifying - but then at the end of the session pretty much everyone does a long run. You put a lot of fuel into the car and do a race simulation. Tyre warming, a practice start, like the start of the race. You have to try every situation to find out if everything works as expected. We have special start modes for example, so you have to make sure that works.

15:50 - FP2 DEBRIEF

This debrief is almost exactly the same as after FP1, and then there are some suggestions of what to look at ahead of the next important meeting, which is the engineering review.

19:00 ENGINEERING REVIEW

This is when we review the long run data and the short run data, look at where we’re strong and weak compared to our competitors and work out what we can do in FP3. In between those debriefs we’ll potentially change the engine, but that depends on Race usage and the plan for the weekend. Usually that fire-up coincides with the engineering review so it can get quite noisy.

The engineering review can go on. It’s scheduled for 45 minutes, but you just work through everything you need to. Tanabe-san will be in all of these meetings and listening, with the comments mainly left to the PU engineers.

19:00-21:00 - DINNER

Dinner is available at the hospitality for a two-hour spell, so we get there after the engineering review. It’s always good, it’s mostly Japanese food but because it’s a buffet you can pick the bits you like so it’s really good!

20:00 - FIRE UP

The likelihood is we won’t have fired up by dinner. If you can fire up by 1900 you’re doing well. It could be firing up in the engineering review, but usually you’re waiting a bit later to get the fire up done. We push to get the fire ups done as early as possible because once it’s done, that’s it for us, but it’s not it for the team. They’ve then got to finish building the car, do their set-up, take it down to the FIA weighbridge, make sure it’s legal… They’ve got loads of work to do after the fire up.

20:00 - HONDA MEETING

On a Friday night we have a Honda internal meeting, so the engineers from both teams come to the Honda hospitality unit and we just discuss things that might have happened at one team but didn’t happen at another and could affect us. Things to look out for, basically.

20:30 - COOLING MEETING

The cooling meeting is the last meeting on a Friday for Honda, but not for the team. It’s scheduled for 1945 but that usually ends up getting pushed back because the aero guy is busy with the car build or at the FIA. So when the aero engineer is available we just do a quick cooling meeting with the team to confirm that what we expected the cooling to look like on Friday is what we got, or if we need to make any changes based on the weather forecast too.

23:00 - LEAVE THE TRACK

You can’t go until the fire up is done. There are usually reports to do and some in-detail work so it can drag on, but we have to leave by midnight. That’s the curfew time.

Recently we’ve been getting away about an hour before the team so 2300 instead of midnight. Friday for me is straight to bed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me Friday is about getting the sleep while you can. On a Friday you eat, drink and do everything at the track - you’re up before 0600 and get to bed about midnight, so it’s quite a long day.

Enjoy hearing from Chris about life trackside? Watch when he took us behind the scenes for a tour of the Toro Rosso Honda garage last year!