My Race Day: Will Courtenay

Motor Racing – Formula One World Championship – British Grand Prix – Race Day – Silverstone, England

Head of Race Strategy at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Will Courtenay, shares his typical Formula 1 race day with us.

7:00am – I wake up, get straight out of bed and into the shower. We normally have breakfast at the track and we’re often trying to get as much sleep as possible because it’s usually been a tiring weekend so I set my alarm as late as I possibly can and then get up as quickly as I possibly can and get on with the day. I usually fly home on Sunday night, so I need to check out of the hotel on Sunday morning. What I try and do is get all my stuff organised the night before, so I’ve got my kit laid out, my bags as packed as they can be, I’ve paid my room bill the night before, so all you have to do is quickly shower, chuck the rest of the clothes in the bag and then run down to reception to check out.

7:30am – It’s typically about a half an hour journey from the hotel to the circuit, I share a van with the engineers. We travel together most of the time, and we have one guy, Rich, who tends to do most of the driving over the weekend. I drive occasionally when I have to, but I much prefer being chauffeured around!

8:15am – We arrive at the circuit and grab a quick breakfast – for me that’s normally a cup of tea and a croissant, something that I can eat on the go.

The calmer and more relaxed you are, the better you’ll do on the day for your team.

8:30am – I go straight to my laptop then, and this is almost one of the most intense parts of the day for me, because I’ve got about two hours to pull together all the pre-race analysis we’ve done – all the various simulations and the tyre information that we’ve got – I put all of that together into a report for the other engineers and the team management. We do a lot of prep for that on Saturday night, but then I have to summarise that and make it easy to understand and digest so everyone else doesn’t need to spend an hour just trying to understand the information in front of them. We’ll look into tyre wear, pit stop strategy and what order we’re going to run the tyres in. We’ll also look at a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios – we’ll try to prepare for things in advance so if things happen we already have a rough plan in mind. So I have two hours to get that report written.

11:00am – Around about 11am we’ll have a meeting where we’ll sit down and discuss strategy options, I’ll recommend things and then we’ll have a discussion about them. Then everyone at least has a clear plan of what we’re going to do in the race and so everyone’s on the same page and thinking on the same lines. We’ll talk about other engineering topics too, and in total that meeting takes about an hour.

12:00 – About two hours until the start of the race, and I have about an hour and a half to prepare the software for the race. We have specific software which helps us plan and navigate our way through the race in terms of strategy, so we will set that up before the race. I also have a reference sheet which includes key facts, statistics and data that I need so that if I need to refer to something in a hurry all the information is there in front of me.

1:30pm – With half an hour to go until the race, I might watch the lap to grid, to see maybe what tyres people do that on, in case that’s relevant or in case there’s an incident or anything, but I don’t go onto the grid. If there’s weather around I watch the weather forecast very closely in case it might be a wet race start. It also gives me five minutes to grab a bit of lunch! It’s normally just a quick bowl of pasta and a coffee or Red Bull at my desk, so I am all ready to go before the race starts – you definitely don’t want to be doing a race on an empty stomach! Some people can’t eat before a race because of nerves, but for me being hungry is a definite distraction. I don’t tend to get nervous before the race starts, but there’s a certain amount of excitement, it’s something I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait for the race to get going, so I’m really looking forward to it rather than something I’m worried about. I think it’s important for anyone who sits on the pit wall to be totally calm and collected, because if you get overexcited and start panicking then you’re not thinking clearly and you’re not going to make good decisions, so the calmer and more relaxed you are, the better you’ll do on the day for your team.

1:55pm – I head to the garage to watch the start of the race. Usually we can pretty quickly see whether we’ve had a good start or not; we’re still on the communications so I can speak to the race engineers in case there is a safety car or if anything unusual happens and tell them if we need to pit or stay out.

2:05pm – As soon as about the half race lap is finished I’ll run to the pit wall, sit down and get on with the race. The race itself is a busy period. There’s a lot of information that’s coming in, the timing data, the GPS, feedback from the drivers, so during that time I’m speaking to the race engineers and team management. As there’s a lot of data coming and going my role is to assimilate all the information we’re getting, and based on that, use the software to predict our best likely result. I’ll be discussing that with the engineers and making recommendations saying for instance, ‘I think we should pit in four laps time and fit the prime tyre’. Then I’ll pass that on to the race engineers so that they know what the plan is. So it’s just keeping everyone in the loop and fully up to speed to get the best out of it.

3:45pm – All being well, at the end of the race we hopefully would go off to the podium and watch one or both of our drivers spraying the champagne.

4:00pm – We’ll go back up to the office and start analysing what exactly happened in the race. There’s a whole load more data so we have to collect that and start the analysis procedure – looking at things like pit stop times, pace and similar. We’ve generally got a couple of hours after the race to absorb what’s happened and look at what went well and what didn’t go so well.

6:00pm – We’ll all have a meeting with engineers and drivers, and we’ll sit down and get all the feedback. I’ll give feedback on what we did from a strategy point of view – so sometimes it’s not always clear to the drivers why we did what we did, so it’s to make sure of the decisions we made and why we made them, so drivers go away with clear understanding of what happened and we’ll go away with a clear understanding of what drivers were struggling with, where we were strong and where we need to improve.

7:00pm – We’ll start packing up the office – putting all the kit away in the office to help the mechanics and the truck crew before they pack everything up later.

8:00pm – We get back in the van, I usually drive us to the airport, we get checked in about 8:30 – 9pm, and then fly a couple of hours later.

11:00pm – We land at Heathrow, get our bags and get a coach back to Milton Keynes.

Midnight – Get back to the factory and get home to bed!

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