One plus one is more than two: The art of matching engineers to drivers

January 11, 2010

Jenson Button with his new engineer - just kidding, that's my 'Performance at the Limit' co-author Ken Pasternak!

Both and have recently posted on the subject of race engineers being assigned to drivers. One of the key roles of the race engineer is to help the driver set up the car to its optimum during practice and qualifying  as well as work with the driver to monitor performance and develop strategy during the race. It is a critical role as it involves making many key decisions under pressure during the race weekend. At Mercedes, James Allen noted that Michael Schumacher was to be engineered by Jenson Button’s former engineer Andrew Shovlin (BAR/Honda/Brawn) and that the more outgoing and ebullient Jock Clear (formerly Leyton House, Lotus, Williams and then moving with Jacques Villeneuve to BAR) would be working with Nico Rosberg. Similarly at McLaren, Autosport reported that Hamilton’s former race engineer Phil Prew was to be promoted to principal race engineer with Andy Latham becoming Lewis’s new engineer and Jakob Andreason doing the same thing for Jenson.

Both moves are interesting as one of the key issues here is ensuring a good fit between driver and engineer. It is important to try and find a combination where the characteristics of one complement those of the other. A driver who is very extrovert and has clear views on things (e.g. Schumacher) would work better with an engineer who is a good listener and also able to absorb the amount of data and views such a driver would provide. Similarly a driver who is quieter and less strident in his opinions (e.g. Rosberg) would work well with an engineer who is more extrovert, but is also able to extract information from the driver as needed. These are of course generalisations, and given the high standards of F1 such distinctions are relatively subtle, but the key issue is that a relationship of trust develops between the two, and to use the rather hackneyed aphorism, a situation is created where ‘one plus one equals more than two’.

McLaren have always been very careful in the way they handle their drivers and relationships with technical staff. The interesting point about the McLaren reshuffle is that they appear to have deliberately moved both their current race engineers to other positions in order to provide a fresh start for both drivers, thereby removing any potential for Button to feel he is at a disadvantage. Hamilton’s former engineer, Phil Prew will be responsible for the sharing of data between the drivers and engineering teams – an interesting role which will become absolutely critical (as well as challenging) if things get difficult between Hamilton and Button.

Of course a good race engineer won’t be able to turn a good driver into a great one, but given the margins of performance in modern F1, the way they work with their drivers could easily mean the difference between glory or humiliation for both of them – and given the amazing line-up we have for 2010 we are likely to see a bit of both from some big names.

One Response to “One plus one is more than two: The art of matching engineers to drivers”

  1. […] and we should be in for some great entertainment from boys at Ferrari. This next article by F1 Professor takes a look at the engineers who support the drivers in their quest to be numero uno. It considers […]

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