BRUNDLE DRIVES FORCE INDIA
“Now I know why these cars are so hard to drive…”
During a normal test session, the air is constantly lled with the crackle of an engine exhaust note. But now there is an alarming silence – and a van marked ‘incident vehicle’ is trundling down the Silverstone pitlane.
Nobody is exactly sure what’s happened, but Sky Sports TV commentator and former F1 racer Martin Brundle has stopped circulating in a 2015-spec Force India and has not returned to the pits. The scope of the problem is not immediately apparent: it’s not clear if it’s a straightforward technical problem or whether he’s crashed heavily.
News lters through that he’s okay and has had a half-spin, breaking the VJM08’s front wing on a wall in the process. Within a few minutes he’s back in the garage – shortly before the car is returned on a at-bed trailer – and a crowd forms around him trying to establish what has happened. The team’s race drivers, Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg, listen in as he discusses the damage done to the front of the car.
“Take it out of my salary. That’s what the drivers say when they crash, don’t they?” he says, smiling nervously. Then he remarks to Sergio: “You were ve years old the last time I crashed a Formula 1 car…”
Since he went airborne – at the wheel of a Jordan at the second corner of the 1996 Australian GP – a lot has changed within the connes of a grand prix car. In recent years there’s been the switch to hybrid, turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines, with electronic brake bias control, DRS, eight gears, brake-bywire, ERS and a multitude of steering wheel electronic functions to master. Brundle admits he’s never been as challenged as he has been today. Think modern day F1 cars are easy to drive? Think again.
THE FIRST INDICATION THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG IS THE
SUDDEN SILENCE. “TAKE IT OUT OF MY SALARY. THAT’S WHAT THE DRIVERS SAY WHEN THEY CRASH, DON’T THEY?” MARTIN BRUNDLE
It’s a typical spring morning at Silverstone: bright and sunny, but chilly. There is just one garage in use in the old pitlane today. Force India are using up one of their lming days, which are offered to every team to give them chance to obtain moving and still pictures for promotional purposes. Running is limited to just 100km, to stop the day becoming a true test, and Pirelli provide a couple of sets of tyres of an unknown compound. On this occasion, Force India are using the National conguration at Silverstone, so at Becketts the track turns right onto the Wellington Straight, past the BRDC Clubhouse, around Lufeld and past the old pits. At around 1.6 miles in length, it means that only 37 laps are permitted today to stay safely within the 100km (62 mile) mark. It’s self-policed, but the FIA could ask to see all the data if it felt the rules had been breached.
Despite the lack of direct competition, a Formula 1 outing is still strictly run to clockwork precision. At exactly 09:00 hours, the Mercedes engine in the back of the Force India is being brought up to temperature, ready for Brundle’s installation lap. Martin enters the garage in Force India overalls, carrying his instantly recognizable white and red helmet. For the rest of the day he’ll alternate between both regular race drivers’ helmets for the team’s promotional needs. He’s here with a full production unit from Sky Sports F1, to lm a series of features on various aspects of driving a 2015-spec F1 car, which will be broadcast over the coming races. As a result, the VJM08 is tted with a number of GoPro cameras – which will prove to be something of a problem as the day progresses.
Brundle, 55, is strapped into the cockpit and grips the steering in anticipation of the turbocharged power he’s set to unleash with his right foot. With hundreds of functions available to him on the steering wheel, he admits that he’s been studying a crib sheet with all the controls listed on it: a bit of late-night homework to get up to speed with the requirements of a modernday F1 car. He has also been training for the past three months, although just before he steps into the car he utters something a current driver
wouldn’t normally say: “I’m regretting eating that sausage sandwich this morning…”
Over the next few hours of the morning session, Brundle is in and out of the pits, blasting the Force India around Silverstone. The cold temperatures, in combination with the short track conguration, make it hard to get the tyre pressures and brakes into a decent operating window, but he’s enjoying himself.
“I just feel so at home sitting in the car, looking over the top surface of the monocoque. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s you, the car and the track,” he enthuses. “It reminds me of the rst time I drove a Tyrrell around here in 1983 on a cold, crisp, perfect Silverstone day.”
Brundle immediately gets into the meticulous details of his experience as he talks about the throttle response of these new turbocharged engines in comparison to the previousgeneration normally aspirated 2.4-litre V8s. In particular, he mentions the travel length of the throttle pedal: it’s currently 65mm and some teams now have as much as 75mm. When he was racing, he says his preferred pedal length was 47mm, while some were as short as 28mm.
“There is a lot of throttle movement going on, but the delivery is so linear that you don’t ever get the massive feeling of boost that you would on an older turbocharged machine,” he says. “You can only tell it’s a turbo because when you lift off you hear the turbine whirling and sucking and it has a lot of torque coming off the corners.
“But I’m surprised at how well the car operates. You turn the steering wheel and it instantly responds; it’s so drivable. Of all the modern cars I’ve driven in recent years, they’re all nessed to a point where making the car function is not that difcult.” Until, that is, you’re asked to do more than just drive the car…
Since he broke his ankles in practice for the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, Brundle’s left foot hasn’t been particularly strong, and throughout his career he braked with his right foot. But now his right foot is held on the throttle pedal by a stirrup, which means he’s forced into braking with his left. While braking, he was also trying to change the bias with a rotary switch on the steering wheel. He accidently turned it the wrong way and locked up the rears. By switching it the other way, he locked the fronts on the following lap. It’s one of a multitude of functions now available to the modern F1 driver and gave Brundle a greater insight into the way the likes of Lewis Hamilton and colleagues the operate.
“When you watch Lewis dialling up different brake biases between corners while he’s on a qualifying lap, I now get how effective that is,” Brundle notes. “He dances with the buttons, which is odd because it’s not a mechanical
change; it’s a change of electrical percentage. I can’t imagine doing that while driving wheel to wheel with someone else, and then being told to return to a default mode engine setting.
“That’s why these cars are harder to drive. You never used to have to think about any of that. Your focus was on the track, your competitor and the strategy, and you had all the time in the world to focus on the main challenge of driving an F1 car on the limit. Now, you have to manage all these systems as well. It’s very close to overload.
“Perhaps it’s the same old story. Those drivers who use less of their capacity to race the car have more capacity to make the most of the tools, whether that was Senna in an active McLaren or Schumacher with his differential settings.” The need to understand how you can manage the controls of your car to your advantage in combination with being cautious on the throttle mean it’s easy to make a mistake, especially if you’re running on a very worn set of Pirellis.
“I spoke to a number of drivers before today, the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Jenson Button, and they all said to me: ‘Be careful with the throttle.’ And they’re right – that’s why the throttle travel has doubled since my day.”
Not only that, but sensitive aerodynamics play a critical role in the balance of a current F1 car. Overseeing the Force India’s running today is Oliver Knighton, the team’s test engineer, who doubles up as a strategist at race weekends. Also watching are two old hands. One is former Williams engineer Tom McCullough, and the other is Force India’s long-time team manager, now sporting director, Andy Stevenson. The latter recalls Brundle driving for the Silverstonebased team, in their Jordan guise, back in 1996.
“In that year I remember Martin was tough to work with,” says Stevenson. “He would put
“I’M SURPRISED AT HOW WELL THE CAR OPERATES. YOU TURN THE STEERING WHEEL AND IT INSTANTLY RESPONDS; IT’S SO DRIVABLE” MARTIN BRUNDLE
Brundle with Force India sporting director Andy Stevenson, an old colleague from his Jordan racing days
a lot of demands on us because of his professionalism and meticulous attention to detail. It also didn’t help that he hated that car…”
McCullough spots the GoPro cameras attached to the Force India, one deep in the front wing, the other on the rear. “Be careful,” he warns. “And he was right,” says Martin afterwards. “I should have listened to wise old Tom.”
As the front wing, oor and rear wing are interrelated in terms of airow, any additional devices play havoc with the balance of the car and the GoPro in the valley of the front wing – in combination with Brundle’s right foot – quickly takes the car around into a half spin while exiting Brooklands, resulting in tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage. The GoPro camera is damaged, too.
“I was just starting to push a little bit harder and once you’ve injected the rears with battery and engine power and you have all that energy going through the system, it’s very easy to light up the rear tyres,” says Brundle. “I can see why drivers spin so easily now because you’ve sent that power down the system and you can’t stop it. So I turned into the slide and it kept sliding. In a way, while it was a bit embarrassing crashing into the nose, I’m actually glad I did it. I understand what is going on a lot more.
“You can spin on every lap and any lap; I think in the last years of the normally aspirated engine it was hard to do that. There is a surplus of torque over grip now and added to everything going on with the steering wheel, these cars are much more mentally challenging. I can now see a skill that I didn’t see before in the 2.4-litre era. With the blown diffuser you could oor the throttle and drive it out of the corner. You can’t do that now and you have to creep up to the grip levels. I really respect drivers following a Safety Car period when the tyre pressures are low, or half-worn or in damp conditions. I can really understand the challenges they face.
“The main thing from today is the amount of shifting with eight gears. There’s a short rev range and I was short shifting to dull the power and every time I needed to do anything else I was shifting as well. Constantly.”
All too quickly, the 37 laps are over and Brundle’s running is at an end. But not before he’s played with features such as the DRS, and performed a clutch bitepoint nd (see sidebar, p80). You sense he would have preferred a few long runs, rather than these short blasts. He was sufciently committed into Copse for one Force India mechanic to joke: “He’s quick. We should sign him up.”
Not many retired drivers get the chance to return to F1 machinery, and this was a full-blown contemporary F1 car, driven at full chat on part of a grand prix circuit. The off proved he wasn’t holding back, and he can always deny it was him: “The only saving grace from the shunt was that I was wearing Hülkenberg’s crash helmet, so it looks like he’s crashed,” quips Brundle.
Racing drivers. You just can’t keep that competitive spirit sealed up, no matter what era they’re racing in…
PHOTOS SAM BLOXHAM/LAT
The broken nosecone of the Force India VJM08, (left) after Brundle put it into a half-spin and the car struck a wall
Almost 19 years since he last raced in F1, and after three months of intensive training, 55-yearold Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle gets his first taste of modern F1 turbo power
Brundle finds the linear delivery of the longer throttle means the 1.6-litre V6s lack the kick of their turbo predecessors