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Formula 1 takes time seriously

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The weather will be fine for the Canadian Grand Prix. Fortunately, because in a sport where every second counts, the slightest drop of rain can make everything go wrong.

For the drivers of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, today’s weather conditions at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve can make a difference in the world. When you drive at 350km / h, the slightest downpour or an unexpected breeze can win you over or send you out onto the field. For the FIA, nothing is left to chance. It is essential to know the minute-by-minute temperature, wind and rain data throughout the circuit in order to optimize the teams’ strategies. To provide drivers with consistent and accurate weather information services at all Grand Prix races around the world, Météo-France has had this exclusive contract for four years.

FORMULA 1 DRIVERS HAVE THEIR WEATHER MAN

Paul Abeillé, head of forecasts at Météo France Sports, a section of Météo-France that offers specialized services in the sports field, is the meteorologist and the leader of the three-person team that landed in Montreal on Monday with tons of weather equipment.

Why is Météo-France the organization responsible for the weather forecast for the Montreal Grand Prix rather than Environment Canada, MétéoMédia or others?

Météo-France is the meteorological service provider selected by the FIA ​​to ensure a uniform quality of the meteorological service throughout the year in all Grand Prix events. Through this contract, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) wishes to develop technical and decision-making processes with a single supplier for all competitions. In addition to weather forecasts, we install observation systems, high-definition radar and information systems. The FIA ​​and the teams therefore have an identical solution and contacts identified at all the GPs. Obviously Canadian meteorologists are the best experts in their territory, but Formula 1 requires other specificities. And that’s what we’re developing. Our forecasters are selected and trained to respond to this approach of being able to work anywhere in the world in very varied climates, under pressure, very quickly and with specific expectations. As a sports meteorologist, you need to know the inner workings of the sports you work for. It’s an exciting line of work.

What is the most critical weather element for the GP?

Everything is important in Formula 1. We chase the hundredth of a second everywhere, even with time. Precipitation, especially the impact on the runway, is vital. It generally takes between 1 min 15 and 1 min 30 to complete one lap. A 5 sec forecast error on the onset of rain and its impact on the runway, and the consequences are enormous. Predicting the end of the rain is also very important because it is from there that the strategists will adapt the tire change according to the dryness of the track and the safety issues for the driver. We must have this in mind all the time. Temperature is the main and probably most determining factor in engine performance. In a Formula 1, we constantly cool some parts of the race car and warm up others. The air temperature has a great influence on maintaining the optimum temperature window of the tires, but also on the fuel efficiency, comfort and performance of motorcyclists and mechanics. The materials for the headrests are also selected according to the temperature to offer the best level of safety to the riders. The wind obviously has an influence on the aerodynamic behavior of the car. The best pilots use wind information in their piloting. We could also mention atmospheric pressure which affects engine performance. In Mexico City, at an altitude of 2200 m, this is a fundamental parameter.

Canada is the coldest country for a Grand Prix. How does the climate in Montreal affect a Formula 1 Grand Prix compared to those in hot countries?

Each circuit has its own specificities. The Gilles-Villeneuve circuit is not known to be a very hot circuit compared to circuits like Budapest in July or circuits in the Middle East. But temperatures in Montreal in June don’t pose too many problems. In Belgium, in Spa Francorchamps, or in Germany, at the Nurburgring, or even under certain conditions in Austin, Texas, you can also have very cold days. The Grand Prix season runs from February to November. So our team sees different climates from one place to another in the world. Here the color of the track is quite specific compared to the other tracks, rather light gray, which avoids having too hot track temperatures.

What kind of meteorological instruments do you install on the circuit?

We install 3 measuring stations on the circuit to measure temperature, humidity, precipitation, pressure and wind. And a track temperature sensor that allows us to refine our forecasts, but also that allows teams, which receive real-time data on site and at the factory, to follow the behavior of the car and work on their strategy. Finally, we install a high definition radar for rainfall. It allows us to measure and forecast rainfall over the area with an accuracy of 100m and 1 minute. For comparison, a classic radar like Environment Canada’s provides information to the nearest kilometer, which is incompatible with Formula 1 requirements. These high definition radars allow you to anticipate stormy disasters, like Thursday night! (laughs)

For the forecasts, we use the weather forecast models in use at Météo-France, of course, because we know their behavior well, especially the European model which works very well all over the world. But depending on the country we are in, we use whatever is available on the networks, such as the German, American or Canadian forecast models.

Do you have any anecdotes about problems caused by weather during a GP?

As soon as it rains, the stress and adrenaline in the paddock increases, the media and the public get carried away. The strategy is therefore changed very quickly. The cards are reshuffled and the mid-table drivers have their chances. Once, in Budapest, there was a very short window between two pilots before the rain came. Mercedes eliminated Lewis Hamilton first and he was able to complete his lap. But the others waited for a turn. It all happened in 2 or 3 seconds. They drove in the rain and Mercedes won despite being the underdog. I also remember a Bahrain GP in which Lewis Hamilton managed to make a spectacular overtaking on Sebastian Vettel by playing on the fact that he had the wind in front of him in a precise corner. He was thus able to delay his braking as much as possible and take the lead. Hunting to the hundredth of a second can also be done on all elements of the sky, even in a breath of air … It becomes almost poetic and this is what makes this sport so fascinating.

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