Guest Author - Christine Blachford
Race Control is arguably the most important element of a Grand Prix weekend. It’s all very well having fast cars and drivers, good strategy and dry weather, but without Race Control the action can never actually start. They are responsible for monitoring all on-track goings on throughout the whole weekend, and ensuring the drivers are safe and behaving themselves.
Charlie Whiting is the FIA Race Director, and in charge of the entire Race Control organisation. As fans, we only get to see one camera angle at a time (although we sometimes have a choice with the Kangaroo TV), but Whiting gets video from all around the circuit. There should be a dedicated CCTV setup meaning that any accidents or issues can be seen instantly and dealt with. It’s not unusual for the TV cameras to miss an incident and have to go back and pick it up quickly. This would be no use to Race Control.
They also have contact with all the outposts for medical, marshal and safety operatives. He has in car contact with the Safety and Medical car and can be in contact with them at all times if they are needed. It is Whiting’s responsibility to decide if an incident requires a safety car, and he also makes the decision when to call it back in again. These are huge decisions as they can make and break races. Of course, to Race Control it doesn’t matter about who is attempting which strategy out on track. They’re watching the safety situation, the weather, and track conditions.
Whiting gets the same Live Timing information as we do, but has much more data available to him. The speed through the pit lane is an important additional set of numbers, as Race Control can hand out the penalties for speeding in the pit lane. They also decide on the penalties given out during the race, for example drive through and stop/go penalties. Sometimes penalties are handed over to the stewards, for further investigation, but these will most likely happen after the race has ended.
Ultimately, Race Control and Charlie Whiting have the power to stop a race, if they need to. If conditions are dangerous or there are extenuating circumstances, the red flag can be brought out. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and it cannot be an easy job.