The weather will be nice for the Canadian Grand Prix. Fortunately, because in a sport where every second counts, the slightest drop of rain can make everything go well.
For Formula 1 Grand Prix drivers, the weather at Gilles-Villeneuve today can make all the difference in the world. When you’re driving at 350 km/h, the tiniest of rain or an unexpected breeze can wind you up or send you out into the field. For the FIA, nothing is left to chance. It is essential to know minute-to-minute temperature, wind and rain data across the circuit in order to optimize teams’ strategies. To provide drivers with unified and accurate weather information services at all Grand Prix in the world, Météo-France has been awarded this exclusive four-year contract.
Formula 1 drivers have their own weather man
Paul Abiy, head of forecasting at Météo France Sports, a division of Météo-France that provides specialized services in the sports field, is the forecaster and captain of the three-man team that landed in Montreal on Monday with tons of meteorological equipment.
Why is Météo-France the organization responsible for weather forecasts for the Montreal Grand Prix rather than Environment Canada, MétéoMédia or others?
Météo-France is the weather service provider selected by the FIA to ensure uniform quality of weather service year-round at all Grand Prix events. With this contract, the FIA wants to develop technical and decision-making processes with a single supplier for all competitions. In addition to weather forecasting, we install monitoring systems, high-resolution radars and computer systems. Therefore, the FIA and the teams have an identical solution and contacts identified in all clinicians. Canadian forecasters are clearly the best experts in their lands, but Formula 1 requires other characteristics. This is what we develop. Our forecasters are selected and trained to respond to this approach of being able to operate anywhere in the world in extremely diverse climates, under stress, very quickly and with specific expectations. As a sports forecaster, you need to know how the sports you work in work. It’s an exciting field of work.
What is the most important weather component for a GP?
Everything matters in Formula 1. We chase a hundredth of a second everywhere, even in the weather. Precipitation, and more specifically the impact on the track is vital. It generally takes between 1 minute and 15 minutes and 30 minutes to complete one cycle. A 5-second prediction error at the start of the rain, the impact on the track, and the consequences are dire. Anticipating the end of the rain is also very important because from there the strategists will adapt to changing the tires according to the drying of the track and the safety issues of the driver. We have to keep this in mind all the time. Temperature is the primary and most determining factor in engine performance. In Formula 1, we are constantly cooling certain parts of a racing car and heating other parts. Air temperature has a significant impact on maintaining optimum tire temperature, but also on fuel efficiency, comfort and performance for occupants and mechanics. Headrest materials are selected according to temperature to provide the best level of safety for pilots. It is clear that the wind has an effect on the aerodynamic behavior of the car. The best pilots use wind information in their driving. We can also mention the atmospheric pressure, which affects the performance of the engine. In Mexico City, at an altitude of 2,200 meters, this is an essential criterion.
Canada is the coldest country for Grand Prix racing. How does the climate of Montreal affect the Formula 1 Grand Prix compared to the climate of hot countries?
Each circuit has its own characteristics. 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 in June, temperatures in Montreal didn’t pose too many problems. In Belgium, at Spa Francorchamps, or in Germany, at the Nurburgring, or even under certain conditions in Austin, Texas, you can also enjoy 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 path color is quite specific compared to the other paths, rather than a light gray, which avoids overheating of the path.
What kind of meteorological devices do you install on the circuit?
We install 3 measuring stations on the circuit to measure temperature, humidity, precipitation, pressure and wind. and a lane temperature sensor that allows us to improve our forecasts, but also allows teams, which receive real-time data on site and at the factory, to follow the vehicle’s behavior and work on its strategy. Finally, we install a high-resolution precipitation radar. It allows us to measure and forecast rain over the area with an accuracy of 100 meters and one minute. For comparison, a classic radar such as the Canadian Environment Radar gives information to the nearest kilometer, which goes against the requirements of formula 1. These high-resolution radars make it possible to anticipate storm disasters, such as Thursday evening! (Laugh)
For forecasting, we use the weather forecast models used in Météo-France, of course, because we know their behavior very well, especially the European model that works well all over the world. But depending on which country we are in, we use whatever is available on the networks, such as German, American or Canadian forecast models.
Do you have any stories about problems during your GP due to the weather?
As soon as it rains, the pressure and adrenaline in the ring increases, and the media and audience turn away. Then the strategy is changed very quickly. The cards are shuffled and the middle table drivers have their chances. Once, in Budapest, there was a very short window between two drivers before the rain came. Mercedes took out Lewis Hamilton first, and he was able to complete his lap. But others waited for a turn. It all happened in 2 or 3 seconds. They drove in the rain and Mercedes won despite not being the favourite. I also remember one of the Bahrain Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton managed to overtake Sebastian Vettel amazingly by playing on the fact that the wind was ahead of him at a delicate bend. Thus he was able to delay his rein as much as possible and took the initiative. Even a hundredth of a second is searched over all the elements of the sky, even in the same air… It almost becomes poetic and that’s what makes this sport so wonderful.
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