The RACER Mailbag, May 18

The RACER Mailbag, May 18

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, May 18

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Q: I lived in Europe for many years, attended many F1 events and am familiar with typical race procedures. At Miami, the two safety cars, or perhaps the SC and the medical car, made the typical reconnaissance lap a few minutes prior to the cars doing the same.

But the two SCs took an additional lap and one peeled off down the runoff area of the long straight, and stayed there until the race began. Immediately after the last-place F1 car passed on lap one, the SC car came out of the runoff area and skedaddled into the pits.

I think the trackside announcers mentioned something about it, but the crowd was so noisy I could not hear what was said. There was no place for the SC to “hide” in the runoff, so what happened?

Tom Freiwald

CM: You’re right that it will be the safety car and medical car, and they tend to line up together in the same space near the end of the lap for the formation lap, then the Medical Car arrives at the back of the grid for the race start to follow the field in case of any first-lap incidents such as a start-line crash or Romain Grosjean’s accident in Bahrain. The safety car stays near the final corner in case such an incident means it is needed, but once a clean lap has been completed it can return to the pits behind anyone who might enter the pit lane.

I’ve watched the first lap back a number of times and can’t spot where the safety car is hidden (which isn’t unusual) but I’ll have to take your word that it was exposed in the runoff area. You’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong Tom, but I’m assuming it was in the corner so it was as far as possible from any car potentially going wide/having an incident? In that case it is likely it was simply what the FIA deemed the safest place overall in terms of being able to access the track quickly if required, because it couldn’t wait in the pit lane with the two Aston Martin cars starting from there.

Q: I’m reading about the “disastrous” Miami GP track surface, but haven’t heard a full description of what the issue was. Pressure-washing was blamed, but also the stones used. Could you explain how much of the available grip comes from the tire’s conforming to the texture of the stones, vs any adhesion the rubber may have to the bitumen? (aka: tar, asphalt, liquid asphalt, asphalt binder, asphalt cement) Was there something wrong with the stones, and did that contribute to the marble build-up, or did the marbles accumulate because drivers couldn’t go off the line, which would normally disperse them?

Stephen Stickel

CM: So, the race organizers in Miami were wary of some issues new track surfaces had gone through (such as Turkey in 2020) where there was a very smooth asphalt that hadn’t cured enough and the oils were still being worked out of the track, leading to very low grip. So they opted for a less-smooth surface compared to many new venues and pressure-washed the oils away ahead of the weekend. As it was a brand-new track, that meant there was little grip initially, but the harsher surface allowed tires to get up to temperature quickly and lay down rubber on the racing line. But that meant you quite quickly had a much more grippy surface on the racing line than off it. By contrast, an established circuit will have plenty more running, track days etc, that will naturally add some rubber off-line just through higher use.

Put simply, all of the available grip comes from the chemical interaction of tire (at its correct operating temperature) on track surface, but when that track surface has rubber on top of it, then tire on rubber is far more grippy. And then the level of available grip evolves as more rubber is laid down, so it’s a constantly moving target. It wasn’t a problem with the stones as such, but the byproduct of how that grip level evolved more quickly with such a surface on the first visit to the track.

The marble build-up came in part from the rougher asphalt wearing the tires down a little quicker, especially with the higher speed corners/changes of direction. While those marbles just naturally end up off the racing line, in a street circuit they are usually contained within the track by the walls, rather than bouncing into the runoff areas, so it created a greater buildup and all combined for even lower grip off-line.

Usually a new track would improve over time in this aspect, but as the Miami International Autodrome won’t be used as a racetrack again until next year’s grand prix, the organizers are looking into a different surface that won’t provide such a dramatic difference in grip level between the racing line and off-line, although that might well mean less grip overall!

At least Miami didn’t cover the track in PJ1. Jerry Andre/Motorsport Images


From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, May 17, 2017

Q: A caller on Donald Davidson’s “Talk of Gasoline Alley” radio show asked about the Last Row parties. Donald talked a bit about the history and was very complimentary of the job you did when you hosted/emceed the events. Do you have a funny (yet safe to print) story or two from the Last Row parties you can share with us?

Dave E, Speedway, IN

ROBIN MILLER: David Mannweiler, Gerry Lafollette and the late Art Harris all worked at the Indianapolis News and were big racing fans, so they decided to honor the Last Row in 1974 at the Indianapolis Press Club. It became the cheapest, wildest, funniest and most vulgar party in May and I was fortunate enough to emcee it from 1975-2006. In 1978, Harris went to fetch Mario from another party (the soon-to-be world driving champion had to start last because he missed qualifying)… let’s just say Art was well-oiled by 7 p.m. When they arrived around 7:25 (it was a five-block ride), Mario looked like his throttle had stuck at Milwaukee. He was ashen-faced and confessed it was “the scariest ride” he’d ever experienced. Harris was beaming.