Formula 1 takes the weather seriously

The weather will be nice for the Canadian Grand Prix. Luckily, because in a sport where every second counts, even the smallest drop of rain can make everything go wrong.

For Formula 1 Grand Prix drivers, the weather conditions at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve today can make all the difference in the world. When you’re traveling at 350 km/h, the slightest rain shower or unexpected breeze can convince you or send you into the field. Nothing is left to chance for the FIA. It is important to know the minute-by-minute temperature, wind and rain data throughout the circuit in order to optimize teams’ strategies. Météo-France has entered into this exclusive four-year agreement to offer drivers consistent and accurate weather information at all Grands Prix around the world.

FORMULA ONE DRIVERS HAVE THEIR WEATHERMAN

Paul Abeillé, head of forecasts at Météo France Sports, a division of Météo-France that provides specialized sports services, is the weather forecaster and leader of the three-man team that landed in Montreal on Monday with tons of equipment.

Why is Météo-France the organization responsible for the weather forecasts for the Montreal Grand Prix and not Environment Canada, MétéoMédia or others?

Météo-France is the weather service provider chosen by the FIA ​​to ensure a consistent quality of weather service at all Grand Prix events throughout the year. Through this contract, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) aims to develop technical processes and decision-making with a single supplier for all competitions. In addition to weather forecasting, we install observation systems, high-resolution radars and computer systems. The FIA ​​​​and the teams have therefore identified an identical solution and contact person at all GPs. Obviously, Canadian forecasters are the best experts in their field, but Formula 1 requires different specialties. And we develop that. Our forecasters are selected and trained to respond to this approach, being able to work anywhere in the world in very different climates, under pressure, very quickly and with specific expectations. As a sports forecaster, you need to know the inner workings of the sports you work for. It’s an exciting job.

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 in bad weather. Precipitation, more precisely the influence on the route, is crucial. It generally takes between 1 minute 15 and 1 minute 30 to complete a lap. A 5 second forecast error with the onset of rain and its impact on the track and the consequences are huge. It is also very important to predict the end of the rain because from there the strategists will adapt the tire change to the drying of the track and the safety issues for the driver. We always have to keep that in mind. Temperature is the primary and arguably most determining factor in engine performance. In a Formula 1 we are constantly cooling certain parts of the car and heating others. Air temperature has a major impact on maintaining the optimum tire temperature window, but also on fuel efficiency, comfort and performance for drivers and mechanics. The materials for the headrests are also selected depending on the temperature in order to offer the pilot the greatest possible safety. The wind obviously has an impact on the aerodynamic behavior of the car. The best pilots use wind information in their piloting. We could also mention the atmospheric pressure that affects the performance of the engine. 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 Montreal’s climate affect a Formula 1 Grand Prix compared to those in hot countries?

Each circuit has its peculiarities. Gilles-Villeneuve circuit is not known as a particularly hot circuit compared to circuits like Budapest in July or circuits in the Middle East. But June temperatures in Montreal don’t pose too many problems. In Belgium, at Spa Francorchamps, or in Germany, at the Nürburgring, or even under certain conditions in Austin, Texas, there can also be very cold days. The Grand Prix season lasts from February to November. So our team sees different climate zones 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 too high 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 allows the teams, who receive real-time data on site and at the factory, to follow the car’s behavior and work on their strategy. Finally, we install a high-resolution radar for precipitation. It allows us to measure and forecast the rain over the area with an accuracy of 100 m and 1 minute. For comparison: A classic radar like that of Environment Canada provides information accurate to the kilometer, which is not compatible with the requirements of Formula 1. These high resolution radars make it possible to anticipate stormy disasters like Thursday night! (laughs)

Of course, for the forecast we use the weather forecast models used in Météo-France because we know their behavior well, especially the European model, which works very well worldwide. But depending on the country we are in we use what is available on the networks e.g. B. German, American or Canadian forecast models.

Do you have anecdotes about weather-related problems during a GP?

As soon as it rains, the stress and adrenaline in the paddock rises, the media and the public get carried away. The strategy is then changed very quickly. The cards are being reshuffled and the midfielders have their chances. Once, in Budapest, there was a very short window of time between two riders before the rain started. Mercedes got Lewis Hamilton out first and he was able to complete his lap. But the others waited a round. It all happened in 2 or 3 seconds. They drove in the rain and Mercedes won despite being the favourite. I also remember a Bahrain GP where Lewis Hamilton spectacularly overtook Sebastian Vettel, taking advantage of having the wind in front of him on a precise corner. This enabled him to delay his braking as much as possible and take the lead. Chasing hundredths of a second becomes even on all elements of the sky, even in a breath of air… It becomes almost poetic and that is what makes this sport so fascinating.

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