The work of a race engineer at Panasonic Toyota Racing is vital to the success of the team – and it is certainly never dull, as Francesco Nenci and Gianluca Pisanello are finding out.
The two Italians provide an invaluable link between their driver – Gianluca works with Jarno Trulli and Francesco works with Ralf Schumacher - and the engineers and mechanics working in the garage and paddock offices to give them the fastest possible car.
Gianluca and Francesco are always at their driver’s side, whether dissecting the latest data from a practice session or making make-or-break decisions via the radio during qualifying or the race. Without their race engineer, a driver’s life would be even harder.
A race engineer at Panasonic Toyota Racing spends around two thirds of each year on the road, travelling to races and tests in the search of that vital fraction of a second which will catapult Jarno and Ralf further up the grid. All that hard work can come down to a split-secon d decision, which is where a race engineer really shows his skill.
"For sure there is a lot of emotion and excitement, especially for me during qualifying. But you have to be calm, cool, stay precise and transmit the calmness to the people you are working with," says Gianluca, 36, who joined Toyota in 2003.
It is one thing making the right decision in times of pressure, but quite another to take an endless stream of data from engine, gearbox, suspension, aerodynamics and find the tiny adjustments necessary to turn a good car into a truly competitive car.
And, in Formula 1, every second counts – even when it comes to communicating with drivers out of the car. Francesco, who has been a race engineer at Toyota since 2005 after joining the team in 2001, says: "You always have to somehow translate the mechanics of the car and the systems in a way that you can link them to his sensations."
A race engineer is surrounded by data, with as many as four technical briefings a da y during a Grand Prix weekend to discuss topics as diverse as tyres, engines and fuel strategy. That continues away from the track as well, where Gianluca and Francesco dedicate their time to looking at all the data from previous sessions to formulate their attack on the next race, along with their colleagues.
Francesco, 38, explains: "Obviously back in Cologne after a race event or a test event, the first thing we have to make sure is we analyse everything we did and try to understand what you have done well and what you have done wrong, because sometimes not everything goes as planned.
"The continuous target is to be able to beat our competitors and get the car as quick as possible. So every morning my mind is already on the case, about what we have done and what we could do better."
As well as that enormous task, the race engineer is the first port of call should any abnormalities be diagnosed on their car following a race or test. For that, they rely on Panasonic T oyota Racing’s dedicated group of mechanics, such as gearbox specialist Michael Kornprobst.
It his job to ensure whenever Ralf Schumacher arrives at a Grand Prix, his gearbox is in the best possible condition. "If I see any damage to the gearbox I naturally have to tell the race engineer about it, he then passes this on to the relevant engineers who make the adjustment," he says.
For some people, this job could be very stressful, but for mechanics such as Michael, who has been at Panasonic Toyota Racing since 2000, that kind of pressure is part of day to day life.
He adds: "You have got to really concentrate on what you are doing because with so many routines it is not so easy to avoid forgetting something but that’s what your colleagues are for. They keep an eye out and give me a hand if anything goes wrong or if I don’t do something right. We really do work as a team to make sure nothing goes wrong."
At Panasonic Toyota Racing, the success of the team depends on ev ery team member completing his job to the best possible standard. But it also relies upon a special bond, between mechanics on the workshop floor and also between a racing driver and his race engineer.
Gianluca has enjoyed a close relationship with his driver Jarno Trulli after stepping up to become his countryman’s race engineer late last season. He says: "He does not behave like a superstar, he likes simple things, he likes to stay with his friends, he doesn’t like the spotlight but the most important thing for me is that when he jumps into the car he is extremely fast."
For a race engineer, that is the most important thing.