Will Gray

Technical Talk: How will Button cope without ‘Shove’?

Will Gray

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Brawn GP
has confirmed that race engineer Andrew Shovlin (pictured, on the left) will not be following Jenson
Button to McLaren - so how will the loss of such a long-term partner affect the
Briton's chances of success in 2010?

Button
has worked with Shovlin for seven years, going through reams of race and test
session data to find the performance improvements needed to make the best of
whatever car they were given.

After
years with poor equipment, they got the car they needed to compete at the front
in 2009 and beat Rubens Barrichello and his engineers to win the title.

Every
race driver will admit the relationship with his race engineer is one of the
most vital to get right, and a good one can certainly gain a driver precious
seconds.

Starting
with an analysis of historical data on the particular circuit, a race engineer
will look for patterns in traffic and overtaking for the upcoming race and,
using simulation packages at the factory, develop a running plan for the race
weekend.

At the
track, Friday is spent with one eye on the team's cars and one eye on the
competition. After the practice sessions, the engineers will join the drivers
and run through data at a team meeting.

The
driver will often then join the engineer to discuss how to improve the set-up
and plan a strategy ahead of qualifying, including what tyres to use and, in
2009, several different scenarios of fuel levels to run in the final session,
depending on their competitors' relative performance.

This year
Shovlin and his opposite number in Barrichello's garage, Jock Clear, discussed
race scenarios with team boss Ross Brawn on the Sunday morning to develop a
plan for each car's pit stop timing, fuel levels and tyre choice to use if all
went to plan, along with alternative plans to use in reaction to different
events during the race.

And once
the lights go out, the race engineer is in control, continually instructing the
driver what to do when - including how fast to go and how to manage the tyres.

In modern
day F1, victory is more down to successful race management than
seat-of-the-pants racing and it is clear that having a good relationship in
such a close competitive working environment is vital to make the in-depth
analysis and instant decision-making processes run smoothly, which is why after
so many years of practice it is not surprising things went well for the pair
this year.

However,
there were rumours mid-way through the season that Barrichello and Clear were
keeping their data secret because for some reason Button and Shovlin were not
able to get the best out of the car and needed help from the other side of the
garage.

Barrichello
is understood to provide good technical feedback, while some claim this is not
the case with Button and pointed to a lack of data distribution during the
middle of the year as the reason the Briton struggled at times.

It is
hard to judge how important the relative skills are within a race team. The
attention to detail, complex technical knowledge and sheer hard work of the
engineer, who will sit for hours in front of the computer screens analysing
data, is clearly important but he still needs to be led in some ways by a
driver's feel for the car.

When he
moves to McLaren, Button will have to get used to a new partner and a new team,
and he will have to learn quickly how to communicate with his new race
engineer.

If he is
not able to immediately provide clear feedback, and if Hamilton's engineers do
not help him out, then it could be a tough start for the reigning world
champion in 2010.

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