Reason Behind 3 Practice Sessions

in formulaone •  4 months ago 

The photograph clearly shows the one duct just after Blackberry on the car that leads to the one radiator. The photo below shows what sits under the bodywork.
Some of you may wonder why Formula One teams start practice sessions on a Thursday for a race on a Sunday. It does seem like a long time out from the race which only really gets under way with qualifying on Saturday. The truth is there is loads of work when it comes to setting the car up and every track and it's conditions change from venue to venue. I used to think it was the ride height and possibly a few other things, but not solely on one main thing.

If we look at Bahrain for instance the most important things that the teams are working on is the cooling systems. There are three practice sessions and each session takes on a fine tuning function. Firstly whatever cooling configuration is set up for qualifying has to be used in the race so this becomes one of the most important set ups the engineers have to get spot on.
The inter cooling system on a Ferrari. The silver box shape right in front is just one of the 2 radiators.

During the heat of the day the track can easily reach over 50 degrees Celsius and the only way of cooling the engine is through air flow. I have often wondered why cars following another car struggle from over heating when these cars have such large ducts trapping the air. Engineers are all about performance so this is not part of the scenario that have any control over and this is out of their hands.

Practice session one will be about keeping the engine cool and slowly over the session closing the ducts as the more they are open it has a parachute effect and will slow the car down. During this session it is all about oil temperature and cooling systems as this is normally building up to the hottest part of the day.

Practice session two is now during the hottest part of the day and the trick is testing how much of the ducts as a percentage can be closed without raising the engine temperature at the same time as balancing the performance of the car. The radiators are designed with multi cooling systems with water travelling over certain parts. More water can be added or removed depending on how much cooling is required. It is better to have extra water and less of the duct open as a car can lose 10ths of a second per lap with too much air intake.

Practice session 3 is now the time of day for the race itself in a few days time and this is where the fine tuning happens not only on the importance of cooling, but also monitoring tyres and their degradation according to their set up. The air flow through the ducts over the radiators and out the back has an effect on the car handling and this impacts directly on the tyres.

The set up that is configured in practice 3 is then used for qualifying and by FIA rules cannot be changed again. The only tweaking that can happen is there are a couple of ducts that can be opened manually during a pit stop but they are not going to make a massive difference overall. A car that is slower than the top cars will most likely have to have a different setting as they will be in traffic more behind other cars making them even slower. This is why teams like Haas and Williams will never be as quick if they don't have the right package from the outset.

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maybe for to get used to the new track and climate conditions.

So when these practise sessions go wrong, I'm guessing they'll help to know the areas to improve these cooling sessions for the main races?

Yes it is all about getting enough air into cool and not to much either. Keeping the engine too cool means they will lose speed and have to close the ducts. All the teams work with an oil company who they partner up with and they will have a laboratory in the pits testing the oil temperatures and managing this part of the engine.

Well understood, Wow all these process I didn't even know there is a lot of behind the scenes to formula one. Explicitly written

They would probably never be able to have a race in Michigan. The temp can change by over 50 degrees from one day to the next here. Having your car setup for specific cooling conditions on Thursday wouldn't help you at all on Sunday if we are in a typical weather pattern!

Be interesting to see what they would do if that happened. The cooling system is where the teams are dealing with cutting edge technology and why they team up with companies like Excon Mobil and Petronas.