Race day is actually the quietest of the weekend. At Mission Control, it is busiest during practice sessions, when data is coming in from that weekend’s circuit and from a simulator in a nearby building. The engineers in the factory share screens and information with their track colleagues and advise on new configurations to try, based partly on data coming from the simulator.
“During the race, it’s mostly at the circuit,” said Mike Beeson, head of software development for the Racing Point team. “The stuff that happens here in Mission Control, in the factory, is more Friday and Saturday. On Friday, there’s a lot of engineers working on data to try and get the car set up. There’s a lot of data throughout the whole weekend, but we’re really looking into it on Fridays.
“On a Sunday, during the race, we’re basically trying to provide another pair of eyes to the guys at the track, because we can see more here than they can. We’re limited in the number of people we can send to the circuit; we have people here looking at data, watching what’s happening in the race.”
While drivers are often asked to give input on whether to pit, sometimes a team will call their car in unexpectedly, because an opportunity to jump a rival in the pit stops has been spotted. Alternatively, a driver might be asked to run longer than planned, with a view to capitalizing on the timing of another car’s stop.
To pull off what are called “undercuts” and “overcuts,” a team needs to be anticipating and reacting to the strategies of the other cars, not always those near them on the track. Having Mission Control monitoring the data allows it to pick the correct strategy for the track-side teams.
The virtual garages have become so vital that their success has threatened their future. After long spells of dominance by Mercedes and Red Bull, Formula One wants to improve the action on track by reducing potential competitive advantages, like the virtual garages.
New regulations are under discussion for 2021, and they are expected to include a budget cap to try make the sport more competitive among the teams. That could force them to reduce their use of virtual garages, the thought being that fewer eyes trying to make the race perfect should make for more exciting action on the track.