Formula 1 takes time seriously

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

For Formula One Grand Prix drivers, the current weather conditions at the Gilles-Villeneuve Circuit can make all the difference in the world. When driving at 350 mph, the slightest rain or unexpected breeze can overwhelm you or send you into the field. For the FIA, nothing is left to chance. It is vital to know the temperature, wind and rain data minute by minute along the circuit in order to optimize the strategies of the teams. To provide drivers with a uniform and accurate weather information service at all the World Grand Prix, Météo-France has this exclusive contract for four years.


Paul Abeillé, head of foresight at Météo France Sports, a section of Météo-France that offers specialized services in the field of sports, is the forecaster and leader of the three-person team that landed in Montreal on Monday with tons of meteorological equipment.

Why is Météo-France the weather forecasting organization for the Montreal Grand Prix instead of Environment Canada, MétéoMédia or others?

Météo-France is the weather service provider selected by the FIA ​​to ensure a uniform quality of weather service throughout the year at all Grand Prix events. Through this contract, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) wants to develop technical and decision-making processes with a single supplier for all competitions. Beyond the weather forecast, we install observation systems, high definition radars and computer systems. Therefore, the FIA ​​and the teams have an identical solution and contacts identified in all GPs. Obviously, Canadian forecasters are the best experts in their territory, but Formula 1 requires other specifics. And that is what we are developing. Our forecasters are selected and trained to respond to this approach of being able to work anywhere in the world in a wide variety of climates, under pressure, very quickly and with specific expectations. As a sports forecaster, you need to know the internal workings of the sports you work for. It’s an exciting line of work.

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 over time. Rainfall, more specifically the impact on the track is vital. It usually takes between 1 min 15 and 1 min 30 to complete a lap. A 5-second forecast error on 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 this is where the strategists will adapt the change of tires according to the drying of the track and the safety problems of the driver. We need to keep that in mind all the time. Temperature is the main factor and probably the most important factor in engine performance. In Formula One, we are constantly cooling certain parts of the race car and heating others. Air temperature has a major influence on the maintenance of the optimum tire temperature window, but also on fuel efficiency, comfort and the performance of motorcyclists and mechanics. Even the materials of the headrests are selected according to the temperature to offer the best level of safety to the pilots. The wind obviously influences 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 key parameter.

Canada is the coldest country for a Grand Prix. How does the climate of Montreal influence a Formula 1 Grand Prix compared to those in warm countries?

Each circuit has its own specifics. The Gilles-Villeneuve circuit is not known to be a very hot circuit compared to circuits like Budapest in July, or Middle Eastern circuits. But in June, temperatures in Montreal are not too much trouble. In Belgium, at Spa Francorchamps, or in Germany, at the Nurburgring, or even under certain conditions in Austin, Texas, you can also have very cold days. The Grand Prix season runs from February to November. So our team sees different climates 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 having too hot track temperatures.

What kind of weather instruments do you install on the circuit?

We install 3 measuring stations in the circuit to measure temperature, humidity, precipitation, pressure and wind. And a track temperature sensor that allows us to fine-tune our forecasts, but also allows teams, which receive real-time data in situ and at the factory, to track the car’s behavior and work out its strategy. Finally, we installed a high definition radar for precipitation. It allows us to measure and forecast rainfall in the area with an accuracy of 100 m and 1 minute. By comparison, a classic radar like the one from Environment Canada gives information at the nearest kilometer, which is incompatible with the requirements of Formula 1. These high definition radars allow you to anticipate stormy disasters, like on Thursday evenings! (River)

For the forecast, we use weather forecasting models that are used in Météo-France, of course, because we know well their behavior, in particular the European model that works very well around the world. But depending on where we are, we use everything available on the networks, such as German, American, or Canadian forecast models.

Do you have any anecdotes about problems during a GP caused by the weather?

As soon as it rains, the stress and adrenaline in the paddock increases, the media and the public get carried away. Then the strategy changes very quickly. The cards are being shuffled and the midfielders have their chances. Once in Budapest, there was a very short window between two drivers before the rain came. Mercedes took Lewis Hamilton out first, and was able to complete his lap. But the others waited their turn. It all happened in 2 or 3 seconds. They drove in the rain and Mercedes won despite being the underdog. I also remember a Bahrain GP where Lewis Hamilton got a spectacular lead over Sebastian Vettel playing with the fact that he had the wind ahead in a precise turn. Thus, he was able to slow down his braking to the maximum and take the lead. Hunting at the hundredth of a second is even done in all the 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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