INTERVIEW

Pierre Hamelin, race engineer of Daniil

On his F1 career and working alongside Kvyat in Toro Rosso
Race engineer is one of the key figures in a Formula 1 team. It's a person who works alongside the driver throughout the whole race weekend and whose decisions in many ways influence the results. It explains the fact that when changing teams, many drivers prefer to move together with their race engineers.

Frenchman Pierre Hamelin started working with Daniil Kvyat as his performance engineer in 2014 and became his race engineer in 2016. We've asked Pierre to shed light on his path to Formula 1, his relations with Daniil and his job.
How come you became a Toro Rosso engineer?
— When I was at University, we had a kind of championship with other students; it was an engineering championship. Just an engineering projects for Renault F1 team. It was long time ago, and I won that competition in France among the winners from other countries: it was a global challenge. Students had a chance to go to Renault F1 factory in Enstone to present their projects against other opponents. I did not win the overall competition, but I won a qualifier in France and got in touch with some people while being there. So I made some contacts, and there were some opportunities for an internship. So I got into Renault quite early. It was my first job after the University. I was 22, and I was really into F1, but until then I did not have any strong background in motor racing. So it started like that. I had a passion for it, and I was involved in a couple of other projects, like Formula Student and things like this.
When you decided to study engineering, was it because you liked racing?
— Yes, it was. I did not know that I would manage to make it to F1 eventually because I did not know a lot of people from this world. But I chose this direction having in mind a target to become an F1 engineer. And all circumstances made it happen.

I got to have an internship in research and development. From there I started to get promotions. I was interested in racing and going to the track, doing a bit of track testing, so I started to be involved a bit more during the winter tests and testing in general. I had to do a bit of sensor check, data analysis, and then I ended up at the race team as a junior engineer. I was not involved in working with the drivers, just staying at the factory and helping engineers do their everyday job. When they needed something, I was there to help, so I was trying my best.

Then there was Lotus and, then I moved to Toro Rosso 4 years ago to become Dany's performance engineer in 2014 season.
Did you go to races before that?
— I did go to the races, but I wasn't officially working on the car. Once I worked with Kimi Raikkonen when his performance engineer had a baby's birth, so I replaced him for one race. I did the job well as we got a podium. So fantastic, it was in Budapest! So, when I replaced him I was officially working on the car at one event, but generally, I was going to races more like a support engineer as I didn't have an assignment to one of the cars. When I got to Toro Rosso, I worked with Dany during the first year as a performance engineer. Then Dany left to Red Bull, and in 2015 I had the same role for Carlos. Then Max arrived at Toro Rosso, and the following year, when they had a switch with Dany, I became a race engineer for Kvyat. When Max left, there was a bit of rearrangement inside the engineering team, and I was offered a position of the race engineer. I knew Dany very well and did this job before in some test events, so I think my boss had trust that I could handle this job. That's how I ended up here.
Was it something you aimed for?
— Yes. It is something I was aiming for, and obviously, it happened much quicker than I expected, because of some circumstances, which is very good for me. I am very happy to be where I am now. But yeah, honestly when I started it was very tough because you have to learn very quickly, you obviously cannot afford to make any mistakes. I made some mistakes. It happens. And it came at a high price. When you make a mistake, it affects the performance, and it cost a lot of time to recover. So it was a bit up and downs. You make a mistake, and then you lose track time and then it affects the result. Basically, I ended up there a couple of times, but after a few races I was fully into the rhythm, and everything was going smoothly.
What are the most important qualities for your position in the team?
— I think the best comparison you can make is a chief of the orchestra. You have a big orchestra, where people do different things, and you have to be able not to manage each of them directly, but give them directions and do that at the same time for everyone. I'm not managing anyone especially, but when the car is on track or in the garage, you are managing it. You have to talk with mechanics, explain to them what you want to do, how you want to build the car in terms of setup, what you want to extract from the car. You have to talk with other engineers for the same topics. You have to talk with your driver as well. I think you have to be well organized and get along well with the people in the team. And you need a proper team spirit as well.
What are the most important qualities for a driver?
— I think he needs to be patient and very aware in understanding what is happening with the car. The driver needs patience because he's the centerpiece for a lot of people: everyone comes to him, regarding the tires, starts, strategy… There is a lot of topics he has to digest, understand and memorize as well, but he has to be a bit flexible because the situation is changing all the time. When it is getting windy the tires become more difficult to manage; when it is getting wet, the driver has to change his approach; when it comes to different compounds of tires, the driver has to drive differently. So I think flexibility is important and especially with the current car, it is something we are looking for. It is very very important.
Do you have off track relationship? Is that important?
— We are getting along with Dany pretty well; we keep in touch. But I must admit it's mostly due to our work. We try to spend some time off the track as well; we go to dinner sometimes. Or when we go to the simulator it is a bit of a different thing from being on track, but overall I'd say our relationship stay quite professional. We are rarely going to dinner together during a race weekend and doing that kind of things. It is a bit difficult because of our schedule.
Is there a rivalry between the two sides of the garage?
— There is no rivalry as such because first, you need to beat the other teams, to move further in the championship. But what is very important is that you can learn from the other car as you can easily compare yourself with it. So obviously you always end up being rivals. We try to iterate the fastest car possible on our side of the garage, so we mostly help each other. And then when it's qualifying time it's good to be in the front, but it is not an ultimate goal for us, no.
How exciting is the fact that the middle of the pack is so close this year? Does it add extra pressure?
— It is very difficult because every single thing matters. Decisions on tire usage, decisions when and where to go out on track. All these are very important, and it is very difficult to manage everything because there are so many people around us. What is difficult as well, is that there are some cars who can qualify to Q2 quite easily. This is the case for us on some circuits, but in Baku, for example, we were quite confident we would make it into Q2. There are also some tracks where it is more difficult, and already in Q1 the driver has to show all the speed we have, pushing hard and doing all he can because the timing is very important for us in Q1 already. Then you beat a bit of faster track in Q2 and you have a bit of a margin for improvement.
Is it a dream job for you?
— Yes, definitely. I enjoy it a lot! Traveling is something I really enjoy. Luckily my partner worked in F1 in the past, so she understands what I'm doing. Actually, when we met she was also working for a race team, so she knows what it takes to travel. She actually was a travel office manager for Renault, so she was organizing the flights, hotels all cars and taxis. Funny enough, when I was at Renault, we did not know each other, I met her later on one of the parties, which is quite funny. So her background is helping me a lot to be a bit more relaxed about family and social life. And otherwise, I think it is great. We visit many places around the world, meet a lot of people, go to great countries. I love it.
What is the next dream?
— Well, winning races would be good! I had a podium with Kimi, so it is one step closer. To get my first win with Toro Rosso would be great. Honestly, I am very happy with where I am now, I still have a lot to learn, and the team is growing quickly. OK, drivers are changing, our drivers have more experience, it gets better and better to work with them. Actually, better is the wrong word...You can approach the weekend differently, you can target different things, so it is very good now that we have such good drivers in the team now.