By Mattias Persson
Each round of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship is run to a carefully sketched time table, with every minute of on-track action thoroughly pencilled in according to a pre-set outline. The official start of the weekend coincides with the dawn of Friday free practice, as teams and drivers begin the pursuit of a competitive set-up ahead of the subsequent qualifying session – and lay the foundations for the all-important trio of races.
Preparations, however, commence quite some time earlier than that – and well before the sound of engines fills the air with its pulsating vibe. In this article, we chart the days and hours leading in to an FIA Formula 3 European Championship event, as Felix offers an insight into his own set of pre-weekend procedures.
"For me, the build-up to a race weekend begins on the Monday or Tuesday prior to the event," says Felix. "I’m obviously in regular touch with the team on almost a daily basis, but our discussions inevitably get more and more intense the closer to a race weekend we get – and they become focussed on things we would like to try out, for example, in free practice. That dialogue normally peaks on Tuesday, when we agree on the main aspects of the programme we will undertake during the weekend. It’s vital to maximise track time, and you need to be well-prepared. There really is no option if you want to be competitive in a series as tough as the FIA Formula 3 European Championship."
Talks of this nature – which contain delicate strategic information – are kept as close to the chest as possible, and normally involve just three people: Felix, his race engineer Jörn Becker, and Mücke Motorsport F3 stalwart Peter Flückiger.
Peter Flückiger heads up Mücke Motorsport's Formula 3 assault.
Wednesday then sees the attention shift towards early travel arrangements.
"I still live in the town where I grew up – Värnamo – and I always begin each journey from there," Felix continues. "I travel to all the races with my press officer Mattias, and we normally meet up in Värnamo around lunch time on Wednesday. We then head south to Malmö, where my parents live, and chill out there overnight. The evening is normally spent in front of the computer doing some simulator racing – it’s great fun, although occasionally the hours fly by just a tiny bit too fast..."
Simulator running - an important part of the preparations!
Thursday signals an early start, and is spent travelling to the circuit. To the venues in and around Germany, car (Mercedes, of course) is the vehicle of choice, while more remote destinations are reached by plane from Copenhagen.
From Sweden to the world!
Once at the track, where Felix normally arrives mid-afternoon, the first hour is spent setting up with the team and catching up on the latest news from the mechanics. It’s not long, however, until a series of administrative checks will have to be carried out. First in line is “sign-on”, where drivers officially declare their presence at the event and register the documents required to compete in international single-seater racing (including their FIA license). Sign-on must be completed by 18.00 at the latest.
Upon arrival at the track, Felix catches up with the team.
Next up on the agenda is the traditional track walk; a central part of every driver’s pre-weekend measures. Commonplace at every level of the sport, the track walk enables competitors to stroll around the circuit by foot as they familiarise themselves with the venue.
"Almost every driver heads out for a track walk, and it’s certainly an integral part of the build-up procedures," Felix continues. "It’s particularly useful if you visit a new circuit for the very first time, but even if you know the track inside out it’s still a great way to check out any potential changes to kerbing, white lines or tarmac structures – anything that might affect the driving. I usually walk the track with my engineer to validate my thoughts on possible lines or set-up aspects, and my team-mates often do their track walk at the same time. We’ve got a good team spirit at Mücke Motorsport, and the track walk is also a good way of catching up with everyone."
Following the walk (which normally takes about an hour – well worth comparing to the 80-90 seconds it will later take the F3 cars to cover the same distance…), Felix has some dinner at the FIA Formula 3 European Championship hospitality, before heading to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
"Friday is the first "official" day of the event," Felix explains, "but we’ve got a new time table this year and rarely do any driving until after lunch. That allows us to have a little bit of a slow start on Friday, but I usually arrive at the circuit at about 09.00-09.30 for some final planning with the team ahead of the start of practice."
With on-track activities now just around the corner, the only thing remaining before action gets underway is a compulsory visit to the Drivers’ Briefing.
"The Drivers’ Briefing, quite simply, is a meeting where all the drivers gather for a chat with the stewards and race organisers," Felix concludes. "We discuss everything from rules and regulations to how we are supposed to line up in the cars ahead of a session – and safety matters are always put at an absolute premium. We go through any potential hazards or sections of the track that we need to pay particular attention to; it’s a lot about common sense, and driving protocol is also being discussed to ensure the highest levels of safety.
"As a driver, you are programmed to push the limits of the car, yourself and the track, and one of the more frequent topics being raised during the Drivers’ Briefing is the amount of circuit width we are allowed to use. The classic example of that would be Turn 1 at Hockenheim, where you can gain a lot of time by running wide over the run-off area on the exit. At the Drivers’ Briefing, we are informed about exactly what we can and can’t do at the relevant corners, and the stewards will then refer to that to make sure no one exceeds the limits and gains an unfair advantage."
Once the briefing has finished, Felix and his rivals are strapped into their F312 Dallaras and make their way to the pitlane. What follows over the next couple of days will be extensively covered in the media – but only those best prepared will be able to hit the headlines...