Monday, January 4, 2010

Setup sheets, Part 3

We now veer from the content of setup sheets to focus instead on using them. Since the setup sheet is primarily a communication tool, that will be the theme of this post. The final post will cover specific content items on the sheet.

What happens on the first usage of a new setup sheet?

Some teams want you, as a newly-arrived engineer, to use their existing setup sheet. OK, then get on with it. If you need to make changes to the sheet, phase them in as needed, with agreement of all concerned. No surprises allowed.

Other teams will allow you to use your own format. Or, maybe, you've decided to rework the existing format. In either case, it's absolutely essential to sit down with the crew and review the format and content of the setup sheet. The compressed layout needed to convey so much information will almost certainly lead to misunderstandings if you bypass this step. Remember, communicate!

When does the setup sheet need to be done?

Let's talk about the pre-event sheet first. You could wait until a day or two before the car goes on the setup pad. You'll probably only get one or two opportunities to do that, though, before someone gives strong verbal feedback, or worse.

On the engineering side, we often want to review notes and data from the previous event before deciding how to set up for the next event. Maybe we've got wind tunnel or 7-post testing coming soon, too. Maybe some significant analysis or simulation work will reach conclusions soon. All this work could have a significant effect on the setup, and not just on adjustments. We may need to make (and test-fit) aero or chassis parts, revalve shocks, buy parts, and more.

Meanwhile, the team typically has a limited amount of time to turn the car around. There will be a finite amount of manpower available to deal with changes. And, all this will usually happen on a schedule without much wiggle room.

It isn't really possible to say exactly how long ahead of the next event you need to be done. The correct answer is "it depends".

  • Are you taking the same car to the next race as the previous one?
  • How time-consuming are the changes envisioned, beyond simple parts swapping and adjustments?
  • When does the car need to go in the trailer? How far ahead of that must the car be set up?
  • How important are the non-adjustment changes, in terms of performance potential? How sure are you of their value, and how sure is the crew of their ability to complete them?
  • How "non-routine" will the setup pad work be?

I can't, repeat cannot, overemphasize the importance of communication with the crew. If you envision changes, then you absolutely must discuss them well in advance of actually asking for them. Jointly review their probability of actually happening, the work required to accomplish them, when you can realistically have them defined, and what the possible pitfalls might be. Then, jointly decide on a plan.

A few thoughts:

  • The optimal time for the setup sheet to arrive is just before reassembly of the car begins, and with enough lead time for all the changes.
  • It may help to produce a preliminary setup, to be revised as engineering work finishes. Be advised, this approach is full of pitfalls and requires a clear understanding from everyone involved.
  • When the races are coming hot and heavy, maybe on back-to-back weekends, you're likely to have to prepare setups for several races ahead of yourself.

Here's a clue - when the crew is consistently asking you for a setup, then either you are too late producing them, or they want them too far in advance. Talk with each other, figure out the situation, and fix it.

How to deliver the setup sheet?

I prefer to add a "cover memo" to draw attention to anything important. Maybe you're changing something that has remained constant for a long time. Maybe there are exercises to be done on the setup pad, or some specific instructions on how to do part of the setup. It's easy to have this discussion verbally, but there's always some risk of misunderstanding.

Now, what about between sessions at the track?

The basic situation between sessions is much like the pre-event setup, only compressed in time. As an engineer, you want to debrief the driver, look at some data from the car, punch some numbers into the calculator or software, and maybe crank out a sim run or two. The crew wants to get the car ready for the next session. Here's how you do it:

On the way back to the paddock or the garage, tell the crew chief whether you need a setdown. If not, then he can start on the maintenance issues while you work on the setup. Tell him what changes you're considering, if it entails a significant job (for instance, changing brake master cylinders can be a challenge on some cars), and agree on whether the change needs to happen now or can wait until the end of the day. Changing ratios in the gearbox, for instance, typically needs some lead time - you know you're going to do it, even if you don't know what ratios to install yet. Finally, agree on when he needs your final answer on the changes you just discussed.

Spend the rest of the walk back deciding if you can call out the setup changes NOW. If you can, you are now officially a hero.

Put out a job list for the crew, DAG, shock guy, etc. immediately after arriving at the paddock or garage. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Get into your job deciding on the setup changes with energy and focus. Debrief, analyze, and decide. Now. Take it as a personal challenge to avoid agonizing over decisions. This is going to sound brutal, but if you repeatly have to agonize over the setup, then you either aren't ready for the job or you aren't decisive. Either that, or there's something you haven't learned about the car and desperately need to figure out.

If you spend two hours fussing over the setup, with the crew waiting on you and the next session looming, only to decide on a big change like tearing into the gearbox (stressing the crew) or a trivial one like a minor spring change (insulting the crew), you are not a hero, and will not be able to repeat this behavior forever - unless you and the driver win a lot of races!

Once you've decided, communicate your setup changes clearly and concisely. I found out, the hard way, that a new full setup sheet IS NOT the way to do this between sessions. There is too much information on it for the crew to pick through, while searching for the changes. I simply provide a list of the changes. Sometimes the setup worksheet from the previous post in this series is a good way to do this, sometimes it goes on the job list. It's best to discuss it with the crew chief, no matter what format you use. Avoiding misunderstandings is the goal.

That's about it for today.