Every so often, there are odd glares from people wondering what on Earth it is I am doing when they see me jotting rows of numbers and notes during a race.
This is lap charting. It is considered to be an old school way of mapping the development of a race and while it works for some, for others, it can be a distraction.
Dotted with a series car numbers, ticks, strokes, dots and annotations that indicate such things as pitstops, overtakes, crashes, retirements, penalties (etc…), the lap chart has played an important role with regards to how I have worked over the past few seasons.
These handwritten notes do much to help weave the story of a race, especially in the lower reaches of the order, where details are often missed by television coverage and commentators, whose concentration is naturally geared toward the front of the field.
In this instance, the lap chart for last week’s GP2 Series Feature Race at Monza (first picture below) may – to the uninitiated – look like a random blur of numbers; however they do reveal a pattern throughout the 30-lap event.
Very little actual passing took place in this race – if I remember correctly, at the time I described the race as “strategic and tense” (or something like that) – leaving much of the action dependent upon pitstops and strategic differences.
For example in this race, James Calado (car #3) started 7th, dropped to 12th, but began to rise up the order as others took their pitstops, with the Englishman eventually climbing as high as 5th.
Post-race the GP2 Series media officer, Alexa Quintin, provides several documents, one of which presents lap-by-lap times and gaps (second picture below), which showed Calado maintaining a steady and positive pace in the high 1’34s and low 1’35s as the road ahead cleared of traffic. When the Art Grand Prix driver finally stopped at the beginning of lap 20 – marked by a “p” alongside his car number – he slotted into 6th, where he would eventually finish.
Following his stop, Calado’s lap-by-lap pace increased considerably, thanks to a fresh set of Pirelli’s and a vastly reduced fuel load. One might consider this something of a positive result for Calado considering the slow start; however one might also argue a podium went a begging for the Englishman.
This is not to say the strategy would have remained the same had he enjoyed a good start, but that is something for a different day.
From these documents – and additional notes taken (final picture below) – a basic race report is formed, while the lapcharts remain on hand as an instant back up should it be needed to clarify a position or a piece of mid-race information that may otherwise may have been missed.
Beyond that, should any race points require clarification, one can always ask the driver for further details. Of course, this works very well in the lower formulae, where the profiles are somewhat less restrictive; however it is unlikely one would have as much luck finding a driver or a team member in the Formula One paddock.