I once, out of sheer excitement and a touch of nerves, got my name wrong while introducing myself to a very important F1 personage. Ever since that day I’ve been known to develop a mild bout of anxiety before an interview, especially if it’s one that I’m particularly looking forward to. And so I find myself suppressing, as best as I can, a nervous tic, waiting for the Strategy Engineer of Caterham F1 to walk through the door of a crowded coffee shop in the city once known as Bombay.
What in god’s name, you may rightly ask, is the Strategy Engineer of a Formula 1 team doing gadding about in a crowded part of Mumbai, then? Well it just so happens that Yash Pathare is a born and bred Mumbai lad who packed his bags and set off for the UK, taking with him little more than a passion for motorsport. And barely over four years later, he’s well entrenched in Formula 1.
Given the limited information that I have about him, I’m expecting a rather formidable-looking individual to come by, scowling face, piercing stare and the like. And I am, quite frankly, expecting myself to be in a frightful fit of nerves once again. So, when Yash Pathare does come by eventually, smiling pleasantly and looking rather like a genial college student, I am confident that my name is indeed Vaishali Dinakaran, and also that the interview is likely to proceed without incident. It is, however, rather hard to believe that the person sitting across me is in fact the one who plays a big part in deciding whether or not drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov ought to come into the pits on Lap 34, Lap 39 or perhaps, if they’re throwing caution to the wind, Lap 42. And so Yash Pathare begins to narrate to me the tale of exactly how a young chap from India, who grew up tinkering on the family Premier Padmini and cheering on a scarlet car on the telly, managed to make the big leap into Formula 1 itself.
‘I always imagined myself to be in Formula 1,’ Yash smilingly tells me. And there’s such a simplicity about the way he says it that I’m inclined to believe he once was a toddler whose gurgles were in fact commands instructing various F1 cars to opt for the option tyre instead of the prime. And so, after years of cheering for his Formula 1 hero, who he informs me was ‘Michael Schumacher, obviously,’ he was apprised by a friend who goes by the name of Shreenand Sadhale (Name rings a bell – Ed) that there was such a thing as a motorsport engineering course available in the UK. Now, given the fact that race strategy was exactly the sort of subject that made him develop a rather faraway longing look in his eyes, Yash promptly sent out applications and got accepted into a course in Brunel. And that’s where he immediately steeped himself in subjects like law and sporting, sponsorship and its legal implications, vehicle dynamics and management oriented courses about exactly how you run a race team. For a bit he even spent some time running a race team too – the Formula Student project – where he assures me, he learned a whole lot.
Seeing as Brunel was an academic course and other than tinkering around with racecars there was that all important degree to be earned, students were required to write a 20,000 word dissertation on a motorsport matter of their choice. And so he sent out, in his own words, ‘hundreds of prospective applications’ to various racing teams asking if they’d allow him to come by for a student internship. A call came through from Toyota Motorsport (we should imagine he pinched himself a good bit at this point to make sure he wasn’t dreaming) asking if he’d like to join their strategy project, which in turn led to a trackside interview at the Silverstone GP. And after passing that very interview with flying Finns, err.. colours, he’d made it through to Formula 1. A six-month internship later, the five red lights truly went off on his F1 career and he was rewarded with a contract to work for Toyota in F1. ‘I was a bit lucky, if I do say so myself,’ Yash grins. But something tells me luck didn’t have quite as much to do with it as good old fashioned hard work, coupled with a real passion for motorsport.
But Formula 1 is a sport that is eternally in flux. And when Toyota folded their F1 operations and headed straight back to Japan, Yash had to spend the better portion of a year out of work. Not something that seemed to deter him one bit – resilient folks these F1 chaps are. He pondered for a while the merits of joining other streams of motorsport, but decided since F1 was where he wanted to be, that’s precisely where he’d stay. And then, as it is wont to in situations such as these, the telephone rang. This time, it was Team Lotus (now Caterham F1), and Yash found himself hard at work at the team factory, working on simulation models for the strategy team. Essentially it involved analysing past race information, track data, data from the cars such as tyre wear and the like, and coming up with various race strategy models. What they’d do if it was a dry race at a particular track, when they’d pit if the track turned wet and what they’d do if, motorsport god forbid, they should crash at the start of the race. Challenging stuff, this!
And it’s precisely matters like this that are weighing on Yash’s mind when he marches past me determinedly in the F1 paddock at his eighth race as a part of the team’s trackside operations. It’s the Friday before the Indian Grand Prix, and it’s one of the most important days for him with two practice sessions to gather and analyse data from. However, the Yash, or rather the blur that is Yash, that I see at the track isn’t the smiling youth from the coffee shop. Here, clad in team colours, he’s transformed into a part of the sport that is famous for complete focus, attention, dedication, split-second decisions and never slowing down.
But surely for someone who started out as an F1 fan, it must seem larger than life at some point? ‘It certainly is,’ he smiles, ‘Schumacher was standing right beside me in Korea. It was surreal! But obviously, when you’re in team uniform...’ he trails off. Fair point, that. ‘When you’re at the track you’re completely focussed on achieving the best result for your team,’ he continues before grinning ‘But when I’m watching a race as a fan, maybe I put on a different hat and say maybe Alonso or Vettel can do it this weekend!’
It’s only on the Sunday, after the race is over, that I catch sight of Yash once again. The sun’s set on the Buddh International Circuit, and the Caterham F1 team is already packing up and getting set to head off to Abu Dhabi. Yash is standing by the garage, quickly wolfing down some dinner before getting back to analysing the results from the race weekend. And I’m there to badger him with a camera and more questions, and he gamely obliges before I finally leave him be. ‘Everyone in Formula 1 works very, very hard,’ Yash had told me earlier in the week. What’s amazing to see is that one of those hard working people was once that very lad in Mumbai, tinkering away on the family Premier Padmini, and cheering on a scarlet car on the telly.
MY RACE WEEKEND
Name: Yash Pathare
F1 claim to fame: Strategy Engineer, Caterham F1
Age: 28, which makes him the youngest member of the technical team
Wednesday: Get to the track and set up our stations.
Thursday: On installation day we get to the track early. When the drivers arrive, it’s time for a track walk to gauge the conditions during the weekend. This helps us understand what to expect and how to set up the car accordingly.
Friday: We have three or four hours before the first practice session for data analysis. Run the cars, analyse tyre behaviour, go through data, crunch the numbers and also decide, given the conditions, what simulation model can be replicated during the race weekend.
Saturday: The final free practice session is more about outright speed to ensure that the cars are prepared for qualifying. Data is analysed to ensure that we’re competitive as compared to our rival teams. Busiest time of the weekend for me after quali – lots of data available for analysis.
Sunday: Once the race is on, it’s time to analyse all the data that is coming in and relay the information for both cars to the chief engineer, who then relays the decisions to the individual race engineers. Once the race is done, we analyse what worked, what didn’t and what we could have done better.