The Race Engineer

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For this article we caught up with Lebanese race engineer Ribal Santina to run us through an average weekend for him, and also what makes a good driver from his position in the garage.

Ribal, Run us through the usual agenda for the weekend

“On the first day, I usually get to the circuit as early as possible, and in time to see the cars unloaded in to the garage. Once this is done, that’s when I can start work. The first thing I do is either add or inspect sensors on the car to ensure there is no physical damage since moving the cars from A to B, and to collect all important data on temperatures, speed, failures etc. In between would be going out for a track walk which is a good chance for the driver and I to check the track surface, track layout, talk about the racing line whilst throwing few notes here and there, and it’s a good chance for us to bond too. I also have various meetings over the weekend, both with the team and I also go to driver briefings too to get a full view of what is expected of drivers this weekend."

“The driver must have full trust in their engineer. If they don’t, the results won’t come.”

What do you require from a driver?

“Good feedback. A good sense of how the car feels, where the car is good and where the car is bad, but expanding more on how the car is in specific corners. It’s also good to be as descriptive as possible where the car is bad and losing time. Obviously, one-word answers like ‘bad’ or ‘slow’ are not as helpful (joke). Also, if he/she can be a good listener I wouldn’t mind.
 A driver who can also think about the team as well as themselves is also a huge plus-point.”

We’ve seen drivers in all categories from karting, upwards who can have a couple of bad races or weekends and then their confidence starts to spiral out of control. What can you do to stop this and get the driver back on track?

"Drivers can be fragile or sensitive, which is reasonable since they are under lots of pressure and always trying their best to deliver whilst having adrenaline at its maximum in their body. And the younger the driver is, the more delicate the situation can be especially in the junior formulas since drivers are allegedly under a single year contract or sometimes on a race-by-race where any mistake can cost him/her the seat. Also, they are passing through their teen years and growing up phase so a lot is going on in their mind and personality.
That’s why their psychology and wellbeing should always be well monitored and maintained as much as possible. One important tip that would help the driver is trying to maintain a friendly supportive team environment around him. This will help him feel safe and secure and will definitely help him get the results needed/wanted. 
I try to be the driver’s friend, as having a friendly relationship can help him trust me better and start the weekend better. But that shouldn’t be at the cost of seriousness in the work. So, I guess the best way to describe the relationship is by being his mentor. " 

"He knew he was bad in wet conditions back in the karting days, so he made sure he practices only on rainy days..."

“Well, I also must be giving the driver good feedback, but also the correct feedback. Telling the driver to go in a direction with car set-up must be the correct decision. It’s no good if what I say isn’t helping and extracting the best from the car and driver. The driver must have full trust in their engineer. If they don’t, the results won’t come.”

The million-dollar question - What makes a good driver?

“Well, apart from the usual i.e., being fast, being, reliable, balanced etc., adaptability is key. Being able to quickly adapt to different set-ups, or different cars is invaluable, especially when a driver has to change their driving style to suit the car. Being able to extract every ounce out of the car is what makes drivers winners and losers.” And to do that, you need to know a lot about your car and how it works, meaning spending a lot of time with the engineers whenever applicable. Always remember that hard work beats talent, and if you have both then you are good to go.

In my opinion, a great example of a perfect driver would be Ayrton Senna. A fierce competitor who used to get the maximum out of the car on every occasion. He knew he was bad in wet conditions back in the karting days, so he made sure he practices only on rainy days which eventually made him the rain master in the F1 days. On the days where he was slow, he never made it easy to his opponents and made them work hard for an overtake. Not to forget mentioning running across the track mid practice to save someone else’s life. Also, he made sure he understood how each part of his car worked and went deep into the tiniest of details.

My favourite quote from Senna would be: "With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high."


A short view about myself: After leading the formation and being the team leader of the first Lebanese Formula Student team, I graduated as a mechanical engineer with a dream very similar to everyone who starts racing; reaching Formula One. Graduating mid covid, I realised to get the experienced needed was nearly impossible at that time, So I got myself sponsored for a data logger, enrolled on few data analysis courses and text books and started freelancing. 

Currently hoping for an experience with a team in the UK or Europe in the bottom tier of single seaters (F4) or the GT classes (GT4, Praga, Radical).

For business inquiries feel free to write to me at: ribalsantina@gmail.com.
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