F1 » 1 January 1901
Unsung hero - Jock Clear.
Formula One is very much a sport of contradiction. Drivers - the individuals - are feted and lauded. We marvel at their sublime talent and salute their skill. But F1 is still the most technically advanced sport in the world and without gangs of highly skilled professionals to support each driver, where would they be?
Within the F1 order, there are those whose job it is to link the individual driver to the team: The team principal does it, the technical director does it, the team manager does it and so do the race engineers. On Jacques Villeneuve's side of the garage it falls to Jock Clear to assume this task, as he has since Jacques started his career in F1 in 1996.
The relationship between JV and Clear is one of the most long-standing ones in the paddock but Clear's career in motorsport came about long before their partnership kicked off at Williams in '96. As Clear explains: "I applied for a job at Lola in 1988 and was working there as a design engineer for 18 months before moving to Benetton as a head of composite design.
"From there I moved on to Lotus as a senior designer and got my first chance to be a race engineer back in 1994. At Lotus I raced Johnny Herbert but when the team folded I went straight to Williams to work first with David Coulthard and then with Jacques. The rest, as they say, is history."
From the outset it was clear that Jock and JV would work well together and their partnership certainly proved a fruitful one with the French Canadian driving his way to a World Championship title in 1997 under the expert guidance of Clear. So when Villeneuve moved to Lucky Strike BAR Honda the following year, he naturally made sure that his engineer moved with him.
Aside from getting on well as characters though, which Clear and Villeneuve evidently do, how important is the relationship between engineer and driver really?
Clear explains: "It's incredibly important to have a good relationship with your driver and to be able to have a mutual level of trust as well. It's a level of trust that I don't think you find in any other sport really. I can imagine that the kind of trust that a golfer puts in his caddie must be based solely on getting the ball closer to the hole. The kind of trust that Jacques puts in me is as much related to his safety in the car as it is to his performance. I have to recognise the trust he puts in me and ensure that it's never called into question."
How does the partnership translate into the day-to-day role Jock assumes at the track though?
"I provide the interface between Jacques and the team and try to get as much information from him as possible as to what's good and bad on the car. It's then my job to make sure that translates that into the set-up. Decision-making is obviously a big part of that process. That's making decisions on car set-up, fuel, tyres, aero etc… in consultation with all the experts in those fields that work with me."
Being a race engineer is about far more than just understanding your driver then. It's about working not only with him, but also with the entire team to get the very most out of the car come race day. As Clear is at pains to point out, Villeneuve and he may be 'a team within a team' to a certain extent, but at the end of the day, it's always important to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
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