This post is written by Rachel Wenzlaff, who is part of the Young Journalist Program sponsored by Risi Competizione. Rachel is majoring in Journalism at the University of Texas. She will be posting articles on the site throughout the race weekend.
When Risi drivers Giancarlo Fisichella or Pierre Kaffer emerge from the cockpit after a race, a part of them gets left behind…. a glistening puddle of sweat and a sour aroma.
The culprits–96 degrees (36 C) and 40 percent humidity –are not unusual temperatures for Austin, Texas in mid September. However, it is significantly hotter than September in Europe. Fisichella is accustomed to fall in Italy where temperatures typically max out in the high 70’s, and Kaffer is used to German temperatures in the upper 60’s.
Compounding on the natural heat, on scorching Texas days like Friday, the Ferrari acts similar to an oven. The heat from the engine, tires, dark interior and driver all combine into a blistering fog.
In the car there is no escape from the thick air. Fisichella and Kaffer are strapped into a Nomex suit and helmet to protect them from potential fire. The suit can survive for 35 seconds in temperatures of up to 1562 degrees (850 C) but that also means there is little fresh airflow in or out of the suit.
Before regulations, temperatures inside the cockpit averaged more than 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius.) As a result, drivers became so severely dehydrated that there was an increase in crashes and even if a driver managed to control his car for the entire race, drivers still frequented the medical tent to address lightheadedness and nausea.
To increase the safety of drivers, regulations were enacted stating that the maximum temperature of the cockpit can’t exceed the temperature of the outside air. Special sensors were placed in each car that identify unsafe air temperature. If the sensors detect that it is too hot in the cockpit, the car is required to come in for maintenance.
But, as evidenced by the sweat pool, 96 degrees is still plenty hot.