NEWS FEATURE

How to do a lap chart

For a spectator at a race track, doing a lap chart can outline battles which you may not know were happening and chases which you had not previously appreciated.

Lap-charting is a dying art. These days at major races, computers make life easier. Lap charting is labour-intensive and requires total concentration.

You need to be able to instantly recognise the cars as they pass. There is no time for "Um.. Was that Mansell or Berger?" A split-second distraction can throw a lap-chart into chaos.

Essentially, there are two kinds of lap chart: the vertical chart and the horizontal chart.

An illustration of the vertical system can be seen at the bottom of each of our Grand Prix reports. The grid positions are listed vertically on the left side and the lap numbers run along the top of the chart.

At the end of each lap the order of the cars is noted. Thus, if you read the list on lap 1 of the recent Hungarian GP working from top to bottom, you see 6 (Riccardo Patrese) 1 (Ayrton Senna), 21 (Alex Caffi, 28 (Gerhard Berger), 2 (Alain Prost) and 5 (Thierry Boutsen).

By reading across the chart on the top line you can see who led the race on a given lap.

That is the vertical system but many, myself included, prefer to work horizontally as it's easier to work from left to right rather than downwards in columns.

A horizontal chart has the grid order at the top and the number of the lap on the left side, with each lap being recorded across the page.

Thus by reading down the page on the scribbled chart, you can see who was leading on a given lap.

At the top left of the chart the first lap is recorded. Read across the page and, hey-presto, you have 6-1-21-28-2-5.

But a list of numbers does not tell the whole story; it does not indicate the gaps between the cars or any incidents that might occur.

So people develop their own personal systems to record the action on a given lap.

On my personal chart (the messy one!) there are different marks and squiggles each of which record a particular point.

If you study lap 9 you will see 28 with an arrows beneath it. This means that Gerhard Berger was catching the car ahead (1 -- Senna). By lap 10 you will see a solid line beneath 28 and 1. This means the two are close together. By lap 14 you will see 21-5-27 with double lines underneath, this indicates that the three cars (Caffi-Boutsen-Mansell) were very close together. If cars are underlined three times, it usually means that there is about to be an accident!

You will also see small vertical strokes (rather like apostrophies) written above the numbers. These indicate gaps. The stronger the pressure of the pen the larger the gap. These notes above the car numbers can also be used to indicate exactly how big a gap is. Take a look at lap 6 and you will see a small 2 above cars 6 and 1. This indicates that on lap 6, Patrese and Senna were split by 2 seconds.

A circled number indicates a car which has pitted (look at lap 12 and you can see that 19 (Alessandro Nannini) came into the pits. If you look on the line below, you will see 19 reappearing much further down the order.

A puff of smoke beside a number (like the one on lap 19 beside number 23) indicates that a car has blown up or is trailing smoke. In this case Pierluigi Martini's Minardi was circulating with its brakes on fire.

A circular arrow (like that at the bottom of the first page) indicates a spin and beside it are scrawled the words 'Gachot back' suggesting that Bertrand Gachot has lost a number of places. Underneath is the word 'brakes', indicating that I should talk to Bert to see if this was the reason for his spin.

The vertical black line you can see at the right side of the pages indicates cars which have dropped a lap behind the leaders. Elsewhere you will see varios scrawls 'Mansell fastest lap!', 'De Cesaris out', 'Palmer drops back' and 'Alboreto in the way of Senna'. These are pointers to be checked later when it comes to talking to the drivers.

It isn't always tidy, but the system gives you a film of the race with the incidents highlighted. It is from this that a race report will be developed.

To become a good lap charter, you need to find a good position from which to watch the race.

The best position is some way above ground level, if possible at a corner where the cars are slower. The extra fraction of a second gives you more chance of keeping track of the cars. Stand in the middle of a fast straight at ground level and you may as well give up and go home.

The major difficulties in lap-charting come when there is a great deal of lapping going on and you have to fly around the chart putting numbers in the right places.

Another problem comes when something dramatic happens close to you. You have to keep a cool head, because once you lose track of a lap chart it is very hard to get it back.

Ultimately practice makes perfect. Try it some time, it will open up a whole new world for a spectator. And don't be discouraged if you lose track of what is happening, it takes years to get it right...

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