Spotters are an integral part of motorsports in the United States. Every NASCAR and IndyCar team has a spotter, and they also use spotters on specific racetracks where they need to feed information to their drivers. But many fans wonder whether F1 also uses spotters.
F1 does not have designated “spotters.” However, the drivers each have their own race engineer and there are team members on the pit wall who assist the driver through radio communication, much like a spotter would do in NASCAR and IndyCar.
Even so, Formula 1 engineers are still slightly different in terms of the role they play in the team compared to a spotter. Below, we go through these different roles in more detail, and we discuss whether or not F1 should consider using spotters in the future.
What Is A Spotter In Racing?
A spotter is a crew member on a racing team that has a better vantage point than the rest of the team. Spotters are normally positioned in an area where they can see the entire racetrack, such as on top of a grandstand or support building, and they relay information back to the teams and drivers.
Spotters are trained by the team, and they constantly relay information straight to the driver. Since they have a view of the entire circuit, they can warn their drivers of something they need to know about. For example, if there has been an incident ahead of them.
This helps the drivers to understand what is happening on the track, which means nothing will come as a surprise to them. It adds a safety element to the sport as well, as drivers will know if they need to slow down or be aware of a crash up ahead.
History Of Spotters In Motorsport
Spotters first appeared in NASCAR and IndyCar (then named CART) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Initially they were used because it gave the drivers and teams a massive advantage. A driver that was informed of what was happening around the racetrack would be able to perform better overall.
Even though radio communication between the driver and their team started in the 1970s, all the team members were stationed in the pits. Since there were no video screens or cameras around the track back in those days, the team weren’t much help in keeping the driver up to date with what was happening around the track.
In the 1980s teams began to experiment with the idea of a crew member with a radio being stationed around the circuit, or even in the grandstands. This is when the idea of the “spotter” was born, and it has stuck around ever since.
Why Do All Teams Use Spotters?
Mid-way through the 1990s, spotters became a mandatory requirement for all NASCAR teams. Each team had to have its designated spotter that was able to communicate directly with the driver as this helped to improve the safety of the sport.
At this point specialized areas were being constructed specifically for spotters, so they no longer had to find themselves an area with a good vantage point or buy grandstand tickets to sit in and amongst the fans.
However, on some circuits such as Daytona, Talladega, and Indianapolis, the circuit is too large and congested to be able to get a good vantage point of the entire track. In this case, multiple spotter sections are built, and multiple spotters are used throughout a race.
What Are Spotters Responsible For?
With the spotter becoming a permanent position in the sport more responsibilities were added to their job descriptions. Initially, the spotters were used to warn drivers of incidents up ahead, incoming rain, or simply the performance of a car ahead of them (whether the gap ahead is increasing or decreasing, for example).
The modern-day spotter has a much tougher job though. Spotters are now used to help drivers in “pack racing”, or when the cars all close together. The drivers’ visibility in NASCAR and IndyCar is quite limited and the cars have massive blind spots which makes it difficult for a driver to see in close wheel-to-wheel racing.
A spotter helps the driver by calling out exactly where the cars are that are in close proximity. The spotters also work closely with the team and driver in order to find the optimal strategy that will help them to gain positions during a race or increase their lead over the rest of the pack by pitting at the perfect time.
Having eyes on the entire circuit gives the team a strategic advantage in terms of knowing what’s going on around the track. However, with each team having a spotter, this advantage is slightly diminished. There is one other factor to consider though.
There have been occasions where spotters from different teams (although perhaps with the same engine manufacturer) work together to get an advantage over their opposition. This is one of the lesser-known advantages of having a spotter, and it’s something that’s unheard of in European motorsport.
Two spotters can “team up” and instruct their drivers to pit at the same time. Their cars will get back out on track at the same time which will allow them to slipstream each other and catch up to the cars ahead of them.
Why Are Spotters More Common In American Motorsports?
Spotters are more common in American motorsports than European motorsports. Spotters became common in the US ever since they were first used in the 1980s and 1990s. However, they never caught on in European motorsports.
The main reason for this is that American motorsports tend to use a lot of oval racetracks, which is where the idea of having a spotter was born. An oval racetrack is the best place to have a spotter because they are able to see the entire racetrack fairly easily from one place.
However, there aren’t many oval racetracks around Europe, and no big racing series such as Formula 1, for example, races around oval racetracks. This makes it difficult for spotters to be implemented into European motorsports. The simple truth is that some F1 tracks are just too big and complex to be covered by one person at one place.
Should F1 Have Spotters?
F1 shouldn’t have spotters, as they just would not be very beneficial on F1 tracks. F1 doesn’t race on ovals, where spotters can get a full view of the racetrack quite easily from one place, and so F1 tracks would need multiple spotters around the track, which would make communications chaotic.
With spotters providing so many advantages in NASCAR and IndyCar, you may be wondering why they aren’t used in Formula 1? Surely having a spotter in Formula 1 would be an advantage to all of the drivers and teams?
However, because of the way that Formula 1 works, a spotter would be redundant for several different reasons. Specified spotters have never really been considered in Formula 1 in the past because they are just not needed.
It’s not because the visibility in Formula 1 cars is better, as Formula 1 cars have pretty much the same visibility limitations and blind spots that an IndyCar has. So why are there no spotters in the world of Formula 1?
Type Of Racetracks
The first reason why Formula 1 can’t use spotters is because of the type of racetracks that are used on the F1 calendar. Formula 1 doesn’t race on oval circuits, which is the type of circuit that spotters are best suited to because of the vantage point that allows the spotter to see the entire circuit.
Formula 1 uses much larger and longer racetracks, and teams would need several spotters in different places to be able to cover the entire circuit. The average Formula 1 circuit has about 20 corners and is over 3 miles in length.
A single spotter won’t get a vantage point of the entire circuit, and having several different spotters would make communications too chaotic and intense for a driver who already needs to remain 100% focused on the car they are driving.
The second main reason F1 doesn’t need spotters is down the advanced technology used in the sport today. Instead of having spotters, Formula 1 teams use technology to help them to understand what is going on around the racetrack. There are lots of computers and systems that Formula 1 teams bring to each track.
These can include weather radars, track maps, GPS tracking, vehicle tracking devices, cameras, telemetry sensors, and much more. Teams will use all of these systems to monitor what is going on around the circuit and use that information to their advantage.
This is essentially what does the spotter’s job in Formula 1. The teams are able to access any information on the car, on the track, or in the weather conditions at any time. In addition, they can also monitor the live broadcast to get a view of what’s happening on the circuit. This again just makes spotters redundant in most cases.
Examples Of Where A Spotter Could Be Useful In F1
The reason we say in most cases is because there are definitely some situations where a human would be more useful than all of these sensors. Examples include occasions where rain is only falling on one part of the track, a common occurrence in Spa in Belgium for example. Sensors can only predict the weather with reasonable accuracy, or give you data from one specific location.
It’s often up to the driver to tell the teams how the track conditions are at areas far away from their pit wall, and this can lead to miscommunications or poor decision making, like we saw at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix. Some of the track was very wet, so teams recommended drivers switch to intermediate tires, but the drivers could see dry lines in some parts of the track.
This led to a lot of them gambling to try and stay on slicks, and this ultimately cost Lando Norris the race win, or at least a podium. A similar situation happened to Lando in Spa several weeks earlier when he was in contention for pole position in the wet. However, he didn’t realize just how wet the dip at Eau Rouge was until he got to it, and this sent him spinning up Raidillon.
In this situation, having a spotter in a key part of the track, like Eau Rouge and Raidillon, could have forced Lando to slow down and abandon his lap, possibly to have a chance for pole after the inevitable red flag. However, it’s not guaranteed a spotter would have solved both of these problems, but it’s worth mentioning that spotters could be useful in some cases.
Back to why spotters aren’t likely to be useful in F1, we need to consider the role of the pit walls. The pit wall is where all of the information from the various sensors is analyzed. The pit wall is a trackside booth that hosts the multi-million-dollar equipment that the team uses to monitor everything that happens out on track.
There are a number of key figures that sit on the pit wall during a race, and they include the team principal, the strategists, and the race engineers. Each person on the pit wall is able to speak with either of the drivers. The team principal is the boss, whereas the strategists are in charge of finding the best possible strategy for both cars and calculating every likely outcome on the fly.
There are two race engineers that usually sit on the pit wall (sometimes in the garage) – one for each driver. The race engineers will be in constant contact with the drivers, keeping them informed of the condition of their car, the cars around them, and their strategy. They will also inform the driver of weather updates and on-track conditions such as an incident ahead or yellow flag conditions.
However, drivers also get a lot of information on their steering wheels as well. This just adds another layer of redundancy, making spotters in F1 a very difficult argument to promote.
Another reason it’s uncommon to see spotters in Formula 1 is because the sport has a much smaller grid than both NASCAR and IndyCar. Formula 1 only has 20 cars on the racetrack at any given time. NASCAR features 40 cars in a race, and IndyCar can see 33 drivers on track at one time.
Because of the fact that IndyCar and NASCAR have a significantly bigger grid and smaller, shorter racetracks, it can be easy for a driver to become swamped during a race, especially at the start. This is where a spotter comes in handy.
Having a spotter during pack racing is essential for IndyCar and NASCAR because of the sheer number of cars that are on the grid. However, in Formula 1, the tracks are much narrower and there are fewer cars, which means drivers likely always get a good view of the cars that are alongside them, but of course there are still incidents where drivers run out of room.
In these situations, it’s usually a result of driver errors, and they usually happen very quickly. It’s not like in NASCAR where multiple cars might be within a foot of each other for lap after lap, which is where a spotter can relay a constant feed of information as to where the other cars are. In F1, if you’re that close to another car, you probably won’t stay there for very long!
Spotters are crew members that are used in motorsport to communicate with the driver. They often warn the driver of any dangers up ahead on the track, or incoming weather. Formula 1 doesn’t have spotters because the circuits are too large, and they already use technology to do the job of a spotter.