Monday, June 8, 2009


I'm going to attempt to explain one of the most intriguing and least understood aspects of F1 racing, which some people may understand, some will not and some others don't care. I'm not very technically adept nor have I been watching F1 for 20 years. I am very interested in the goings on in F1 and try my best to read up on any material that I can get my hands on, plus I try to have discussions with like minded people as much as possible.

There have been many arguments lately about drivers and their ability to drive a modern F1 car to the limit and perform seemingly incredible and heroic feats on the track. So much so that fans of certain drivers or teams have become fanatics who cannot see any wrong in their heroes no matter what. They also always see wrong in other drivers and teams and always find excuses to run them down.

I have been following F1 since the Senna days but only started being a fanatic the season before Lewis Hamilton joined i.e. 2006. That's because I was part of a group of people offering F1 simulators for corporate rental. We developed the simulators ourselves and used the official F1 game at the time - F1 Challenge 99-02 with the requisite mods to simulate the current seasons.

A simulator or simulation is different from a game, so F1 Challenge is not the same at F1 2006 on the PS2. With a simulator you have total control over the car i.e. you can change almost all the settings like the real car and the tracks dimensions are actual i.e. they were mapped based on the real tracks. Plus the physics employed were real too, you can't just turn the wheel in a corner and let the car drive itself. You have to continuously adjust to get the perfect line, if not you'll lose vital tenths.

Playing around with this simulator gave me an insight into the intricacies, detail and difficulty of F1 I never realized before. It is so difficult to even improve on 1/1000th of a second if the car setup is not right, your reflexes are not right and the other conditions are not right. But when all the conditions are right, it seems like you are just gliding on water, everything is just smooth. You can telegraph your thoughts to the car and it will almost drive itself and produce a stunning lap time.

It is this "talent" for the driver to be able to dial in into the car that impresses us and makes us look at them as gods. But there are days when even they can't "dial-in" and sometimes the car just doesn't want to cooperate. When the car is designed in such a way that it is difficult to set-up or doesn't flow with the driver's style, it will produce an excuse for fans to ridicule those drivers or teams that they don't support.

I have noticed that these seasonal issues crop up when something changes - either driver or rules change. For example, why is it suddenly that Jenson Button is winning every race in sight when the last 2 years he was sucking exhaust fumes at the back? And why is it that Lewis Hamilton can't even make it into Q2 of qualifying when the last 2 years he was defying the laws of physics to push the car around the track to win? Luck? A bit but I don't think so.

It's the car, stupid! Yes the car. Think Schumacher was a racing god? Sorry to deflate your pride there but it was the car. On our simulator when we want to set the best times on most tracks, we always use the Ferrari F2004. That was the fastest car of that year and maybe the best of the batch in which Schumacher won his 5 world titles.

How can Button win 6 out of 7 races this year so easily and serenely? It's like he's cruising around to victory everytime. The Brawn car had the benefit of 15 months of development as Honda decided to scrap development on the 2008 car and concentrate on this year. They had lots of time to look at the new regulations and think of solutions. It's not just the double diffuser, if it was just that, how come Red Bull were so competitive from day one without a double diffuser?

Plus Brawn had all the resources of Honda to develop the car - a lot of cash, 2 wind tunnels, CFDs, the lot. The car now is powerful (courtesy of the Mercedes engine), aerodynamically almost perfect, technically sound, smooth to drive, easy on the tires and well balanced. With a car like that, any driver on the current grid can become world champion. At least 50% of the equation in winning a race is the car. With the right car even Nelson Piquet Jr could become champion.

So ultimately, all F1 drivers are good, if not they wouldn't be there driving F1 cars. Their main limitation is the car that is available to them. All other issues could be ironed out with the team and resources available.

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