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Wirth: Sim sickness can be overcome

Michael Schumacher, Jerez test, 2011Drivers like Michael Schumacher should have little problem in overcoming the motion sickness problems they face when using Formula 1 simulators.

That is the view of Virgin Racing technical director Nick Wirth, who has spent years working on developing high-tech simulation technology at his own facility in Banbury.

Those efforts have left him convinced that there is a generational issue at stake - with younger racers more used to working in simulators because they have been brought up playing computer games.

But Wirth thinks that even older drivers like Schumacher, whose brains struggle to deal with the experience of simulators, can get over the difficulties they have.

"The younger guys are more used to video games," explained Wirth. "They are more used to video games - even playing things like Call of Duty where, if you hit the stick to strafe and rotate around, they are not going to be sick.

"They are used to it and their brain is completely programmed. When my son jumps in the [F1] simulator every so often, he is fine - so it is a generational thing.

"I am sure Michael didn't play many video games when he was younger, but from what we have seen, I am sure he will be able to overcome his motion sickness."

Wirth says that motion sickness in simulators is caused by an evolutionary response in the brain which started as a protection mechanism against eating the wrong foods.

"The guy who has been the most influential in the development of our simulators is David Brabham, and he is the same age as me," said Wirth. "He is absolutely fantastic on it, but he definitely suffered from motion sickness to start with.

"Motion sickness is a fascinating topic, and it fundamentally has its roots in our evolutionary history. Motion sickness comes from the fact that your brain is continually comparing what your eyes can see with what your inner ear says.

"When our ancestors used to pick berries up off the ground, if they ate something that was dangerous, which would make them ill, then one of the manifestations of being poisoned is to feel giddy - like if you have too much alcohol, which is a form of poisoning, and you lose your sense of balance.

"Losing your sense of balance gives you a disconnect between your visual and your inner ear and your body goes, 'I've lost my connection between inner ear and vision, I must have been poisoned, get it out.' And that is why you are sick.

"So that is why when you are reading a book in the car, you look at something still and your inner ear feels acceleration so your brain goes, hang on a sec, that doesn't feel right. That is the evolutionary basis of motion sickness."

Wirth says that Brabham initially had huge problems in getting used to the simulators, but now has fully overcome the issues he had.

"It is a matter of training," added Wirth. "David used to get out of the simulator after 10 laps and have his head between his lap for two hours, and he would go home white.

"But we improved the motion, we understood what it was, and now we can't get him out of the damn thing when he comes in."

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