Why F1 sims have won over their biggest sceptics

When Lewis Hamilton revealed at last year’s British Grand Prix that he had spent Friday morning in his Mercedes team’s simulator, it raised a few eyebrows within Formula 1.

Why F1 sims have won over their biggest sceptics

On the one hand, it prompted some questions about the fairness of race drivers working in the sim at such a time, and giving their teams that extra edge just hours before the cars hit the track.

But it also provided the latest proof that even for those drivers who have long been sceptical about the value of simulators, like Hamilton, something had changed to get them embracing them so much.

For a long time, some of F1’s more seasoned stars had steered clear of getting too heavily involved in simulator programmes.

Kimi Raikkonen had long hated them and saw little value in churning out hours and hours in front of a computer screen.

And Hamilton himself, while doing what he could over the years, knew that sims could never offer the same benefits as real world testing.

“You can go and do a sim day, and the sim is not in the right place it’s supposed to be,” he said at one point last year. “The grip level’s not right, or the wind effect is not right, or the thermal deg is set wrong. So you can come away with bogus numbers.

“You have to be so careful with the data that you are receiving and the decisions that you’re making.”

But being aware of the limits is a different thing to being completely against it, and it was fascinating to see just how much more Hamilton threw himself at the simulator programme last year.

For where once he may have preferred to leave the sim work up to others, in 2021 he did as much as he could.

And while some of that reason was borne of necessity – for in as tight a title fight as he was in, every bit of work could help – there was another factor that could not be ignored.

It wasn’t that the likes of Hamilton had changed their minds about simulators; it was that the sims had gained a level of sophistication to finally deliver clear benefits.

As Mercedes technical director Mike Elliot explains: “I think as those tools get better and better and they get to be a closer and closer match to reality, they become more and more useful to the drivers.

“They stop seeing them as a toy at the worst end of it, to something that's a genuine engineering tool that they can use to get a head start for the race weekend.

“I think a combination of the improvements we've made to that and the sort of the tightness of the championship meant that both drivers pushed to spend more and more time in there.

“I think the commitment has always been there. It's more a case of saying, now I've got something that's useful to me, I can make use of, I'm going to really push it.”

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team drives a lap of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on a simulator

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team drives a lap of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on a simulator

Photo by: Andrew Hone / Motorsport Images

Indeed, as F1 sim tech has ramped up, and the value has increased for both drivers and engineers, the need to have ever better simulators has increased.

It’s certainly no coincidence that McLaren has put an improved sim at the top of its build list alongside a new windtunnel, while Ferrari has invested in an all-new facility at Maranello that should be on tap for this season.

And while its computer processing power is a step up, it was interesting to hear Charles Leclerc explain one other important factor: the driver experience.

“I think it should be an improvement on absolutely everything we feel, especially for the feeling of the driver,” he said at the end of last year.

“It’s very difficult to recreate those Gs that we go through in the real car. So, it will be mostly on that – on the feeling of the driver that would be an improvement.”

For Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto, there is absolutely no doubt that if the drivers can be won over on the value of the sim, then having a top-notch facility was now essential for any team that wanted to win.

“We believe that having a good simulator is very important,” he explained last year when talking about why the team had gone for an upgrade.

“If you look at the tyre wear [Ferrari suffered] in France, and how you may manage, understand, and somehow try to react to those issues, if you've got a good simulator which is good in terms of response or correlation with the race track, the exercise will be certainly more accurate.

“That's why for us it was important to make an upgrade. That's why we believe the new one can put us in a good position for the future.”

And it seems there is a virtuous circle at play here: the better the sim, the more the drivers will be eager to work in it and the better the results…

BMW Simulator

BMW Simulator

Photo by: BMW AG

shares
comments
Ferrari's 2022 F1 car set for airbox tweak
Previous article

Ferrari's 2022 F1 car set for airbox tweak

Next article

Five new grandstands for Australian Grand Prix

Five new grandstands for Australian Grand Prix
The relaxed home life that helps F1’s Danish superstar to deliver Plus

The relaxed home life that helps F1’s Danish superstar to deliver

The unrelenting grasp of the tax man prompts most racing drivers to move to the likes of Monaco, Switzerland or Dubai. But, as OLEG KARPOV found out, Kevin Magnussen is quite happy where he is, thank you very much – at home, with his family, in Denmark

Formula 1
Oct 5, 2022
How Perez has shown what many F1 drivers need from the 2022 season run-in Plus

How Perez has shown what many F1 drivers need from the 2022 season run-in

OPINION: Sergio Perez’s Singapore triumph arrested a big decline in his Formula 1 performances against Max Verstappen at Red Bull since his Monaco win. He now needs to maintain his form to the season’s end, while others are also seeking a change in fortunes

Formula 1
Oct 5, 2022
How the FIA should punish any breaches of the F1 cost cap Plus

How the FIA should punish any breaches of the F1 cost cap

OPINION: On Wednesday, the FIA will issue F1 teams with compliance certificates if they stuck to the 2021 budget cap. But amid rumours of overspending, the governing body must set a critical precedent. It needs to carefully pick between revisiting the bitterness of Abu Dhabi, a contradictory punishment and ensuring parity for the rest of the ground-effect era

Formula 1
Oct 4, 2022
Singapore Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Plus

Singapore Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

A testing return to the Singapore Grand Prix in tricky conditions created plenty of hazards and mistakes for the Formula 1 drivers to fall into. That partly explains a number of low scores, including from a handful of high profile runners, allowing others to take a starring role under the floodlights

Formula 1
Oct 3, 2022
The two key contributors to Leclerc's defeat to Perez in F1's 2022 Singapore GP Plus

The two key contributors to Leclerc's defeat to Perez in F1's 2022 Singapore GP

In a marathon Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, Sergio Perez’s victory was only assured hours after the race due to a stewards investigation. Throughout the contest the Red Bull driver impressively held off Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in changing conditions to see the Mexican pull out enough of an advantage to negate his post-race penalty

Formula 1
Oct 3, 2022
The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams Plus

The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams

What happens, asks MATT KEW, if the old adage of win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday is no longer true for F1 manufacturers?

Formula 1
Oct 2, 2022
Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie? Plus

Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie?

The Australian rising star is fast, consistent, confident, adaptable and has shown excellent racecraft, but there’s already a taint to his reputation. That hasn’t stopped him becoming the hottest property in this year’s F1 driver market and why McLaren moved fast to snap up the 21-year-old

Formula 1
Sep 30, 2022
The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver Plus

The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver

Formula 1's incoming engine rules shake-up has multiple targets. But it may also solve what has been a bone of contention since the hybrids arrived in 2014. The new plan will allow the series to pump up the volume

Formula 1
Sep 29, 2022