Do F1 Drivers Use Trail Braking? (When & Why They Do)

Share this article

Trail braking is an advanced driving technique that involves keeping your brakes engaged while turning into a corner. There are various reasons as to why this technique is so effective, but you may be wondering whether F1 drivers trail brake.

F1 drivers do use trail braking, but not all the time, as trail braking can be effective in some corners (especially in slow ones), but not in others (like fast corners). In addition, trail braking can reduce the life of tires, which F1 drivers need to be able to preserve during a 190-mile race.

You will still see most if not all Formula 1 drivers using trail braking at some points though. Even though not all corners are suited to trail braking, understanding this technique will help you to become a faster and more skilful driver. We go into more detail about it below.

Trail Braking Examples In F1

Some good examples of trail braking corners on the F1 calendar would be the hairpin at Montreal (Turn 10) and the many 90-degree corners at Abu Dhabi. We also see F1 drivers trail brake at Turn 3 at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and also quite a few corners at Albert Park in Australia.

Next time you watch F1, pay attention to how long the drivers stay on the brakes while turning in when taking corners like these.

The best example to look for is during qualifying laps at Spa in Belgium. Spa is a long and flowing circuit, and the corners are of such a nature that trail braking can be extremely effective, even to the point of it being an essential technique there. Pay attention to the braking telemetry and watch the driver’s steering angle while they are on the brakes.

A Closer Look At Trail Braking

Trail braking involves gradually releasing the brakes on your car while entering a corner. While you are gradually releasing brake pressure (“trailing”) you increase the steering angle of your car. So, you are essentially braking very gently while turning your car into the corner.

Now, this is not the usual racing-school method of hard braking before the corner and then releasing the brakes before turning in. This technique sounds easy in theory, but in practice it is difficult to implement the perfect balance of braking and steering.

This technique helps you manipulate the weight transfer of the car. The weight transfer will be slower and more gradual as you are trailing off the brakes, rather than fast and abrupt when coming off the brakes quickly. This means that the car will be more balanced on turn in, and that your entry speed will be much higher.

In addition to this, effective trail braking means that you are using all of the tires’ available grip upon corner entry, and this of course means that you are going faster and improving your lap times.

How Is Trail Braking Faster For F1 Drivers?

Trail braking is faster for F1 drivers as it utilises all the available grip in their front tires to make their corner entry speed as fast as possible. Trail braking allows the driver to keep more of the car’s weight over the front tires, giving them more grip, allowing for faster cornering.

This is because when you are braking, the weight of the car is shifted forwards and over the front axle of the car. When you are trail braking, you are keeping very light brake pressure on while turning, keeping the weight over the front axle and providing the front tires with more grip.

Trail Braking vs Other Methods

Compare this to the racing school method of going hard on the brakes when you’re coming up to the corner and coming off the brakes completely before you start turning and you have different weight transfer behavior in the car.

Once you hit the brakes hard your car’s weight transfers to the front, the same as with trail braking, but as you let the brake pressure off and start to turn in, weight is transferred backward to a more neutral position (and eventually towards the rear of the car as you accelerate hard out of the corner). This takes grip away from the front tires. But trail braking is not effective for all types of corners.

KEY POINTS

• F1 drivers do trail brake in some corners

• It’s most effective in slower corners

• Trail braking allows the driver to manipulate the weight transfer of the car

When Do F1 Drivers Use Trail Braking?

Trail braking is most effective in slow corners where F1 drivers need the car to rotate a lot. In this case, you can trail brake to get your car to rotate quicker before the apex and get on the throttle much earlier for a faster exit.

Trail braking is not really as effective in fast corners (like the esses at Suzuka or Maggots and Becketts at Silverstone) because you want you the rear of your car to be a bit more planted, and therefore you want more weight over the rear axle. However, in some cases, very small amounts of trail braking can be used in fast corners.

A Remedy For Understeer

Trail braking can be used really effectively when you are trying to solve understeering issues on the entry of some corners. The balance of your car is affected by which end of the car has more grip, and by using trail braking you can slightly influence this balance.

So if your car is understeering a lot as soon as you turn in, and you are struggling to hit the apex of the corner, you can use trail braking to shift more of the car’s weight onto the front axle and give your front tires more grip.

What Affects Trail Braking?

To add to the difficulty of this technique, corners aren’t always “trail braking corners.” Drivers might even find themselves adjusting their trail braking technique for the same corner multiple times over a weekend. This could be a result of their tires wearing out, the track heating up or cooling down (and therefore affecting grip levels), or even rain.

This is what sets the great drivers apart from the good ones. If you look at Lewis Hamilton for example, he seems to know exactly how much grip he has at every moment on the track, and he gets it right seemingly 99% of the time. This is one of those extremely rare cases where you get a talented driver that just knows exactly what to do.

How To Trail Brake (4 Steps)

Now that you know all about trail braking and why it makes you faster, it is time to learn this advanced technique (even if you don’t drive real race cars, you can apply trail braking in sim racing). This technique takes a lot of time and practice to apply to your racecraft, but if you have this skill in your arsenal you will be immensely quick.

Let’s take an example of the hairpin at Montreal. It’s a pretty textbook hairpin corner with a long straight section leading up to the corner and another straight following the corner on the exit. So, it is crucial to brake as late as possible and get a fast exit to keep your speed up on the back straight. See the more detailed steps below.

1. Brake Late & Hard In A Straight Line

When you are approaching the corner, start braking in a straight line with the maximum braking force available. You can likely brake a bit later than normal because you will be applying the brakes for longer to get the car slowed down.

2. Ease Off The Brakes Slightly

You begin to ease off the brakes slightly as you get closer to the corner. Your braking force will probably go from 100% to about 40-60% within a second. So initially you remove brake pressure quickly, but you are holding at a lighter brake pressure.

3. Start Turning Into The Corner

As you release your brake pressure you start to turn into the corner, aiming for the apex of the corner. This is the tricky part because we have always been told not to brake and turn at the same time. But as long as you have smooth inputs you should manage this with a little practice.

4. Increase Steering Angle & Decrease Brake Pressure Simultaneously

From here you are increasing your steering angle and reducing brake pressure at the same time. The difficult part is getting your left foot to work simultaneously with your steering. Essentially you are lifting your foot off the brake while turning your steering wheel, and this can be a bit confusing at first.

The key here is to keep your car well balanced throughout the rest of the corner with your braking. This can take a lot of practice, and you should be practicing this technique a lot in testing or in simulators before you actually find your limits during a racing situation!

Final Thoughts

Trail braking is an advanced driving technique that has been perfected by the best drivers around the world, including F1 drivers. It is common to see trail braking being used in slower speed corners where drivers need a fast exit. Learning how to use trail braking takes a lot of time and patience, and a lot of practice.