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, which we will cover later on. But, do F1 drivers use trail braking?
Yes, F1 drivers use trail braking, but not all the time, as trail braking can be effective in some corners, but not all. In addition, trail braking can reduce the life of tires, which F1 drivers may need to preserve during a race.
You will still see most, if not all Formula 1 drivers using trail braking in hot laps 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.
What Is Trail Braking?
Trail braking involves gradually releasing the brakes on your car while entering a corner. Whilst you are gradually releasing brake pressure (“trailing”) you will be increasing 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.
What this technique does is 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 faster.
In addition to this, effective trail braking means that you are using all of the tire’s available grip upon corner entry, and this of course means that you are going faster and decreasing your lap times. Trail braking is not effective for all types of corners though.
How Is Trail Braking Faster?
Trail braking utilises all the available grip in the tires in order to make your corner entry speed as fast as possible. When I say that it makes use of more grip, I mean that the technique is able to make the tires bite into the circuit more.
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 causing the front tires to grip more.
Compare this to the racing school method of hard on the brakes and coming off the brakes completely before a corner, and you have a different weight transfer 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, your weight transfer moves over to a more neutral position.
When Should You Use Trail Braking?
Trail braking is most effective in slow corners where you 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 because you want you the rear of your car to be a bit more planted, and therefore want more weight over the rear axle. However, in some cases, very small amounts of trail braking can be used in fast corners.
To add to the difficulty to this technique, not all corners are set trail braking corners, and not all corners are the same either. You might even find yourself adjusting your trail braking technique for the same corner multiple times over a weekend.
This is because it all has to do with various different factors:
Firstly, how fast is the car that you are driving, is it F3 or GT? What is the stopping power, how strong are the brakes? These factors will firstly determine which corners you can effectively trail brake into.
But it doesn’t end there unfortunately. It gets even more complicated when you realise that although you may be in the same car, the brake pressure you apply in your trail braking will vary at different times. Are the tires losing their grip, is the track heating up? Maybe there is some moisture in that corner and then you need to rework how you approach it.
The different levels of grip will affect the amount of trail braking required into any specific corner.
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 there is every single time, and he gets it right 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.
Trail braking can be used really effectively when you are trying to solve understeering or oversteering 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 we 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 cars weight onto the front axle and get those front tires to grip more into the track. So, in essence you are leaving the brakes on slightly later than usual to keep that weight transfer over the front axle.
Trail Braking Examples In F1
Some good examples of trail braking corners on the F1 calendar would be the hairpins at Montreal and Hockenheim. But also, some 90-degree corners would be just as effective with trail braking. I have seen F1 drivers use trail braking at Turn 3 in Austria, and also quite a few corners at Albert Park, just to name a few.
Next time you watch F1, pay attention to how long the drivers stay on the brakes while turning in.
The best example to look for is qualifying laps at Spa. 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.
How To Trail Brake
Now that you know all about trail braking and why it makes you faster, it is time to learn this advanced technique. 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.
So, lets take an example of the hairpin at Montreal. It’s a pretty textbook hairpin corner with long straights leading up to the corner and 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.
1. Brake Late And Hard In A Straight Line
When you are approaching the corner, you 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
The next step is to 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.
4. Increase Steering Angle And 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 find the limit of your grip and keep your car well balanced throughout the rest of the corner entry 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.
Trail braking is an advanced driving technique that has been perfected by the best drivers around the world. You might not even notice it right away, but even Formula 1 drivers use it. 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. In theory it sounds like an easy technique to master, but in practice it can become quite tricky.
Trail braking makes you faster because it can slow down the weight transfer in the car and keep the weight on the tires that need it most during cornering. This means that your front tires will be using all the grip they possibly can during trail braking, leading to faster lap times.
I hope this article has helped you to further understand the concept of trail braking and how often it is used by professional racing drivers. Next time you are watching F1 keep your eyes on the on-screen telemetry to see when and where the drivers use trail braking.