To combat the issue of limited driving practice on the track, teams have turned to realistic simulators for training. Considering the complexity, sophistication, and the amount of experience required to drive a Formula 1 car, however, one can’t help but wonder how accurate F1 simulators are.
F1 simulators offer the most accurate virtual driving experience available. With laser-scanned tracks, accurate car data, and realistic motion platforms, simulators provide teams with a great tool to help drivers learn racing lines and improve their driving technique in the lead-up to race day.
Not all drivers choose to spend a lot of time in the simulators, with some claiming that they are simply too unrealistic to have a positive impact on their driving. In this article, we will discuss the kinds of simulators that teams use, as well as how accurate they are compared to the real thing.
What Kind Of Simulators Do F1 Teams Use?
F1 teams use static simulators, motion simulators, and computer simulators. These machines offer varying degrees of realism, accuracy, and varying amounts of set-up costs. Different types of simulators will offer different types of data to driving teams, which is then compared to real-life stats.
In hopes of improving future performance, some drivers have simulator systems installed within their own homes, which offer a lot more detail and realism than the average home sim racing rig. However, these systems lack the extremely pricey hardware that team simulators use.
Static simulators, sometimes referred to as static human-in-the-loop simulators, are mounted replicas of the cockpit of a Formula 1 car that is placed in front of an ultra-widescreen. Often made from genuine F1 parts, these faux cockpits are designed to feel exactly like the real thing by using actual F1 steering wheels. They also have the same shaped interior as a real F1 cockpit would have.
The steering wheelbases are equipped with the highest quality force feedback to ensure the wheels feel realistic to turn and offer some resistance to the driver. Because these simulators are static and mounted to the floor, they don’t offer as much physical realism as motion simulators, but they do help drivers learn the intricacies of different tracks and help them polish up their racing lines.
The tracks that the drivers will see on the screen in front of them are laser-scanned versions of real tracks on the F1 calendar, accurate to the millimeter. Having laser-scanned tracks means that every camber and bump in the road would have been re-animated into the simulator software, meaning the driver will be able to prepare for every minimal detail of the track’s surface.
Motion simulators, or motion human-in-the-loop simulators, operate in a similar fashion to static simulators. They have a full-scale replica of the driver’s cockpit, fully equipped with a steering wheel and identical interior layout. The biggest difference between the two simulators is that a motion simulator will be mounted to an elevated motion platform.
The platform emulates the movement felt in a real F1 car, pushing and pulling the driver from side to side when they navigate a corner. These simulators often come equipped with a wind machine for added authenticity. The simulators are elevated to maximize the amount of movement the platform can achieve. This means that drivers will feel changes in elevation as well as sideways movement.
To increase the machine’s accuracy, in addition to tricking the brain into believing it’s in a real car, drivers will often operate motion simulators in full racing gear and helmet. This will also prepare them for the field of view they will have on the following race weekend.
Static and motion simulators are very much geared towards helping the driver to learn and improve on various tracks. This is where computer simulators differ, taking the driver out of the equation completely. Computer simulators don’t require any expensive hardware, such as 180-degree screens and immaculately recreated F1 cockpits. All the driving is performed by the computer itself.
The computer takes data accumulated from the driver’s time in the static and motion simulators and logs it into the computer simulator. The program then reproduces the driver’s most used racing lines and techniques, implementing them into its own simulation. From there, teams can adjust their cars’ configurations to test how any slight tweaks may benefit them come race day.
Computer simulation also allows teams to test their car against data they have amassed on rival teams, effectively predicting the outcome of the race. Other data such as track and weather conditions can also be changed, giving teams a good idea of how their car will perform amidst a variety of situations.
Overall, computer simulators are there to benefit the team and their potential race strategy, rather than helping the driver with their technique. Computer simulators give teams more information, helping them make crucial decisions like when the best time to pit would be, and what tires would be most effective at the start of a race.
In recent years, many drivers have been following the trend of installing realistic simulator setups within their own homes.Racers like Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, and Carlos Sainz have been very vocal about their use of home simulators. Having these simulators set up at home means the drivers can take their practice even further outside of the team’s training schedules.
Although home simulators won’t offer the same level of accuracy as factory simulators, they still have force feedback technology in the wheels and hydraulic brake systems to provide a semi-realistic driving experience. Home simulation offers drivers a more relaxed method of training, letting them do their own thing without the scrutiny of data analysts and team staff watching their every move.
How Much Does An F1 Simulator Cost?
F1 simulators cost from $150,000 to millions of dollars. One of the leading simulator manufacturers, Cranfield Simulation, includes a 55-inch screen, as well as a motion simulator cockpit to provide users with the most realistic and immersive F1 simulator experience available for about $150,000.
The cost of professional F1 team simulators will be a lot higher because they integrate 180-degree curved screens designed to completely immerse the driver. Adding a wind machine, a bespoke chassis and cockpit, and an official F1 racing wheel can cause these simulators to cost seven figures.
Given the budgets of the current F1 teams, investing in such equipment is a no-brainer, especially with the data and training benefits they offer. Extra staff will also need to be on hand to man these machines, sort out any mechanical issues with them, and help drivers become accustomed to how they work.
Do All F1 Teams Use Simulators?
All F1 teams will use some sort of simulation setup in order to keep up with their competition, as well as for their own benefit. With the minimal amount of in-car training and testing available to Formula 1 teams, having simulators available at their headquarters is essential.
The reasons for teams using simulators don’t just lie in making improvements to the strategy and performance of the drivers. It also allows teams to test out the impact of adding technical components to their cars within the simulator. Being able to test components virtually before proceeding with manufacturing saves time and money, as well as reduces the waste of valuable materials.
Even if teams were able to test privately like they could in the days that predated accurate simulation, it is likely that simulators would still play a key part in the way a team operates.Racing virtually eliminates any risk to the driver’s health or damage to cars, which can save millions of dollars in the process.
There is also a huge amount of admin required to get a car onto the track because it requires a sufficient amount of marshalling and medical expertise to be in place. There’s also the bonus of being able to test cars around different circuits across the globe without having to travel. Because the climates on the F1 calendar vary significantly, making the cars adaptable is vital.
F1 simulators allow teams to test cars in different weather conditions, allowing them to drive more consistently in adverse weather conditions. For example, if a team wants to find out more about how their car copes in wet conditions, they will be able to switch the settings on the simulator without having to rely on rain during the testing periods.
Simulators also allow testing again and again without the restraints of having limited time on the track. As track testing only lasts for six days, teams try to cram as much into one session as possible. The advantage of simulators is that it allows teams to spend as much time as they like on the most minuscule of details, which allows them to produce a more consistent and broader range of data.
Preparation For Race Weekends
The benefits of having an in-house simulator system are especially useful for teams in the lead-up to race weekends. Instead of having to rely on Friday’s practice sessions to become accustomed to the track, drivers can spend as much time as they need throughout the week before a race driving lap after lap in the simulator.
This practice not only reduces the number of mistakes that occur during the race, but it also allows teams to work through their strategy very early on in the process. They can use their practice sessions as a tool for tweaking their methods should they feel the need. Because preparation counts for so much in racing, simulators will be a must-have for teams.
Do All F1 Drivers Use Simulators?
Not all drivers use F1 simulators. As much as they have been embraced by both drivers and teams alike, simulators just are not to everybody’s taste. Lewis Hamilton has been one of the most high-profile voices against the use of simulators in the past, claiming they are not accurate enough.
Hamilton claimed to only race 20 laps a year in his team’s simulator (although this changed during the 2021 title battle with Max Verstappen). One of Hamilton’s main gripes is that they don’t offer the user the emotion that comes with racing. It is a point that is rooted in logic. For some, it will be impossible to escape the mindset that there is no danger associated with simulator racing.
If you crash in a simulator, you don’t get injured and you won’t have the feeling that you’ve let your team down. Lewis Hamilton has also made comments in the past that he might as well spend his money on a PlayStation, as it will offer him just as much as an F1 simulator.
Some Do, Some Don’t
McLaren driver Lando Norris doesn’t echo Hamilton’s sentiments. He claims that simulator racing offers the same buzz as real-life racing. This could be an example of the difference between the new generation of racing and its previous era, with Hamilton having entered the sport during simulators’ more primitive years.
Norris is also a prolific online streamer, displaying his simulator skills to a huge online audience on Twitch. Fellow veteran driver, Fernando Alonso, has also previously been seen using Renault’s human-in-the-loop simulator after his return to the team in 2021 under their new name Alpine.
It seems that most drivers on the grid are in favor of simulator technology and can see its benefits to their preparation and performance. However, there is no doubt that these simulators are also massively important for the teams, not just the drivers, and so whether they like it or not, they’ll need to spend some time in the simulator as part of their job.
How Accurate Are F1 Simulators?
F1 simulators are extremely accurate. They are designed to replicate the real-life experience of driving a Formula 1 car from the cockpit. The tracks are laser-scanned to pick up every single nuance from cambers to slight bumps on the track to replicate track surfaces.
Laser-scanning is used throughout the simulator world, whether it be on games made available to the public such as iRacing or Assetto Corsa or the professional end of F1 simulators. The process of laser scanning involves complex laser machinery being set up around a track’s perimeters taking detailed scans of the surrounding terrain.
These lasers will scan the track to the very millimeter before sending the data back to the developers to digitally recreate it into their software. This is currently the most accurate method of digital track reproduction, as it will pick up every inconsistency on the surface of the track. It also means that drivers won’t be caught off guard by any unexpected bumps come race day.
As well as top-notch track animation, the cars that the drivers use have been virtually designed to include every single detail such as tire wear, fuel consumption, and the overall weight of the car. In addition to this, teams can implement any potential future changes to the car’s setup into the software, meaning they can accurately test the impact of different components.
The car’s exact engine specifications will also be included, along with any nuances that are specific to the way the car has been manufactured. Drivers will also use the same type of steering wheels that will be used in real races, complete with detailed force feedback technology that will replicate the physical side of steering.
Motion simulators are able to move the driver in a way that resembles real-life, with elevated platforms allowing for multiple degrees of rotation to be achieved. The data that teams can extract from simulators is very similar to what they will be able to extract from a testing day, such as the way the car is moving around corners and how the chassis will deal with bumps on the road.
What Simulators Can’t Do
For all their accuracies in the numerical side of racing, as well as what certain simulators can recreate in a motion sense, simulators cannot replicate the adrenalin rush of racing or the sense of danger that drivers feel. This can lead some drivers to not take simulator testing as seriously as they would a real-life scenario on the track.
Simulator technologies may have taken great strides when trying to produce an effective G-force with their machines, but they can’t yet fully replicate the physical strain that racing has on drivers. For example, the cockpit won’t heat up to the same level that it does during a race, and drivers certainly won’t lose the same amount of weight as they do when driving a real car.
But for technology that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago, F1 simulators have come a very long way and are now closer than ever to the real thing. Even if simulator technology doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of every driver, it certainly has its benefits in terms of preparation for drivers and cost efficiency for the teams.
How Accurate Are The F1 Games?
F1 games are fairly accurate. They offer a lot of the conditions an F1 driver will face, from track evolution to dynamic weather. They also allow the player to utilize telemetry and controls present on a real F1 car. However, they do have their limitations, and there are more realistic options.
The most accurate game on the market, F1 2022, is a very realistic portrayal of F1 racing with its laser-scanned tracks and detailed car setups. It is aimed at both experts and casual gamers, which can mean it comes across as slightly simplistic at times, but to get great lap times, good knowledge of real racing is required.
Other titles such as iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport (not GT7 as of yet) also offer a Formula 1 experience within their games, but since they aren’t F1-specific titles, their choices are more minimal than the official F1 game. However, iRacing is the sim racing game of choice for 2021 World Champion Max Verstappen, so they must be doing something right in terms of realism and immersion.
The software that most F1 teams use for their simulators is a dedicated simulator software called rFpro, which is purely designed for its realism, rather than any casual enjoyment. The software is designed to include every specific detail of the tracks, from the tarmac underneath the car to the trees in the distance that may be used as visual cues for the drivers.
F1 simulators are highly accurate. With motion simulation and hyper-realistic track reproduction, F1 teams can access the very best virtual experience. Although they struggle to match the physical side of driving, F1 simulators provide a great alternative to on-track testing.