Formula 1 cars are some of the most intricately designed machines ever constructed, with millions of dollars of R&D spent making sure they are as fast and safe as possible. They are also difficult to drive at high speed, so drivers always need to see everything that goes on around them.
An F1 car is ergonomically designed to allow drivers to see the road during a race, even when seated so low. The driver has excellent forward vision and the central strut of the recently added halo doesn’t impact a driver’s view that much. Wing mirrors also allow an F1 driver to see behind them.
When driving a car costing more than $12 million that can hit speeds of over 200 mph, it’s imperative that the driver knows what’s going on around them at all times. In the article below, we’ll discuss everything teams do to ensure the driver has the best visibility possible.
F1 drivers can see everything in front of them when driving, as well as far enough into the distance to make corrections for any cars they are approaching. Everything in the car situated in front of the driver is in their lower field of vision to ensure there are no obstructions.
F1 drivers must see as much as possible. Driving at up to 200 mph with a blind spot in front of them wouldn’t just be dangerous for them, but it would be expensive in case of an accident. Everything from the driver’s position in the monocoque to the positioning of the left and right wing mirrors are designed to maximize line-of-sight and minimize obstructions.
A driver has a full field of vision to both left and right angles directly in front of the car, allowing them to judge the space between other cars when overtaking, and to make sure they keep to the carefully planned driving line that carries them around the track.
An F1 driver spends hundreds of hours training for a race both physically and mentally. Before they even put their foot down on the accelerator, a driver knows the track ahead like the back of their hand. Each corner is meticulously mapped out and every line is memorized so that a driver can exit out of a corner in exactly the right line to take on the next bit of track.
This means a driver will often look further ahead up the track, eyes perfectly coordinated to allow them to work from muscle memory as they take each bit of the track in sequence. Since they already have everything mapped out in their head, they can focus on what’s ahead, overtaking, track conditions, and so on.
F1 drivers will look at their steering wheel during a race when necessary, but repetition and practice mean every button is well known, much like an Xbox or PlayStation controller is rarely looked at by someone adept at using it.
By learning the racetrack inside out and being as prepared as possible, the driver can focus on the road ahead. They will often think several corners ahead as the race develops, leaving much of their driving to an almost reflex action that will carry them around the track.
F1 helmets don’t limit a driver’s peripheral vision, as drivers need to see as much around them as they can. F1 helmets have improved in design dramatically over the years. The modern helmet is both light and incredibly strong and offers an incredible field of vision for the driver.
It’s important to understand just how well-engineered F1 helmets are. Not only are they incredibly light, but they are reinforced with Zylon, a material stronger than Kevlar, which is woven into the shell of the helmet. This, combined with a HANS (Head and Neck Support) device, means that a driver has limited movement when strapped into their F1 car.
This limited movement of the upper body keeps a driver much more secure in the event of a crash but also restricts their ability to move their head around as freely as they may like. Because of this, a driver needs to have as much peripheral vision as possible through their visor.
The front of an F1 helmet has a very wide aperture the visor is attached to, which means a driver can have a wider field of vision while racing. The end of each visor almost reaches to the driver’s ears, which gives them a completely unrestricted view and negates the issue of having restricted upper body movement.
F1 helmets rarely fog up. They are designed to minimize issues such as fogging thanks to modern technologies and small vents situated at the front of the helmet that allow fresh air into the helmet. This helps to circulate air and prevent the helmet from fogging up.
There are other technologies that help keep a visor from fogging up, such as a double shield anti-fog visor, and anti-fog coating that can be added to the inside of visors. The speed that an F1 car runs at helps to minimize fogging, too. Due to the extremely high speeds reached, the air is circulated so quickly through the helmet that fogging is rarely an issue.
One of the most common reasons for a visor to fog is due to racing in wet conditions, but because an F1 helmet is excellent at shedding excess water quickly, especially at high speed when the wind does a lot of the work, the chances of fogging are reduced.
Visor tearoffs are layers of removable film over the visor that a driver can remove. Track debris or bugs and mud can stick to a visor, and having these additional layers allows a driver to quickly correct their sight without having to pit. Each helmet is equipped with 3-4 tearoffs.
Tearoffs are important in wet conditions, when the visor can quickly become harder to see through, especially if a car is racing directly behind another car that’s kicking spray up. Being able to quickly remove a layer and be able to see again is invaluable.
Like a horse racing jockey that wears multiple thin pairs of goggles and quickly removes them one at a time during a race, the ability to retain speed and performance while not being distracted by reduced vision allows an F1 driver to remain competitive and safe.
The F1 halo doesn’t obstruct drivers’ vision. First introduced to F1 in 2018, the halo prevents large pieces of debris from entering the cockpit and injuring the driver. As a safety device, the halo is excellent and has been credited with saving multiple drivers from severe, even fatal, injuries.
The halo is constructed of thin titanium tubing fitted to the car at three points. Two parts of the T-piece are above and behind the driver, and the frontal strut is directly in front of the driver. These tubes are then encased in carbon fiber to make them as aerodynamic as possible. Many other racing organizations have used the halo too, including Formula 2.
One concern about its introduction was the potential limiting of a driver’s line of sight when driving, something that is vital when we take into consideration the speeds the cars go at, and the need for drivers to be able to react immediately to anything they see in front of them.
Drivers state there are no negative issues when it comes to seeing past the front strut of the halo. Firstly, it’s thin so doesn’t take up much of the drivers’ focus, and secondly, when a driver is racing, they are invariably looking further ahead, which makes the strut almost disappear as the driver looks past it.
A good analogy is a human nose. You can see your nose when your eye looks for it, but otherwise, you are looking too far forward to notice it. Once a driver has become accustomed to driving with the halo, it becomes part of the background noise, and they quickly adjust to it being there.
The T-piece of the halo is also irrelevant for the driver. It doesn’t obstruct their vision because it’s too high for them to be aware of it. An F1 car is designed to be as low to the ground as possible, and the driver is also seated very low down. Everything they need to see is on an almost horizontal plane in front of them.
From a design perspective, the halo is almost perfect. It massively increases driver safety, weighs very little – usually less than 10 kg − and doesn’t impact the ability of the driver to see while driving at high speeds.
F1 drivers sit so low to minimize drag. The lower the driver, the less air resistance and the better the aerodynamics. Since every part of an F1 car is built to be as light and streamlined as possible, having the driver seated any higher than the minimum required would make the car slower.
There are also safety benefits to having the driver sit as low as possible. The monocoque of an F1 car is virtually indestructible, so having most of the driver safely tucked inside increases driver safety. The carbon-fiber monocoque and the halo cocoon the driver and make the car as aerodynamic as possible.
A Formula 1 car is built to be as low to the ground as possible, which makes it better at cornering and accelerating around a racetrack. Having the driver in the center of the car, and as low to the ground as possible, adds to the car having the ideal center of gravity.
Having a low center of gravity allows the aerodynamics of the car to exert greater downforce, which helps the driver keep better control at high speeds. Being in the middle of the car also allows the driver to have excellent forward vision, where they can see everything happening in front of them in a wide arc.
Formula 1 cars have much lower suspension than road vehicles, and this also keeps the driver closer to the ground. It improves handling and further reduces wind resistance, all of which are beneficial to the driver and increase the car’s speed and reliability.
Height has little impact on an F1 driver’s ability to race, as each race car is tailored to such exacting specifications that a driver can be any height and still race comfortably. Historically, many drivers were on the shorter side because the lighter the driver, the lighter the car.
Given F1 has a minimum driver weight limit, and if a driver weighs less a ballast is added to reach the targeted 80 kg, a driver’s height has no real importance in F1. The car is set up so the driver sits easily in the monocoque and can see as much of the road as any other driver.
The inside of each car is specifically designed for its driver, from a carbon fiber seat molded to the driver’s form, to the pedals being in the perfect position for them to reach when driving. Everything is geared for maximum speed with minimum issues for the driver.
F1 drivers see behind them using small wing mirrors on either side of the car. The mirrors are small and extremely aerodynamic to minimize wind resistance. The mirrors are also made from carbon fiber, like much of the rest of the car.
Drivers use their wing mirrors to track any upcoming cars during a race. This allows them to maneuver into a position so that being overtaken becomes more. F1 wing mirrors are made of Perspex to ensure drivers are not showered with glass in cases of crashing.
The mirrors themselves can be extremely small. With a minimum height of only five centimeters and a width of 15 cm, a driver may not see as much as they may like to. FIA regulations state the minimum size required, and many teams try to keep to this to reduce additional drag.
Drivers are always in constant contact with the pit wall, which informs them of race positions, upcoming drivers, the time between themselves and the cars behind, and so on. For this reason, there are times when a mirror check isn’t necessary because the driver is fully aware of where they are, and more importantly, where everyone else is.
F1 drivers know every nuance of every track they race on. They know every corner, and every line into those corners before they even get there. Through simulators, detailed video study, and practice, a driver doesn’t need to miraculously develop eyesight that can see around corners.
A driver heading towards a corner has already seen everything they need to see. Their frontal vision is excellent, and their awareness of other cars has been helped by both checking their mirrors and through constant communication with the pit wall. The line they have chosen maximizes their speed into and out of the corner, and all of this happens inside of milliseconds.
A Formula 1 driver is so prepared for each race that there is no need for mind-reading or extrasensory perception. Every corner is expected, accounted for, and well thought out long before the driver needs to worry. At such high speeds, it’s this preparation that allows an F1 driver to corner at speeds that make spectators balk.
F1 drivers can see the crowd cheering them on as they fly past at speed, but only when the crowd is in front of the driver. If a driver is heading towards a corner where spectators are situated, they can see them waving and cheering as well.
Because a driver’s field of vision is fundamentally geared towards seeing the track ahead and either side of them to be able to monitor other cars, the only time they will see the crowd is when the crowd is directly in their eye line as they’re in the car.
Even when watching a race from a driver’s perspective, it’s surprisingly difficult to see the crowd. By the time the stand comes into view on either side, the car has already passed them by. The only time crowds are seen for any length of time is when driving directly towards them on a straight piece of track.
Ultimately, drivers, designers, and constructors couldn’t care less whether a driver can see the crowd or not. The fewer distractions offered, the more concentrated and productive the driver will be. Not being able to look into the crowd to your upper left as you drive past at 200 mph is irrelevant to teams trying to win a Grand Prix.
F1 drivers see in the rain just as any other racing driver does, although instead of a windscreen in front of them they only have their helmet visor. This means they rely on the water running off it, as they don’t have windscreen wipers, but they can also use visor tearoffs from time to time.
A driver’s ability to see while driving in the rain depends a lot on the other cars around them. In wet conditions, cars kick up a lot of moisture that hits any car behind them. This is just another reason it’s best to be in first place, since there won’t be any extra moisture on the visor.
To make life easier for the driver, chemicals are sprayed onto the helmets and visors that help water droplets slide off as quickly as possible. The helmet itself is shaped to disperse water. The tinted visor is often replaced by a clear one during a race to allow for maximum forward vision.
Each F1 car has a red light at the back that is used for multiple purposes. During a wet race, this light can be turned on to allow drivers behind to better see how far away the car in front is. In instances where water spraying from rear tires makes visibility almost impossible, the red light can sometimes be the only thing that warns a driver behind that the car in front is even there.
Unsurprisingly, there is not a great deal a driver can do about having reduced visibility in the rain. Unless race organizers decide to stop the race due to safety concerns, a driver simply must put up with the issue. Avoiding the spray from the car in front is nearly impossible because there are only three options open to the driver:
- Overtake the car in front, which is obviously preferable, but not always possible.
- Slow down to keep away from the spray. This is not a great choice since you don’t win races by slowing down.
- Take another line through the track. This is the worst idea usually, and highly inadvisable. Hitting the standing water where no other cars are going will soon have an F1 car spinning wildly off track.
Some drivers excel in the rain, finding an extra confidence boost from the fact that many other drivers really hate driving in the wet. Ayrton Senna was renowned for being almost unbeatable in the rain. More recently, Max Verstappen has begun to take hold of races where conditions have an adverse effect on driving.
There are no restrictions in the FIA regulations that state an F1 driver cannot wear glasses. If a driver wished to, they could wear them during a race. There are, of course, alternatives to glasses, and many drivers prefer to use contact lenses because there is less chance of fogging.
A Formula 1 driver is allowed to wear glasses, but the driver’s ability to perform safely at high speeds will inevitably come into question. Racing at speeds of up to 200 mph in one of the most demanding sports ever conceived requires immense skill and concentration. Having poor eyesight as an F1 driver would make life almost impossible.
If wearing glasses or contact lenses means the driver’s vision remains 20/20, then there is no reason they couldn’t wear them. But for a driver to be able to process the information they are assimilating at such an incredibly fast rate, not being able to see exactly what is going on around them could cause serious safety concerns for themselves and their fellow drivers.
F1 drivers have no problem seeing the road during a Grand Prix. The cars are designed to give a clear line of sight in front of them and to the sides. Drivers use side mirrors to see behind them and their helmets and visors help wick away any moisture during wet driving conditions.