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What Is Racecraft? (Explained For Beginners)

If you’ve spent some time at a racetrack in the past you will have heard the term ‘racecraft’ being used quite often. However, many of those who are newcomers to motorsport do not truly understand what racecraft is.

Racecraft is a combination of a driver’s overall racing skill, combined with their theoretical knowledge and decision making ability. Racecraft is essentially the sum of a driver’s overall racing ability. This can include their race pace, tire and fuel management, and their overtaking ability.

A driver’s racecraft is a key factor for many teams when it comes to selecting someone for a race seat. A team will break down and analyze each of these elements to ensure that the driver has potential to excel. Below, we take a look at racecraft in more detail, outlining the key factors.

What Is Meant By ‘Racecraft’?

The term racecraft has been around for many years. It’s used in all levels of motorsport, from the grassroots levels of karting to the big leagues of Formula 1 and IndyCar. There are four main parts that make up a driver’s overall racecraft.

These four elements all involve the driver’s skill, and they can be worked on and developed over time. This is why racecraft refers to a driver’s overall level of skill – essentially how good they are at their craft. All of the elements that make up racecraft are extremely important for a driver to master.

An Example Of Good Racecraft

Some drivers excel at only one element of their racecraft. For example, they might have blistering pace on track, but they struggle to overtake other cars. On the other hand, drivers could be all-rounders which makes them good at everything. One example of an excellent all-round driver is F1’s Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis is able to extract lots of performance out of the car through its setup. He’s also able to maximize the speed of the car while taking as little life out of the tires as he possibly can. This is why we often see him setting fastest laps after complaining that his tires are worn out.

Lewis also has exceptional overtaking ability. Of course, these elements weren’t there from the beginning. The overall package comes with time and experience, and no driver is born with perfect racecraft. Racecraft is a combination of the driver’s overall racing skill, combined with their theoretical knowledge and decision making ability.

But what are the key components of racecraft?

Pace

Pace refers to how fast a driver is on track. This can be divided into two different categories. The first is pace over a single lap, or qualifying pace. The other can be referred to as race pace. These two are not the same, and there are some key differences between the two.

Qualifying Pace

Qualifying pace requires a driver to go as fast as they possibly canthroughout an entire lap. Ideally, they try to hit every braking point and apex perfectly, and keep the car as stable and as fast as possible. This requires an immense amount of focus from a driver, and some drivers struggle to get that ‘perfect’ lap, whereas others, such as F1 driver Ayrton Senna, were exceptionally good at it.

Race Pace

Race pace is different in the sense that not every lap needs to be as fast as possible. On a qualifying lap, fuel and tire management go out the window, and it’s all about speed. The key to race pace however is consistency, while also managing fuel and tires. However, being consistent does mean that the driver is able to minimize the number of mistakes that they make during a lap.

Some drivers are naturally consistent and they’re able to drive the same lap times for multiple laps in a row. Consistency is an extremely useful attribute to have as a racing driver.

At the end of the day, racing drivers need to be fast. The best way to improve your pace is to become comfortable and confident in your car. If you have doubts or fears about the car you’re driving, it will have an impact on your pace. Consistency comes with practice, and while knowing the theory of how to go fast will help, nothing beats actually driving on the track.

Overtaking Ability

Being able to overtake is a key part of racing. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy. It takes a lot of bravery and skill to pull off successful overtaking moves. In the majority of cases overtaking is a skill that is learned through experience.

There are some drivers who excel at overtaking and braking later than their opponents. The one driver that comes to mind is F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, who is known for being extremely late on the bakes when making his overtakes.

This is a skill that you can learn, but it takes years of practice to master, not to mention a massive amount of bravery and confidence in your car. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes and crashing into someone else. When you do make a mistake and an overtake goes wrong, you should own it and reflect to see what you could have done better.

Some drivers are great at overtaking in a strategic way. From dummy moves to undercuts and overcuts, there are many different ways to use strategy to influence your overtaking maneuvers. For example, you can force your opponent to compromise a corner which would leave them vulnerable at the next one.

This is where doing your homework and learning race strategy pays off when it comes to racecraft. We often only see the most experienced drivers pull off these moves, which shows that it’s something that comes with experience. Overtaking is one key element of racecraft that combines knowledge with skill, and the ability to make smart decisions at the right time.

Car Setup

Being able to set up a car correctly is important for a racing driver, and is a key element of racecraft. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the driver needs to know all the mechanical and technical elements of the car and what needs to be changed. In most cases there are mechanics available to do that.

However, a driver needs to understand how a car ‘feels’ and whether it suits their driving style or not. Being able to feel the car and how it needs to change is one thing, but being able to communicate that to the mechanics is another.

A driver that can set their car up perfectly for their driving style is able to extract the maximum amount of performance out of the car. It’s not easy though, and you need a lot of experience in a car to be able to get a good feel for it.

The key to setting up a car is understanding your driving style and what you want from the car. Each driver will have their own preference, but remember, car setups can vary between tracks as well. It’s extremely rare to set your car up in the exact same way for two different racetracks. This is where you once again need to understand what actually affects the car’s overall balance and feel.

The car’s set up will affect your confidence in the car and how comfortable you feel with it, so this will also impact your pace and overtaking ability. It’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself struggling with pace. Try changing your setup to see if it irons out some of the issues you’re having.

Fuel & Tire Management

A driver that is able to manage their fuel and tires well is an incredible asset to a racing team. It allows them to open up a much wider range of strategic options during a race, allowing the driver and the team to be more flexible.

If a driver can stay consistent, on the pace, and look after their tires, they’re already an exceptional talent. If you combine these three factors, a driver can win a race purely on their management skills if they manage to start near the front of the grid.

A Very Difficult Task

Fuel and tire management is never easy, especially in a sport where you need to go as fast as possible. The faster you go, the more strain you put on your tires and the more fuel your engine will use, which makes fuel and tire management such a difficult element to master.

The key to managing your fuel and tires properly is being as smooth as possible with your steering, throttle, and braking inputs. If you’re too aggressive with any of these, you will wear out your tires and use up more fuel.

In the majority of cases, it’s the more experienced drivers who are great at fuel and tire management. Drivers with less experience tend to struggle in this department. As you gain experience you will begin to understand how to drive your car fast while preserving tire life and saving fuel.

How To Improve Your Racecraft

A question that is on most young racing driver’s minds is how they can improve their racecraft. Considering racecraft is the overall package a racing driver can offer, there are several elements that need to be worked on.

The quick answer is that it comes with experience. The more time you spend in your car and participating in races, the faster your racecraft will develop. This is natural of course, but are there any other ways that you can improve your racecraft?

Sim Racing

Aside from first-hand experience in a car, you can use the next best thing – racing simulators. Modern day simulators give an accurate representation of how a race car handles. This can help you to work on your pace and overtaking ability. You can also improve your race pace and consistency by trying to hit consistent lap times over an extended period of time.

Mental And Physical Fitness

To be able to drive smoother and deliver more consistent lap times, you also need to work on your fitness. Physical fitness will help you to keep control of the car and it will prevent exhaustion over longer races. Mental fitness will help you to stay focused for longer periods of time which will prevent you from making mistakes during the race, leading to more consistent lap times.

Learn Some Theory

Building up your knowledge of racing theory can help you with fuel and tire management, as well as car setup. Having the knowledge on how your car works will help you to set it up correctly, and it will help you to understand what needs to be changed for it to suit your driving style.

This in turn can help you to preserve your tires and fuel. Having knowledge about your car will help you to understand how to drive it fast while also taking less out of the tires and fuel tank. Racing simulators then give you the perfect playground to put this theory into practice.

Final Thoughts

Racecraft is the sum of a driver’s overall racing skill, their knowledge of racing theory, and their ability to make smart decisions. Racecraft takes things into account like a driver’s ability to overtake, their ability to manage their fuel and tires, and their qualifying and race pace.