Formula One fine tuning is now being driven by virtual reality

[From The Guardian]

Susie Wolff

Formula One fine tuning is now being driven by virtual reality

Williams’ Susie Wolff and double Le Mans winner Allan McNish explain how simulation is key to staying ahead of the pack

Gemma Briggs, The Guardian
Sunday 10 March 2013

When Albert Park opens for qualifying on Saturday morning, it is easy to imagine that Formula One headquarters around the world will be deserted of staff. Yet teams of engineers and drivers will be hard at work simulating race settings with the help of their virtual cars.

‘Sims’ are a key development tool in the arsenal of grand-prix teams from the top of the grid downwards. Susie Wolff has spent much of the winter ‘driving’ the sim used by Williams in the development of the FW35. “The main reason sims became so important is because of all the restrictions on testing,” she says. “I will not go into the small details, as I don’t want to give too many of our secrets away, but the simulator is very high tech.

“When you are strapped in your race seat it’s like being in the car. It’s 3D and simulates being on the race track. It’s a brilliant tool, the level of the graphics is so high, it’s almost bang on the same as the track.”

Wolff works closely with the Williams engineers who are running the simulator and plan what they need to achieve from the session. She will be given a brief – to do 10 runs of eight laps, say – and will be in radio contact as if she was in a race car.

“In terms of preparation it allows the team to go to the track with some tried and tested set-up and aero work. I think this is my busiest time of the year, as we’re developing a new car and it’s all about testing new parts. I’ll be at all the races this year but when I’m not travelling or on a race weekend I will be doing more work. The team is always developing.”

Fans who enjoy whiling a few hours away on their Xbox or PS3 may think they could hop into a sim and set a reasonable time. However, the latest addition to the BBC’s F1 commentary team, Allan McNish, a former grand prix driver for Toyota who has won the Le Mans 24 Hours twice and is a long-standing Audi factory driver who will compete in their battle for the World Endurance Championship this year, points out that race simulation is a serious business.

“It’s not a racing game. It’s a key part of the development kit that in principle is able to replicate what you do on the circuit,” he says. “If you change the wing angle on the sim it has the same effect on the car on the track. There are many types of sim, some have lots of motion and some have limited motion.”

The main challenge faced by the backstage teams is the ability to transfer what has been learnt on the sim to the real world. “The sim does not have the wind or the rain you had at Silverstone in qualifying last year,” says McNish. “It’s not always a true representation but it’s a clean representation, a physics model, and the engineers like that because they do not like variables.”

Such is the importance placed on this piece of equipment that McNish believes that in the future we will see professional sim drivers. “Pedro de la Rosa has gone to Ferrari because of his ability to link between the sim and the track and use that experience. When he drove at Jerez in pre-season testing, that might be the last time he drives an F1 car.”

According to McNish, simulators will be the big development area in motorsport in the next five years. But they will never replace the awe-inspiring experience of strapping into a real F1 car.

Wolff says: “Driving the F1 car meant I came back into the sim with a whole new level of understanding. If you are in the sim trying to give feedback on a car you’ve never driven before, it’s not the same level of feedback. It’s not the same as being on the race track – nothing is.”

This entry was posted in Presence in the News. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Find Researchers

    Use the links below to find researchers listed alphabetically by the first letter of their last name.

    A | B | C | D | E | F| G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z