How To Drive And Survive:
An Illustrated Guide To Race Driving
(If you don't have an F1 car, a Playstation will do)
PART THREE: MOUNTING A DEFENSE
We have covered offense and now we must move to defense. Even if you are the fastest driver with the fastest car, you may not be fastest in every period of the race due to the shifting trends of tyre wear and fuel loads, and the resultant loss of a position at the wrong time can always threaten disaster. For everyone else, a good defensive capability is a vital component of survival that provides the basis for a strong fighting finish. The first worthwhile point is that survival still matters more than speed, and by implication, position as well. If the car behind is 3 or more seconds a lap faster, which you can determine by monitoring your time gaps and by remembering how everyone qualified, you are probably going to end both of your races if you aggressively defend your position. Remember that driving for defense actually slows down your lap times, so it could be in your best interests to let the chasing vehicle find a tow and be out of your life. You don't need to hand the racing line to anyone on a plate unless you are being lapped of course. Indeed, you owe it to yourself to make your opponents do at least some work to take your position away, and depending on the nature of the track, there may be no natural areas where the slipstream is easily found. He will therefore have to overdrive somewhere as described previously, with all the extra risk that this entails. But if you find your opponent perpetually on your tail and poking his nose into every apex, it's almost a matter of time before he gets frustrated at the way you slam the door, and brings you to a harsh kind of justice. So be firm but not too firm, and be polite but not too polite. Just as in life, you have to pick your battles with care.
Fig 21.1. As they approach the Adelaide Hairpin, Miranda is
much too far back to think about passing
Fig 21.2. In a classic case of attacking from too far back too
late, Miranda goes for a suicidal dive, demonstrating why
drivers should never attack into the braking zone unless
they are at least in line with the rear wing of their opponent
Fig 21.3. As the car in front, F1Addict exercises his right to
turn in, but Miranda has overcommitted and cannot avoid
launching the Jordan into the air
Blocking Is More Than Lego
Popular understanding says that the blocking move is the only means to defend your position. You know how it works: your opponent changes lanes, you change lanes. His progress is halted. He may also feint one way and go the other, which is hard to counter legally except by trying to outbrake him into the corner or by holding to the racing line such that he is forced to find a more difficult route around you. But are blocks merely Lego to fit into our plans when required, or can they be formed into more sophisticated, dynamic and powerful strategies of defense?
Fig 7.1. This shot clearly demonstrates how wide a car can make
itself in a turn. By timing your apex well, you can remove any
ambitions your opponent may have of driving around you
Controlling The Pace Of The Pack
The secret to unlocking another universe of defensive tactics is to understand that all of the controls of your car can be used defensively, not just the steering wheel. How you use the accelerator and brake can just as effectively make the difference between P1 and P2. This is particularly true in the era of traction control that guarantees even a bright monkey a fine exit from every corner. Take turn 14 at Spa, for example, the corner before Stavelot which is the last apex on the drafting area down to Bus Stop Chicane. Your opponent will be keen to get very close to you out of Turn 14 in order to maximise his tow along the back straight. One of your goals as the defending driver is to recognise this danger and counter it by making sure to get a superb exit from Turn 14 each and every time. This will effectively nullify a major overtaking opportunity for your assailant, and make your job of staying in front that much simpler.
Fig 16.1. Race leader Last_Place (the middle car) pushes very
hard into Magny-Cours' final turn with F1Addict in close pursuit,
realising that his opponent may try to take advantage of the
upcomming backmarker situation with MLP22 in the other
Ferrari. Thus, it is not just the chasing car that can make use
of the element of surprise. Every so often the leading car
should do something unpredictable (but safe) to upset the
careful plans of his opponent. In this example, L_P attacks a
corner he normally drives conservatively, creating an instant
Now, you are not allowed to stamp on the brakes ludicrously early or randomly in order to frighten the living daylights out of the car behind, but you don't have to. Your primary objective is to execute a clean, early exit from each corner, which you can ensure by never braking late and also by braking very slightly early and taking a slightly earlier apex. Your entry will seem slow to your opponent, who will simply assume that this is as fast as your car can go, not realising that he is being "played". Indeed, under your strategy, it is the fastest you can go. To his dismay, you will seem to accelerate unusually early away from the apex, better than he can match and thus creating a half-second gap that is enough to prevent him enjoying a significant tow. In our Spa example, at some point he may assume that the entry to Turn 14 is your weak point and try to out-fox you with a late brake, but you can be ready for this and counter it by braking at your actual normal point, which should avoid any chance of being overtaken. He'll assume that you have the measure of him at 14, and look elsewhere for the door.
Fig 15.1. Although he was not the fastest car of the day, L_P
won this online race at Magny-Cours almost entirely by sticking
to the racing line and making sure not to miss his apexes.
F1Addict's Jordan (shown here at Turn 8 ) must move away
from the racing line to try to overtake, which is easier said
Fig 15.2. F1Addict tries to drive around the outside of the
Ferrari, but when he accelerates midway through Turn 8, his
only reward is understeer. Last_Place kept his position by
calmly driving the normal racing line and making a clean exit
Fig 15.3. F1Addict faces the same dilemma at Turn 13 (Chateau
d'Eau). He comes in at high speed but all that happens is
understeer as long as Last_Place owns the racing line
Fig 15.4. On the approach to the Adelaide Hairpin, Last_Place
reduced his entry speed enough to make his car feel solid
through the apex and as ready as it can be to make an early
getaway. The pursuing Jordan has no way around despite the
slower pace the Ferrari is setting
Fig 15.5. Having prepared his early exit in advance, note the
front wheel deflection of both cars. Last_Place is already on
full throttle while F1Addict is still in the process of completing
Fig 15.6. ...And in Formula One, whoever can get on the power
first usually wins, even with the slower car or the lesser talent
Fig 15.7. This time F1Addict avoids overdriving into
understeer at Turn 8 and gets much closer to his target. In
response, L_P uses his advantage of track positon to delay
his exit, forcing F1Addict to back off and negating his extra
Fig 15.8. Due to driving so close, F1Addict must allow L_P
to be the first to mash his throttle pedal, allowing the Ferrari
to create a clear gap into the next venue of battle
Controlling the pace in this way is designed to minimise the danger of being overtaken at the points where you are weakest and your opponent is strongest. As long as you brake conservatively to ensure you get to the apex in good shape each time, you can almost always get the jump on your opponent out of corners and create that little gap that you need, because he can't risk accelerating too much before you for fear of hitting you. You literally can control the pace of the cars behind, and there is no reason not to always take advantage of the fact that the driver in front not only owns the racing line but he can ration it out to those behind in doses that keep them busy chasing his rear wing.
When All Else Fails, Stick To The Racing Line
Supposing your opponent seems to have done everything right. He slipstreamed you like a pro, got alongside and is now just about a car length ahead under braking into the Adelaide Hairpin at Magny-Cours. Your natural tendency might be to deny the ugly truth and regain your lost ground by being much the braver driver on the brakes. Your first job as a driver is often to fight natural instincts, or to hold them off long enough to see other better possibilities. The evidence states that a car equal or ahead of you into a braking zone has already done much of the work to steal your place. You may keep it by being later and more skillful on the brakes, but your best friend as always is the racing line that you still hold. I assume that you didn't just move across the track and hand over your last, best advantage, of course. You kept to the racing line such that he had to drive off it in order to find the clear air to pass you. Good. You still have a chance to get the best exit from the corner and regain the ground you lost.
You already know that because he is off the racing line, he is either compromising his entry speed or his exit speed, and that is your trump card. There is also a distinct possibility that the speed and control with which he shot ahead of you are an illusion, and that he has braked so late that he is on his way off the track. Let him go there if he wants, because your number one priority is to brake in time for the apex in order to enact a strong exit. Do not be drawn into a late braking contest that throws your car out of shape. Brake as deep as you safely can, then give it up and turn in. If your opponent has decided to outbrake you, you will have drawn HIM into braking too late.
Fig 23.1. As Cardozo follows Last_Place, he eyes the vast
empty track that is the braking zone of Elf
Fig 23.2. And there he goes, diving to the inside under full
throttle when it is really time to brake
Fig 23.3. Momentary elation as Cardozo leads the Ferrari
Fig 23.4. But only one car is travelling slow enough to make
Fig 23.5. A spin is Cardozo's reward for overzealousness,
illustrating why you should never attempt to outbrake your
opponent unless you are at least partially alongside his car
If your opponent is still with you as you exit the corner, you may end up alongside going into the next turn, and the driver who inherits the natural racing line (it may have switched sides) will be in control. Never arbitrarily give up the racing line as it remains your friend in all stages of the race and in almost all dueling situations. Be selfish with the racing line, treat it like a prize to fight over, think twice before relinquishing it for a higher purpose, and stick to it in situations that are unfamiliar. It will reward your loyalty more often than not.
Fig 17.1. Realising his pursuer is close enough to think about a
dive down the inside of Adelaide Hairpin, L_P moves to the
middle of the track. This affords the ability to block a
potential inside attack while maintaining enough width to
make a reasonable apex. It also signals to F1Addict that he
must use the extreme outside if he wishes to overtake. In
racing parlance, this is known as "showing the outside" to
Fig 17.2. Rather than force a difficult situation, F1Addict
wisely slots in behind the Ferrari, knowing that L_P has
spent some of his gap by opting for a narrower entry
Fig 17.3. F1Addict further capitalises on his minor victory at
the hairpin (his reward for patience) by storming the
Nurburgring chicane and setting up the possibility of a move
into Turn 8
Fig 17.4. It seems to be a battle of brakes now
Fig 17.5. But L_P stands his ground and F1Addict hits the
Ferrari as he attempts to turn in...
Fig 17.6. ...and L_P survives for another corner
Fig 18.1. On the next lap, F1Addict attempts to dive up the
inside of Turn 8. You can see L_P's right hand raised as he
shuts the door, and F1Addict has no choice but to eat grass
for his bold move
Always Look To Upset Your Opponent's Line
In general, always show your opponent to the outside of a turn. The one who can touch the apex usually always wins, at least until the next corner. If you are the overtaking driver and you manage to put yourself alongside going into the braking zone, the same idea of braking on time in order to find the best possible apex and exit applies as much to you as the defending driver. If you find yourself on the inside, edge to the outside as much as you can. This creates as wide an apex as possible for you, and hinders your opponent's. If you are on the outside, move close to your opponent's vehicle to prevent him from getting any kind of width on the turn. When you are alongside another car you are not fighting for position so much as the one line that lets you get ahead. You must do what you can to reduce your opponent's options, and ideally leave him no lines available but bad ones. Especially approaching slow, narrow corners when you occupy the inside, it is amazingly effective to time your braking such that you keep your car alongside as long as you can before turning in. With you between your opponent and his turn-in point, he has no choice but to wait until you are good and ready to turn before he can do the same, usually having to wait until he can slot in fully behind you!
In Figure 19 below, Last_Place reacts to a changing situation, uses his position as the car in front to hinder his opponent and keeps his options open for as long as possible. Knowing when to wait it out and when to commit to a forcing move is an important part of race survival.
Fig 19.1. Into Adelaide again and Last_Place guards the
inside line as before, but this time F1Addict is determined
to take 1st place
Fig 19.2. F1Addict continues to signal his intent to grab a
piece of the inside line, while Last_Place says "No you don't!"
by moving to the inside even more
Fig 19.3. Neither driver is giving an inch as L_P forces his
opponent to the very edge of the kerb
Fig 19.4. Last_Place finally slams the door, and F1Addict
slides into his sidepod. But who will survive and who will
prevail in adversity?
Fig 19.5. Both men run wide without serious damage, while
agonising moments pass as their cars search for traction
Fig 19.6. Last_Place steals the initiative
Fig 19.7. L_P brakes very late into Turn 8, fearing that his
opponent has road rage as a result of the incident at the hairpin
Fig 19.8. Road rage strikes as F1Addict punts his opponent
from Turn 13
Fig 19.9. Now in hot pursuit, Last_Place would never have
taken this much kerb while defending his lead
Fig 19.10. F1Addict miscounts the braking markers watching
his mirrors too intently entering the hairpin and tamely
hands back the lead, demonstrating that it is one job to
follow and quite a different set of pressures to lead
Fig 20.1. With L_P now controlling the pace in front of Miranda
in the Williams, the top three cars are brought close together
Fig 20.2. Miranda cracks under pressure from F1Addict, a bonus
for L_P that resulted from his tactic of slowing the field
Once You Take Their Position, Never Let Them Come Back
The instant you are fully ahead, your priority changes from attack to defense, especially since you may be out of shape and in a poor position to exact a swift escape. Your opponent will sense your weakness and be in the process of lining up a splendid exit to tow straight passed you again. It is at this point, halfway around the corner with your rear end still making up its mind about the whole idea of following your front end, that you need to nullify your opponent's imminent attack before it has a chance to strike. Apply the abovementioned technique of controlling the pace of the car behind, just by slowing things down a little (you felt the car go sideways under so much pressure, right?) in order to remind his trigger foot that he cannot accelerate before you, and to ensure that you above all execute the best possible exit. If you can make him brake or lift as a final surreptitious act of your overtaking manoevre, you will wipe out the momentum of his engine revs and the setting of his suspension like a cobra ready to spit its venom momentarily stunned and rendered impotent. And you thought it wouldn't be fun to drive within the rules of ethical conduct.
To wrap up our three-part overtaking, undertaking, four-wheel drifting brontosaurus of enlightenment, let's summarise what we have learned. We covered the fact that when racing, there are rules not only of etiquette but of common sense. We learned that in a dogfight, where we put our car is just as important as how fast we can make it go. We realised that the right move in one phase of the race might be the wrong move in another. Over and over we came back to the territorial advantage of the racing line and how to hold onto it, steal it and make it work for you and against your opponent by forcing him to use more awkward parts of the track. We formed an understanding that the pressures and constraints of racing against others are really exercises in mental stamina, concentration and clear thinking, and that you can beat your opponent by increasing the pressures around him. We learned that gaining a position often requires planning that begins many corners or many laps before. Finally, in examining techniques of defense, we conlcuded that a driver stands a better chance of holding onto a position the less frantically and more deliberately he applies his skills, and that intelligence counts as much or more than sheer courage.
Let me leave you with a lap of the Nurburgring that demonstrates many of the aspects of attack, defense and patience that have been related in this series. Remember that when all is said and done, there is no substitute for laps under your belt. Heed these lessons, but the only real way you will improve your racing technique is by racing against others of comparable skill, so get out there on the track and make that racing line yours.
Fig 8.1. F1Addict runs wide at Turn 3 of the Nurburgring,
allowing L_P to squeeze down the inside
Fig 8.2. They are neck and neck as Turn 4 approaches, but
F1Addict ostensibly holds the advantage because he is the car
on the inside of the turn
Fig 8.3. Last_Place gets a better drive through the turn and
comes out ahead
Fig 8.4. As they approach the left-hander into Ford, L_P's line is
now compromised by the narrow entry he is forced to take, but
he still holds the ace of the all important racing line
Fig 8.5. F1Addict slots in behind...
Fig 8.6. ...while L_P tries to watch the track ahead as well as
the car in his mirrors...
Fig 8.7 ...but since F1Addict took a wider apex he gets the
better exit and they brake into Ford together once more
Fig 8.8. F1Addict makes a better job of the braking and takes
Fig 8.9. It's a regulation 1-2 as the drivers head towards Dunlop
Fig 8.10. But L_P dives deep into the long turn with F1Addict's
brake discs glowing orange
Fig 8.11. They take their braking slide to the edge of the track
Fig 8.12 Both drivers are praying for better traction out of the
corner as the duel rages into the straight
Fig 8.13. F1Addict is forced to slot in behind L_P's rear wing
as they take the fast left-right
Fig 8.14. L_P carelessly leaves the door open through RTL Kurve
and F1Addict attacks the apex
Fig 8.15 L_P forces F1Addict to the edge of the track in order
to create plenty of room for the right-hand apex at Bit-Kurve
Fig 8.16. As the braking area for the NGK-S chicane approaches
at high speed, F1Addict thinks about making a move while L_P
considers the best way to defend the corner entry
Fig 8.17. Here it comes...
Fig 8.18. ...but only one car makes the turn this time
Fig 26.1. Another day, another duel
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