How To Drive And Survive:
An Illustrated Guide To Race Driving
(for further information, see the California Drivers' Handbook)
PART ONE: FRAME OF MIND
(Or The Importance Of Being Earnhart)
Racing is commonly misunderstood to mean "Getting from A to B in as short a time as possible". If you share this notion, you will never dominate a competition of your peers, and the highlights of your career will make small reading. Consider firstly the differences between a car set up for a short qualifying stint and one prepared for the race proper: engine and brake performance are sacrificed to bring about longevity, while suspension and aero characteristics are compromised to ensure more effective control across a range of fuel loads and tyre wear levels. The car has a wholly new emphasis that places survival first and speed second. Yet if the car must change between Saturday and Sunday to fit this different set of goals, should not also the driver?
Fig 3.1. Cardozo runs wide at Dunlop and Miranda cheerfully
accepts 8th place. It's inexcusable to hand your opponents the
racing line so lightly
Racing Is For Grown-Ups, Hotlapping Is for Idealists
Before the lights go out on Sunday's grid, consider how the race ahead differs from a qualifying lap. When you qualified, the racing line was completely yours without question, but now that twenty other cars swarm around you like vultures, you face a struggle for the very right to use the racing line. Your mechanics know it as they patiently await unscheduled pit stops for replacement body parts.
Fig 3.2. Does this keep happening to you in races?
The car next to you may be on a heavy fuel strategy or a harder tyre compound. This means that it will potentially overtake you then impede your progress with disastrous consequences for your strategy. When you qualified, your tyres were brand new and your fuel tank was empty. The reality of raceday is that your car will be heavy with fuel when your tyres are new, and when your car is light, your tyres will be shot to hell. Because these are properties that respectively grow better and worse as you drive, you will effectively control a different car for each lap of the race without ever taking your hands off the wheel, a car that perpetually shifts in characteristics of balance, acceleration, braking distance and grip. Yes, racefans, hotlapping is the innocent, idealistic chapter of your driving career, when everything is perfect and cannnot hurt you. It is only those who have leapt from their Q car to the race and spun at Turn 1, again and again and again, or spun on the final lap and cried, who understand that racing against other cars takes another lifetime to learn.
Fig 4.1. In this demonstration at Dunlop again, F1Addict has a
run at the inside, while Last_Place turns in but leaves enough
room for both cars to survive the corner
Fig 5.1. Last_Place appears to have won Ford Kurve from
F1Addict as they brake together...
Fig 5.2. ...but in reality, the victor was the driver who braked
in time to make the turn
Fig 6.1. Dunlop again, and Last_Place decides not to leave any
room for his fellow competitor this time...
Fig 6.2. ...and duly pays for his aggression
The Hunt For Red Octane
To push the limit you first need to know where it is, and in race conditions the true limit is always hidden around the next bend. If you gamble on the whereabouts of the limit lap after lap, the race will eat you nine times out of ten. Instead, you need to sense the limit as gently and passively as you can, paying attention to where you experience the beginnings of control loss in order to compensate before you are left with no choice. Think of it as the difference between passive and active sonar in naval warfare, but your enemies this time are the combined limits of the car and the track conditions, hunting you down to try to spit you off the circuit and destroy your race. When you qualify, your active sonar pings all over the place, giving your enemies a chance to hit you where it hurts. But you are qualifying and spinning off is a secondary consideration because when you go for the throat, you need to go with everything you have. When you race, your sonar must only sense passively. You sacrifice some ability to find the enemy - but more importantly, the enemy will find it harder to find you and you stand a better chance of surviving the war that is the race. In other words, unless you are just has prepared to score no points as keep the position you have, you should never, ever go for the throat during a race. Instead, train yourself to view the true limit of your car as the point where the risk of spinning or crashing is unreasonable. When you qualify your ultimate goal is speed. When you race, your primary mission is survival, with speed a close but secondary priority. As the saying goes, "to finish first, first you have to finish".
Fig 25.1. Under no great threat, F1Addict self destructs. Drivers
should never give away their position as lightly as this
Fig 25.2. Under mounting pressure from F1Addict, Last_Place
overdrives his car and pays the price with sand. Again, it is
simply unforgivable to give your opponent a position without
any sort of work from him to earn it
In broaching the subject of acceptable risk, you should also be aware that the definition of "acceptable" changes throughout the race. "Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer" applies here as much as anywhere, for how can you beat your opponent if you have spun off? How can you apply pressure to him and force a mistake if you just handed him a 15-second cushion on a plate?
Fig 25.3. Now Cardozo hands 3rd place to Miranda on a plate.
Qualifying, all one's hard work, patience and split second
decision making goes for nothing when unforced errors occur.
It is a far wiser strategy to underdrive just a small amount
and let your opponent be the one to make the mistakes
Fig 25.4. Mirana is the meat in the sandwich until he attempts
to drive around the outside of F1Addict at Turn 9, when he
learns that it is impossible to do so, and loses a place instead
of gaining one
Don't just dive ahead like a single-minded Terminator whenever a car fills your field of view. The risk acceptability level is typically low at the beginning of a new duel. Why put your nose cone in jeopardy when the mere sight of another car in their mirrors is enough to scare half the amateur drivers out there into a stupid error? If he's costing you several seconds a lap, there will be overtaking spots all over the place and the problem of getting by will be an insignificant one. If he is similarly paced, it won't cost you much time to wait a lap or two in order to size him up, see where the weaknesses in his driving are and see how much pressure he can take.
When you're on the starting grid, risk acceptability is also low. "You don't win the race at the first corner" is a maxim handed from father to son for a reason. When the lights go out, grab what track you can and accept where you end up. Then begin the gradual process of eating your way up the field, like a locust devouring a field of fruit trees, gradually but assuredly. Do not focus on your position or worry about your result. Concentrate on your driving and the immediate tasks in hand. Your finishing position will be the position that your driving deserved, because it is the end product of what you have learned and how you approached the race.
Fig 1.1. Cardozo has succeeded in drafting Miranda into the
haipin at Gilles Villenueve, as they both attempt to be the last
to hit the brakes
Fig 1.2. As they exit the hairpin it is still anybody's race...
Fig 1.3. ...But although they are neck and neck, Cardozo owns
the inside line for the final chicane and is able to block Miranda
from turning in until he is good and ready
Fig 1.4. There was absolutely no need for Cardozo to ilegally cut
the chicane like this, as he had already won the battle. By
turning in too early, he lost the opportunity to slow Miranda
down another gear by blocking his early attempts to turn in
"I'm a Fast Driver. When Is He Ever Going To Let Me Loose?"
Don't be cheeky to your elders. You can drive fast, for example, when it's pit time and you need to make the most of clear air to steal track position. It's also just about acceptable to risk a dive under your opponent with 2 laps to go and after you've tried every other non-explosive means to gain position - but not before.
Fig 9.1. Both cars rally-slide through Turn 2.
(Sometimes you do have to give it everything)
But don't be unfair to yourself. When you feel that you are going backwards instead of forwards, remember that all of the constraints of raceday compromise-driving repressing your glorious racing heart are filling your opponents with the same numbness and confusion. The winner is often the driver who deals best with this claustrophobic situation to come out with the clearest mind and most cleanly executed plan. If you dream of lapping 2 seconds faster than the field and stopping for tea like Stirling Moss, you will experience much disappointment in your career since you will rarely fulfill those fantasies. Your only true goal is to be in as high a position as possible when the race ends. For this you will need patience when cars on lighter fuel loads make you feel that you got into the wrong car. You will need a clear head to know when to attack and when to hold your ground, and faith that the strategy that lands you in a lowly position midway through the race will ultimately reap rewards.
Your limitations are real. Do not castrate your chances by believing that you have no limits. Know your limits and drive to them, for that is and ever shall be your best chance for success.
Fig 24.1. Last_Place attempts a foolish dive against
F1Addict at Sepang's Turn 4
Fig 24.2. For a while it appears as though he has succeeded
Fig 24.3. But Last_Place (pictured left) has left too much
braking and turning until the end of the corner as they exit
Fig 24.4. They duke it out through Turn 5
Fig 24.5. But F1Addict has the inside going into Turn 6 and
retakes the lead
Don't Cry For Me, Barging Tina
Picture this. You start a race with your heart full of hope. You fight well for the first quarter of the race but make a mistake that puts you near the back of the field. Your instincts conclude that your race is effectively over so you ought to start hotlapping in the hope that through blinding pace you might just catch up to the last points paying position. You logically decide that incredible risks are in order, because after all, the fun has gone now that you messed up your chance of winning. You decide this because you are inexperienced and you haven't taken into account the fact that usually multiple drivers have a bad day. By your original error, you are already out of the pace race and shouldn't kid yourself about your ability to catch up by making the greatest comeback of your career. Your decision to hotlap will be undone the next time you lose your back end. Again you'll decide that you're really behind this time and so only super hotlapping will do, and the cycle of hotlap and spin will continue until you start to get lapped and become even more depressed.
Fig 3.3. Ramsesk slides off an empty track. Up until this point,
he stood a good chance of saving his race, but regrets don't
Instead, if you spin out of contention, take your time. You're out of the winners' race, so give up half a second of pace to consistency and be happy that you have an empty track! You'll sail by every car that subsequently falls out the race and mutter with justified smugness "You poor rash fool - I have beaten you with superior patience." To break up the loneliness, you can entertain yourself with the further hope that the leader will spread himself all over Turn 1, allowing you to catch up to the field once again. Now compare this to the "Greatest comeback of my career" strategy, and decide which makes more sense. Or try them both, and you will see.
Fig 10.1. On the limit: full lock and praying for the front tyres
to wake up and provide the needed turn-in
Fig 10.2. From full lock to full opposite lock, all in the name
of track position
Part Two will follow this arcticle, and deals with specific overtaking techniques, the importance of the racing line, applying pressure on your opponents and mechanical sympathy. Stay tuned!
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