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Video: How a team builds a car around its driver
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Video: How a team builds a car around its driver
Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Aug 2010   |  12:54 pm GMT  |  60 comments

You will have heard the expression “seat fitting” in connection with F1. Well this is what it looks like.

This is a behind the scenes video I shot a little while ago at McLaren which provides a fascinating insight into the detail a team will go into to get the driver comfortable in the car. They have a perfect mock up of the chassis and all the components in it, like the steering wheel, headrest, seat padding and so on. You can see Lewis Hamilton working on the fine detail of the steering wheel movement and his seat padding.

It is timely because we are now in the design phase for next season’s cars and this process is exactly what teams will be doing, working with a chassis mock-up so that when the 2011 chassis are built for real, all the driver-influenced details are in there and there are no nasty surprises.

At McLaren, design engineer Scott Bain is in charge of everything the driver comes into contact with and this extends from the back of the seat to the pedal box, as well as all his clothing and helmet.

When Jenson Button joined the team relatively late in the day for the 2010 season, he had problems getting his lanky frame comfortable in a cockpit designed for Lewis Hamilton. It was Scott who oversaw the work of adapting the cockpit to suit Button. Next year’s McLaren will be designed with Button’s requirements in mind, using the process shown in this video.

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60 Comments
  1. Steve says:

    It’s interesting to hear that Button was too “lanky” for the car.

    Presumably this will have had a detrimental effect on his performance this season? Would you expect Button to be much faster next year then?

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    1. Andy W says:

      He isn’t that much taller than Lewis (about 3 inches), So I would imagine they would have been able to move things around without compromising him or the car to much.

      I think he would have more of an issue with the fact that car was developed with Lewis’ driving style and preferences in mind, which given their very different driving styles….. So I would guess that next season’s car will be developed more to his liking and that may increase his speed a bit.

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      1. James Allen says:

        It was about getting him low enough.

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    2. Pitmonster says:

      Reminds me of the days when McLaren built their cars to suit the dimensions of Senna, and Berger had to fit himself in somehow – his feet going numb and his head sticking out and affecting aerodynamics.

      Berger was only there 3 seasons, so Mclaren never had a chance to build a car to fit him…

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      1. Trent says:

        Or how about the Marches of 1989, with a cockpit so tight that Capelli at times couldn’t even walk after a race, due to lost circulation in his legs and feet!

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    3. Kenny Carwash says:

      I think this was only a significant problem for Button’s first few runs in pre-season testing, he hasn’t mentioned being uncomfortable in the car since.

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      1. James Allen says:

        I know…they do a good job those boys

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  2. martin_tf says:

    Great video, good to see that you can get access like this.

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    1. f1 careers says:

      yes, very interesting! Wonder what the perfect dricer size is?

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      1. Tim. says:

        Supposedly 5′ 6″ to 5′ 10″ 140 to 148 lbs….that is what I have been told teams use as a reference mark.

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  3. Banjo says:

    Great little video following on nicely from the Lotus “forgotten room” one a while back. Thanks for all the insight James.

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  4. Adam says:

    Wouldn’t think its going to be a massive difference Steve. They had to modify the car to incorporate him but once that was done i expect he is comfortable. I seem to remember though that for the first test he didn’t even have his own seat and had to use Lewis’.

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  5. Ben G says:

    Great vid. Thanks for helping us go cold turkey till Spa…

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  6. Rowan says:

    Did McLaren have a second mock-up chassis then? to make sure the driver was comfortable using the F-duct? I didn’t see a scoop/intake on top of the chassis. hehe. Nice insight James, its details like this that are really interesting, I’ll be following more of your video insights.

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    1. Adam says:

      No need to have the duct on the outside – only the hole/control down by the knee on the inside.

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    2. Peter says:

      There was a hole on top of the chassis, when they looked through at the pedals, I think that was for the f duct

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      1. Andy W says:

        Surely that was so they could see what was going on and to give access so they could adjust the pedals quickly and easily….

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    3. Louis says:

      No f-duct allowed in 2011, so no f-duct in this mock-up?

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  7. Malcom says:

    James…Niceeeee….great intro..!!

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  8. sean cleary says:

    Very interesting video. Thanks!

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  9. Zobra Wambleska says:

    Thank you James. All of your effort flushes out the F1 picture to make our, the fans, understanding much fuller.

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  10. Kenny says:

    Thanks again for these insight videos James. Just about rivals that of Martin Brundles 😉
    I think the best analogy I remember being mentioned about a driver being uncomfortable when driving a car is like when your shoe isn’t tied on properly. It just annoys you the whole time so it’s great to see this video that the designer clearly does think about the driver’s comfort in the car. I’ve lost count of numerous people mentioning that the driver comfort isn’t considered since as long as the car goes fast it’s fine which is clearly nonsense!

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  11. Galapago555 says:

    Excellent stuff, as always. Thanks, James, for making it easier this long wait until Spa…

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  12. TransMix says:

    Same as Steve, I never thought that Jenson was too lanky. But hey, you are supposed to know this kind of stuff better than almost any other F1 fan. Keep up the good work.

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  13. seisteve says:

    The Video blog does allow a greater depth of detail than some of your great written articles, but more than this you are able to cover subjects that as text would not impact enough to qualify as an article (potentially!).

    I hope you get great access to the teams with your trusty camera as the new cars are developed and provide your great in-sight for the fans.

    Awesome content and big thanks.

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    1. James Allen says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response

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  14. Crys says:

    Another good one James, thank you! I love these little bits of detail about what goes on off the track to make everything hang together on the track.

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  15. Nick Hipkin says:

    Hello James,

    Is there any more news on the 2011 regs yet? The last I heard Fota planned to narrow the front wings back to pre-09 levels and remove the shark fin engine covers in light of the f-duct ban. Can you should any light on this?

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    1. James Allen says:

      I’ll be getting into this over the weekend in Spa

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      1. Nick Hipkin says:

        Look forward to it as im intrigued as to what the cars will look like next year!

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    2. Adam Tate says:

      While I am skeptical they would do that, I hope what you have said is true! An narrower front wing, and eliminating the shark fins would go a long way to making the cars prettier. They would once again look how an F1 car is supposed to look!

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      1. Andy W says:

        What is an F1 car supposed to look like? Having watched the sport for over 30 years they have changed a lot (and even more when I look back to the era’s before I started looking).

        I miss the 80s when the drivers used to be sat pretty much in the nose cone of the car, although I do understand the safety reasons why they don’t, but thats what my mind’s eye sees when I think of the best looking F1 cars and era.

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  16. John Z says:

    Pretty cool that McLaren made a clay mock up of Lewis as well as a clay mock up car. What? That was the real Lewis? I would have never guessed. 😉 Tongue firmly in cheek, it was a great video. Thanks James.

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  17. SKWD says:

    Very interesting insight, and, err, nicely in proportion this time :)

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  18. Craig March says:

    Excellent.

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  19. dkfone says:

    Completely off topic James but just in case you are interested, here is a lap of Korea in the upcoming F1 2010 video game. Gives a reasonable idea of the track! http://www.vandal.net/video/13405/f1-2010-corea-vandal-tv-gc

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  20. I really enjoyed that! Thanks

    I thought the seat fitting was just them getting a mould made up for them for the seat, I didn’t realise after all these years they check from the airflow to the pedals

    One question:

    Im assuming they would be wearing all their clothing while getting a seat fitting plus helmet, ie that wasn’t Lewis dress liked that coming into have his seat fitting done?

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  21. In the video it shows Lewis in basically a tracksuit. But surely to have an accurate seat fitting he should be wearing his racing suit, racing footwear, HANS device and Helmet. Anything less and it is not an accurate seat fitting.

    The helmet is extra weight, if the seat angle isn’t right that will be uncomfortable, thus the helmet should be worn during the fitting. Same for sighting lines out of the helmet when seated in the car for the seat fitting.

    Something does not seem correct about this, unless the teams really do do it this way and are missing a trick by not having the drivers dressed correctly for the seat fitting.

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    1. theothercoldone says:

      Yes, To really fit the driver, they need all the gear on as well, but I suspect that this was a preliminary fitting, checking clearances etc. – notice Lewis wasn’t wearing shoes or anything. He also had quite tight clothes on, so they’re surely at this stage getting a general view of how little space is needed. It also seemed like the seat had been made, and they were discussing the trimming of it for his elbows etc.

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    2. Artorwar says:

      Over analysing, they know what they are doing at the big M, hence them working on the car and you posting on here and not vice versa. Probably would have been the 1st of many fittings to determine preliminary details etc.

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  22. Trent says:

    Whatever happened to the aerodynamic helmets that were in vogue in the late 1990’s? I seem to remember Schumacher wearing one, supposedly to help airflow into the airbox and reduce turbulence.

    Or was it considered a movable aerodynamic device?!

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    1. Nando says:

      Wonder whether the diamonds used on the Mclaren helmets in Monaco had any aero effect? :)

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  23. JohnBt says:

    Enjoyed the clip especially the raw feeling of craftsmanship.

    One question James.

    Have always wondered how they bulit the car around Heidfeld and Kubica. Nick being the smallest and Robert the tallest.

    Don’t remember Kubica’s head sticking out as much as Jenson in the MP4-25.

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    1. James Allen says:

      Well they had a bit more notice!

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  24. theothercoldone says:

    Fantastic! Thank you James – I haven’t looked at many other websites recently because so much unbelievably good stuff comes from you. It’s amazing to see how they integrate the whole concept of clothing, helmet, pedals and seat so as to get the perfect fit. I watched an interview of Jenson and Lewis at the unveiling of the MP4 12C road car, and there (I think) they talked about how you need to feel a part of the car. Seems like this is taken very seriously!

    Thanks again

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  25. Luke A says:

    Hi James,

    I’m not sure if I told you before but as an official McLaren team member I entered the July members competition, which was to win either the Jenson or Lewis undershirt (Nomex) that they wore during the 2010 British Grand Prix. I very fortunately won the Jenson one and McLaren had it signed by him and then put in a very lovely frame.

    Anyway, I received the item today and if you wish to take a look at it then I have posted some pictures on this forum: http://muzz606.maxforum.org/2010/08/24/pictures-of-received-jenson-button-signed-framed-s/

    It is very impressive!

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  26. zack says:

    so is this hurting any performance for button

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  27. Neal Rayner says:

    Great stuff James.

    What this video really bought home to me was how low the driver’s sight line is over the front of the car. With the helmet on it gives the false impression that the sight line is slightly higher.

    Can’t wait for the FIA (or whoever owns/runs this bit of the business) to produce decent visor level video feeds similar to the one they tried with Coultard. I’m sure it’d help with their post incident reviews as they can see where a driver is looking.

    A small camera mounted just behind the top of the visor needs only be the thickness of an iphone just broadcasting to a local receiver in the car.

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  28. Marty says:

    James,

    Nice video.
    Any idea if any of the other teams do the same with a full clay mock-up, like the one seen here at McLaren?

    I’m thinking specifically of Wirth / Virgin Racing and their simulated approach. Reason I ask is that I remember getting a look at Toyota F1’s cockpit design from a few years ago which was modelled in Catia and used the Human Function to put a Trulli and Ralph size person in the car.

    From this the driver’s reach, CoG and vision could all be estimated without the need for a full clay model (although they may well have done that later also).

    Would be interesting to know if the more cash-strapped teams bother with clay?

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    1. iceman says:

      It must be harder to simulate the driver’s view than we might imagine. I remember in some Friday practices last year, Brawn ran “fake” Red Bull-style raised strakes stuck on the nose cone. They weren’t trying to test the aerodynamic effect, but purely to assess the effect on the driver’s vision.
      I guess when you add the G-forces pushing and pulling the driver, things look a bit different to how they do in a mock-up (or in a computer model).

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  29. Tim. says:

    JA…this the type of thing F1 does not do well..keep it up..GET MORE…this is what real F1 fans want.

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  30. Baart says:

    Ok, so they start working on the 2011 model of the car, but, is this true, that some teams departaments are working on the 2012 car ?

    I remember Few years ago Williams showed organisation chart, and they mentioned about this, but is this true ?

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    1. James Allen says:

      No, that would be nuts, as they will learn so much from what other teams do in early 2011. If there’s a major rule change, like 2013, then you would have a working group looking at that project more than a year ahead, as Honda/Brawn did for 2009

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  31. Andrew small says:

    I really like the colour scheme on the LG car on the graphics in this video.

    Shame we wont see it on the grid!

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  32. Bill Day says:

    Great video, but I have a question:

    Shouldn’t Lewis be making Vroom-vroom engine noises while he’s swinging the wheel from side to side?

    I know I’d be!

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  33. BMG says:

    James, this summer break has felt like an off season,its been too long. Maybe just 3 weeks is enough. What’s your feelings on this?

    Cheers
    From a very board fan

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    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, very long, but they had to have their two weeks factory shutdown and so this is what we have. With moving to 20 races next year the rest mid season is going to be even more important

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  34. Joe S says:

    Good video.

    James, have you thought of doing a posting on the teams trying for the 13th slot? I know it’s a bit late now, and surely we should have been given a date for the announcement, but I don’t know if we’ve even been told of all the teams entering for the slot.

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  35. Ben G says:

    Hi James – random off topic comment; about increasing traffic to your site.

    I’ve always thought Iain Dale’s website is a good example of how to increase traffic to a blog.

    He has a roll of logo’d links to other blogs on the side of his site. The effect is that it is much easier to go to his site first, if you are looking for political blogs, and then find others from there.

    So you could do the same for other F1 sites, like Autosport etc. And then your page would become even more people’s first choice as the hub for F1 news.

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    1. James Allen says:

      Thanks

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