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Video Exclusive: Inside an F1 team’s driving simulator
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Video Exclusive: Inside an F1 team’s driving simulator
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 Oct 2010   |  4:08 pm GMT  |  82 comments

This is something a little bit special, something I’ve wanted to bring you for a while. On a recent visit to Wirth Research in Bicester, technical HQ of the Virgin Racing team, I was allowed to film in the simulator, normally an area which is off limits for media and especially cameras.The graphics on screen are off limits, which is why we’ve shot this as we did. That’s where a lot of the IP is.


Wirth designs and builds the F1 cars for Virgin Racing, but the simulator is available for hire by others. Michelin use it a lot for tyre evaluation and drivers can hire it too. Fernando Alonso has done a spell on the Wirth simulator this season. In this video the operator, John Lammerton, says watching an F1 driver on the simulator you can really see where he gets his speed. And he says he can tell from the way a young driver gets up to speed on a simulator whether or not he’s going to make it.

Simulators are used to help drivers learn circuits but they are so sophisticated now that teams rely on them to help set their cars up for races and to test out whether new development parts will work. They have an astonishing degree of accuracy.

The Wirth simulator is a key component in Nick Wirth’s digital car philosophy and he says that the numbers he gets from testing a new component developed using CFD are remarkable similar to what they find at the race track. Devices like this are the reason why F1 teams can get away without in season testing.

With the next race being on a new track in Korea, teams have been using the simulators to try to evaluate what kind of set up they will require. Typically the drivers will do at least two Grand Prix distances on the simulator before going to the new circuit.

The on-board lap done by Karun Chandhok recently was useful to simulator engineers, but it revealed a very bumpy surface. Since then the final layer of tarmac has been laid, so we will see who has the most accurate simulator when the cars run in Korea for the first time next week.

I hope you enjoy the insight. Thanks to Wirth, Virgin Racing and their partner LG for this opportunity.

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82 Comments
  1. Stuart says:

    I bet the whole grid are hammering Korea on the new F1 2010 game.

    1. Owen Li says:

      No. F1 2010 is definately not a game to simulate. The grip level of F1 2010 is too high and the car is too easy to drive.

      1. monktonnik says:

        In that case I may buy it :)

      2. tank says:

        agreed. I’ve been very disappointed with how easy it is, car handling wise. Thought there would be some option to make it more realistic and less arcardy, but there ya go… hope for better in next year’s version.

    2. Owen Li says:

      It seems that Red Bull’s simulator is based on the game ‘rfactor’ which I love very much!

      1. Shaun Field says:

        The Red Bull Video’s have all so far used tracks that are publicly available for rfactor. Korea is no exception, as it is already available to drive thanks to the great modding community.

      2. Scott McIlwhan says:

        The difference is that RedBull and several other teams use the rFactor Pro software which is apparently quite a long way removed from the commercially available rFactor that we all get to try.

        Interesting bit of insight from the ISI’s Gjon Camaj, re rFactor, rFactor 2 and rFactor Pro:

        http://simhq.com/_motorsports5/motorsports_154a.html

      3. Rich says:

        Actually F1 2010 is much closer than you think. Anthony Davidson said he ranks it as a 7 out if 10 as in regards to sim spec. With all driving aids off it is very difficult.

      4. Richard D says:

        There’s no way I can play it with all the driving aids off so I personally wouldn’t want it more simulation! I’ve been doing the Korea track, I’m not too impressed. The last corner is quite fun but the rest is fiddly. Strangely I find the tracks that can be the most boring to watch – both Spain tracks and Hungary – some of the most fun to drive.

      5. Alan Dove says:

        I very much doubt the physics are based on rFactor. teams have their own set of engineers to design the sim. Though I do believe Kunos from Netkar was involved in Ferrari’s simulation, which has been partly confirmed by the release of the academy thingymagig :). Certainly teams have used the graphically modelling tools of rFactor for their public shots though.

      6. Martin B says:

        The Red Bull simulator uses a version of rFactor called “rFactor Pro” they are not the only team to use rFactor Pro and other formulas also use it.

    3. Galapago555 says:

      Totally off topic, but I’ve just read in Italian “La Gazzetta dello Sport” that Yeongam circuit has finally been passed for next race.

      http://www.gazzetta.it/Motori/Formula1/12-10-2010/c-ok-ispettori-fia-711436480336.shtml

      (sorry, they didn’t have an English version)

      Good news!! :-D

  2. Andy W says:

    Interesting video, shame you couldn’t get about more out of him about relative merits of various drivers…

  3. JW1980 says:

    James,

    Why would Fernando Alonso use this simulator in addition to the one at Marranello? Is this one more advanced?

    1. Greg says:

      +1 on why was Alonso there?

      I am going to add my own little theory to. I would guess that he was employed to provide a benchmark for the Virgin team to see just how quickly there car can really go and just how good their drivers are.

    2. Ikertzeke says:

      Maybe he went with friends so they could feel what he does, he tests for them for some time and his friends “play” the best formula1 game available…
      Or peerhaps he did when he was in Renault and he knew he was going to Ferrari
      But i can not imagine doing it without telling Ferrari about it.

    3. monktonnik says:

      This is what surprised me.

      I can’t believe that Ferrari would let Alonso into another F1 factory, even if it seemsfrom the interview that the simulator isn’t actually owned by Wirth/Virgin.

      I can’t believe that Alonso would want to give away information about how he gets his times.

      1. Alan Dove says:

        Drivers use various sim packages over the years providing by different businesses. You just don’t hear about it much, until now.

      2. monktonnik says:

        I didn’t know that, but I am still surprised that a Ferrari driver would be using a simulator based at a facility that effectively designs (and runs?) another team.

        Still I am sure that there are confidetiality agreements and the data is safe.

    4. gwyllion says:

      Alonso used the Wirth Research simulator in his Renault days. Read for instance http://formula-one.speedtv.com/article/f1-drivers-look-for-simulator-edge-in-valencia/

    5. Richard M says:

      I was under the impression that Ferrari, suprisingly, do not yet have a state of the art simulator. Not sure where I heard that (would have been a while ago). – James, can you comment?

  4. tank says:

    One of the many reasons I visit this site. Brilliant. Thank you.

  5. Galapago555 says:

    Fantastic stuff, as usual. Amazing how you can get to all this “restricted areas”, James. It’s wonderful to hear you saying “today we are authorised, let’s go in and have a look”.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. mtb says:

    James

    You have been very busy over the last week! I hope that you are getting paid well for all of this!

  7. Ben G says:

    Marvellous video. But what we all want to know is, did you have a go, and, if you did, what were your times like?

    1. James Allen says:

      No I did not. Maybe another time.

  8. Richard M says:

    Why was Alonso using this simulator and not Ferrari’s?

  9. Curro says:

    Amazing stuff James.

    Do you have a list of drivers that have tried the Wirth simulator? I’m also curious on why would Alonso try this. Does that mean that the Ferrari simulator is not state-of-the-art?

  10. JimmiC says:

    Brilliant video! I always imagined that simulators were a bit like the big arcade booths you get at Blackpool (like the old Sega Daytona Racing), but to replicate movement as well. It looks so precarious on those hydraulic legs – I wonder how much of a workout they would get if Kobayashi had a go..

    Perhaps one day a machine will be developed that can replicate even G-forces.

    Also, random aside; when you approached the ‘No Entry Without Authorisation’ door, told the camera that you had authorisation and opened it, I wanted a voice to shout out ‘BUGGER OFF’ and you realised you’d got the wrong room.

    1. Andy C says:

      Now that I would love to see. 8 F1 drivers side by side on Daytona.

      Maybe they could have one where three of the hydraulic rams drop off for Di Grassi.

      1. JimmiC says:

        It’s sorted then. Next time a race/session is threatened with cancellation due to weather, get them in front of 24 simulators.

        Anyone got Bernie’s phone number? Get your chequebook out; I think £5million should cover this great idea..

  11. Andy C says:

    Excellent stuff James. Very good of nick to let you in to see it.

    It also strikes home another point however. If in season testing is banned but is replaced by simulators costing what must be millions (for a top one) I would imagine, what is the real cost cutting there?

    So the big teams still run loads of testing, parts, development on the sim?

    Have they actually spent more money developing sims than on a test team ;-)

    1. DerangedStoat says:

      While getting an F1 level simulator up and running most likely requires a huge initial outlay, I would be sure that this is more than made up for by reduction in the material and manufacturing costs that go with traditional testing.
      What used to require a whole new wing to be manufactured can now be replicated much more cheaply with a few lines of code.

  12. Sheryl Dutton says:

    Excellent, well done. Wish we could have seen a little more of the actual screen to see it all working together.

    1. James Allen says:

      Sorry, that’s where the IP is and they are very sensitive about that

      1. Ikertzeke says:

        I think that the advanced ones, apart from the graphics, they replicate G-forces, or to be precise, 1 G force, your weight.
        Imagine the one we have seen but jumping like a crazy horse, up, down, left and right but super quick.

  13. Andy Fov says:

    It’s genuinely interesting to see how advanced F1 is becoming in terms of CFD and simulation. It makes me question whether it’s rendering that part of the drivers’ skill set obsolete.

    Is a driver with a real flair for getting the most out of his package less of an asset than he once was?

  14. Jonathan Dye says:

    Hi James,

    A fantastic insight.

    If drivers from any team can hire the simulator, then why can we not see the graphics in these machines? Surely someone like Alonso can take all the information a team could need with him back to Ferrari, or any other driver to any other team for that matter?

    It would be great for fans to see inside one of these as they are such a huge part of developing an F1 car these days. Im not going to take any of F1 secrets from it.

    1. malcolm.strachan says:

      As someone said above, he used Wirth Research’s simulator when he was at Renault. This means he used it before Virgin/Manor hired Wirth Research to design their cars. It’s likely that they now have an exclusivity contract with Virgin.

      James, does that sound accurate to you?

      1. James Allen says:

        No, I’m told he was there earlier this year for a specific purpose

  15. HowardHughes says:

    Is it just me, or is Karun Chandhok becoming a sort of everyman F1 ambassador – interviews with the BBC one day, testing simulators for the sport the next, linked to the Indian GP attempte on another, evaluating brand new tracks… he’s kind of like an F1 minister-without-portfolio, which is pretty cool I think, since he seems to display an air of calm and affability far beyond his years or experience…

    1. michael grievson says:

      I’ve been very impressed with his intelligence and feedback. He comes across very well on TV. I hope he gets a drive in a decent car so we can see if he’s a good driver

      1. F1Maniac says:

        If he doesn’t get a drive I hope they grab him for TV commentary. He does an excellent job when he joins Ant and Crofty for practice session.

    2. DerangedStoat says:

      Chandhok is one of the few drivers I’ve seen that openly displays a real passion and enthusiasm for all things F1, both past and present.
      It’s for that very reason that I hope he gets a drive next season and beyond. He appears to be a very likeable character.

  16. Robert McKay says:

    Available for hire? How much? I’d love a shot :-D

    1. James Allen says:

      I think it’s about £5k per day

      1. Galapago555 says:

        Surprisingly cheap, IMO. I expected it to be much more expensive, if it actually works so well and gives the teams such a high quality feedback.

      2. Brace says:

        Actually, now that you put a number on it, I think anyone who spends that much money on some pleasure or fun, and that fun is not the simulator in case, has really wasted his money on something worthless compared to this amazing “toy”. :)

      3. malcolm.strachan says:

        True, for a few grand more, you could likely rent an older F1 car and get a real thrill!

  17. theothercoldone says:

    Wow! Thanks for that. Now I know what I want for my next birthday present…

    Seriously, this is amazing stuff – given the level of detail on an ‘average’ playstation game now, I suspect that that simulator would be ‘even better than the real thing!’

    Do the drivers bring their own steering-wheels and seat fittings, and is there a mockup of the cockpit to simulate sightlines etc?

  18. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    I want one for my living room

  19. Stephen Pattenden says:

    Another example of why I frequetly visit your site James.

    Fantastic insight; I’ve always wanted to know what’s behind thoase doors – especially after seeing Jake being taken around the MTC by Jenson at the beginning of this year.

    Thanks a lot

  20. marbles says:

    I remember many moons ago watching James Allen drive Mark Blundells Pac West racing champ car.Who needs a simulator, eh James. !!!

    1. James Allen says:

      Ah yes, that was fantastic. I should try to find the tape of that and run it here. What a great opportunity – a whole day to drive an Indaycar around Homestead!

  21. Anil says:

    James how much does one of these driving simulators cost a team to make? I remember hearing that the Mclaren one was ‘best’ one, im guessing theirs therefore cost the most?

    Also what do you make of this footage of Vettel jumping the start that’s started doing some rounds on the internet (just spotted it on the autosport forums). I remember Hakkinen did something similar in Malaysia 2000 and was punished for it, do you know why Vettel wasn’t? Kubica apparently told his team immediately about it.

  22. michael grievson says:

    Excellent piece James. It shows the level of respect people in F1 have for and and your work.

    Our next assignment is to get Ron Dennis drunk and steal the keys to the Mclaren simulator :o)

    1. Zobra Wambleska says:

      I don’t think Ron has them any more, I think Alonso took them when he left in 2007.

  23. rumel says:

    looks impressive, but the red bull simulator looks amazing. they have a proper red bull chasis to sit in so they try to simulate the whole experience. check it out on youtube.

    1. Craig says:

      Yeah this vid shows Seb in a Red Bull simulator though they seem to have turned the motion down a bit on it, probably to help him commentate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gW9Gh8LBeZU

      That sim reminds me of the Jaguar simulater I went in at RAF Coltishal, managed to crash it looping under the Menai straits suspension bridge, had a coffee while it rebooted! Quite an old machine that though, the Eurofighter one at BAE Warton and the Hercules sim at RAF Lyneham were more advanced with the hyraulics and graphics. Discovered a Hercules could do a loop with that and it certainly felt quite realistic doing a ‘loop’ on that one even though the pod obviously didn’t go upside down. You did get a little g and the F1 sim shown seems to be of a similar standard.

      The sim must benefit the teams as they can decide what weather they want and not need to go book a track or show their rivals what they are trying. I suppose once they have a decent sim they do save some money though maybe not a huge amount.

      Will HRT be buying some time on a sim for Korea as I understand they don’t have one? Maybe otherwise they’ll just be relying on the PC game or talking to Chandhok about his experience there!

  24. Seth says:

    Haha, is that Andrew Netwon driving the simulator?? was wondering where he went to these days!

  25. Rich C says:

    Brilliant piece, James!

  26. GP says:

    Great piece James, thanks.

  27. Dan says:

    I remember seeing a feature last year where David Brabham was using the same simulator to test the Acura ARX02a (designed by Wirth) at Sebring. Obviously a versatile simulator, makes me wonder if they do their own GPS-based track modeling or if they buy 3d models from 3rd parties…

    1. Alan Dove says:

      They will generally use laser scanning to model the tracks. It’s becoming quite a popular tool in the sim community as well now.

      I recall it was McLaren who modelled Bahrain, and thought the ‘bump’ in the new section was an anomaly in the scanned data. hence why they came to the circuit with completely the wrong set up.

  28. JohnBt says:

    Module sure feels like a space program going on. Awesome!

  29. David Hodge says:

    I am a big fan of flight simulation and without several million to spend, I make do with Microsoft FSX rather than a commercial flight simulator. This must surely be the same in that we can all afford F1 2010 but would want one of these simulators if money were no object! Great video – thanks.

    Picking up on Dan’s point, since it is programmable, then you could load in the characteristics of anything I guess. In a sort of perverse way, I enjoyed the safety car laps as Bernd Maylander was driving the doors off it and four-wheel drifting around the right-hand corner before the Spoon curve (I think…) How much fun would it be to load up that high performance Merc into the simulator and take that around Suzuka too?

  30. Mark OZ says:

    So James – Did they let you have a go?!

    1. James Allen says:

      No. Not this time. Maybe another time..

  31. Paul Mc says:

    James you should get in touch with Codemasters for a piece on their F1 game. They are all british lads. I know Anthony Davidson does simulator work for Mercerdes and was involved in the F1 2010 game.

    I wonder how close to the real simulator these F1 console games are getting. Similarly with Ferrari launching their virtual academy software are we seeing a push by F1 teams to find the next generation of F1 drivers.

  32. Rafael says:

    Nice article, James!

    Question though: does Mercedes GP have a simulator too? and if yes, does Michael Schumacher (and Nico Rosberg) use it as much to prepare? If so, how is Schumi coping with it?

    Just wondering!

    1. Danny says:

      Mercedes GP do have a simulator, Anthony Davidson(Five Live Commentator) is their sim driver. I think I heard Anthony say once on air that Schumacher doesn’t use the simulator as it makes him feel sick.

  33. mawchi says:

    Nice stuff james.

    off topic:
    You know what I think is interesting:

    Alonso-vettel is 8 against 4 in the races they both actually finished. fernando finished 8 races ahead of vettel.

    Alonso-webber 7 vs 6

    you could say using these statistics that the Red Bull does not seem very effective in translating their speed in high place finishes.

    1. James Allen says:

      That seems to be the case this year, doesn’t it?

  34. F1Maniac says:

    Great insight James.

    Just wish the engineer would have said which drivers were quick and which ones were surprisingly slow ;-)

  35. Romford says:

    http://gizmodo.com/5662176/lexus-shows-its-state-of-the-art-driving-simulator-in-action

    Don’t think the Toyota team were using this simulator for training!

    1. arch says:

      I just came to post that link. It’s a cracker.

      Just shows what you can get for your money if you stop pouring millions into a dysfunctional Cologne money-pit.

  36. F1ComputerGeek says:

    Nice work again, James. I’ve really come to value your videos and your website. Ever since I moved from the UK I’ve not had access to the quality presentation you all get on the TV back there with interviews and pre-race shows. I just get the FOM feed that starts 5 minutes before the race.

    Anyway, what I wanted to ask, James, is that despite not being able to show the graphics, did you at least get a good look at it? Being a videogame developer that has worked on racing games I’m intrigued to know the level of visual fidelity in these sims. What was it like?

    1. James Allen says:

      I’m no expert but it looked pretty good to me. It’s a wraparound screen and it seemed very much like the circuit (Hungaroring) as I know it. the key thing with these is the kerb heights and the grip and all those details which make it more realistic.

  37. vfacundo says:

    If you support Formula 1 returning to the US, join “Friends of Formula 1 Austin Texas” on Facebook and Linkedin.com
    Great commentary, pictures and anything related to the new circuit in Austin Texas.
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Formula-1-Austin-Texas/157330087614878

  38. David says:

    And the team does not even own it, that’s how expensive this motion simulator is!

  39. Tao Mora says:

    To use the simulator is anywhere
    from $15,000 – $27,000 per session, ( meanning 3-5 hrs max of use). The simulator cost from $750,000 – $1.3 million base upon setup and brand. There are 3-4 brands that make one for the F1 teams. There are far better ones that air defense use that cost $14.3 million + per simulator.

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