This morning I had the chance to drive in the latest generation mobile simulator, which has been designed and built for Shell by ex Ferrari and Red Bull electronics chief Anton Stipinovitch.
The simulator, based on a 2009 Ferrari chassis with 2011 electronics, is due to be launched publicly later today, but I had an early go this morning here at the circuit and it’s mind blowing.
Stipinovitch’s company, All in Sports, is based in Modena and does a lot of work with Ferrari on their in house simulator. The new mobile version, which Shell plans to take to events all over the world, uses the same graphics as the Ferrari simulator, which are accurate to 5mm!
The steering wheel is full of state of the art 2011 electronics, using the McLaren made FIA ECU which all teams must use. The software allows engineers to work on set up, aero balance and all the usual parametres.
Driving the car out of the Spa pits and heading down the hill to Eau Rouge, you get a real sense of what it is like, as the tyres are cold and the downforce hasn’t loaded up the car yet, passing gingerly through Eau Rouge, you accelerate up through the gears to around 310km/h before the first serious braking zone at Les Combes. Here you can feel the downforce blend away. Once the tyres are up to temperature and you get the feel for the downforce, the double left hander at Pouhon is really fantastic, but I couldn’t get through the Bus Stop chicane without spinning; the car really is sensitive through there.
The simulator is deliberately not set up to make it easy, it is the real thing, as the F1 drivers use it and it gives you a real insight into how tricky these cars are to drive at low speed. It’s hard enough to get into the area where the downforce is doing what it should, without even beginning to push the limits and find the final few tenths of a second; to me this is unimaginable.
With strict testing bans in place, simulators are becoming increasingly important in F1, both for setting up cars, testing new developments and for training drivers. Stipinovitch works closely with the Ferrari Driver Academy, run by Luca Balidisserri and with drivers like Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez.
As well as helping drivers stay sharp when they have no chance to go testing, simulators are vital for training drivers to use new systems and switches for DRS, KERS, brake bias and many other controls. Training drivers to be better at multi tasking is now a huge growth area in F1.
I found the whole experience fascinating and you will too if you get a chance to try it. Shell plans to travel widely with it and to give as many fans and guests the chance to experience it as possible and get closer to an understanding of the sport and what the drivers experience.
I’ll talk to them about trying to get some JA on F1 readers onto it at some point. It’s something all F1 fans should try to experience.
It is a simulator like this which Robert Kubica will be using when he steps back into the cockpit next month for the first occasion since his accident in February.