Street Fight
Monte Carlo 2018
Monaco Grand Prix
Why the next F1 drivers will be better
Why the next F1 drivers will be better
Posted By:   |  13 Feb 2009   |  9:59 am GMT  |  27 comments

I put a post out yesterday comparing the salaries of F1 drivers and footballers and it got a really good response and some very interesting comments.

Several of the comments made the point that the investment required to get to F1 for an individual and his family is far greater than for a footballer. Valid point and this gives rise to a little theory about drivers I picked up through conversations with some senior engineers in the sport recently. So to move the discussion on a little I thought I would share it with you.

When interviewing Ross Brawn for the Schumacher biography I wrote in 2007, he made the observation that you can really tell with today’s young drivers that they have grown up playing computer games, Sony Playstations and so on. He said they have an intuitive feel for technology and computers and are at ease with them, noticeably more than the previous generations of drivers. This process accelerates with each new generation of children enjoying ever more sophisticated gaming experiences.

As the father to two young sons, seeing how capable they are on the Wii (FIFA 09 is currently the big hit in the Allen household) and on the PC, I can tell that kids are only going to get more adept with time. So what implications does this have for young F1 drivers?

Well clearly the star drivers of the future are likely to be far better trained and therefore more able than today’s stars and the pool of talent from which to choose the best will not be limited to the rich. Tony Purnell, the FIA’s technical consultant who is behind the proposals for cutting costs, argues that if you have £4 million and a son with some talent, you have a one in three chance of getting him into F1 by buying his way through the junior formulae in the best cars. For most it is very hard even to get past the first hurdle which is karting.

Drivers like Schumacher, Raikkonen and Hamilton came from ordinary working class families, but through unbelievable determination they were able to find backers to fund their dreams. They are the exception. Most kids whose dads are not loaded never get past the first few stages. So the drivers we get in F1 are not necessarily the best we could have had, they are just the privileged few.

Thanks to the sophistication of simulators, like the one at McLaren, and computer gaming this is all about to change. In the next few years it will be possible to evaluate and train young drivers, using gaming and simulations and this can only mean that it will make the sport much less elitist. Those who make it to the top then will truly be the best of the best. If you compare it to athletics, the standard is far higher today than 40 years ago because there is a bigger pool of talent to choose from and far more sophisticated training techniques and funds available. The same cannot be said for F1 drivers, many of whom are still the sons of wealthy men.

I’m sure you are with me so far. So then what you need to do is smooth the path by introducing more affordable, competitive racing series for them to compete in. It’s nonsense that F3 costs £600,000 a season, who can afford that? And GP2 at £1.4 million.. well you know what kind of drivers you’ll get at that price. With more low-cost racing series leading right up to F1 and the rise in simulation and gaming, it with be the wealthy also rans who drop out and the talented kids from all backgrounds who come through. We will soon be producing a whole field of Schumachers and Raikkonens and Hamiltons, not just one or two per generation.

Gaming recently overtook the Hollywood movie industry in terms of turnover as a business and this will only increase. And I reckon that from it will come a new generation of super-drivers.

Featured News
Editor's Picks
Share This:
Posted by:

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

James I agree with a lot of what you say, however I’m not sure it is as clear cut as you put it. One of the main reasons greats like Hamilton and especially Schumacher got to where they are, is because of that battle on and off the track to not give up and rise up the formula’s. Take Ralph Schumacher as a clear example of this, he is believed by many and has demonstrated on rare occasions to be as naturally talented as Michael, however as his rise through the ranks benefited from Michaels success and finance, his personal drive and ambition appeared to be less. This could of course be a coincidence, but I think it’s unlikely. It’s great that more young talent will get the opportunity to prove themselves, but I don’t think that alone will get us a grid of Schumacher’s. He and other legends are a result of raw talent and more importantly learned determination.


I do agree that simulations help. I grew up with racing games, being the son of a Mini racing driver/auto electrician, from Grand Prix 2 in 1995 to rFactor now. While I’m really slow in said games, I’ve seen other drivers while in racing leagues online that have gone on to success in some of the lower leagues – for example David Greco, or Fernando Rees, who is now in the Le Mans series but was very prominent in LFRS and GPChampionship. That technology can help hone a racing instinct and a technique for the real roads, and I’m glad we have it. I do believe that my driving in my little Corsa is partly influenced in a good way by what I’ve learned about cars with simulations – though I’d never drive like an F1 driver on the back streets of Croydon!


A major difference between driving the “sims” and the real thing is the adrenalin level. It’s just not the same it does not leave you buzzing for hours after a “sim”.

There is also the wonderful feeling (which happens very rarely) when you get a corner/bend completely right, it may be a personal thing just for me but there is an absolute certainty from the turn in, in fact even before you turn the wheel, that you know this is going to be perfect, that nothing will be wrong, you will put on the correct lock, right amount of throttle, apex at the very optimum point and kiss the outside edge of the white line at the exit. Then everything happens slower, it’s all become so very easy, you don’t even have to try, you have bags of time to correct if it were necessary, but it isn’t, you have time to do a row of knitting! You are “In the Zone” You don’t get that from a sim!

It happened about once in every five laps to me, but I guess for most of the F1 grid it’s the normal state. Given this then it is very easy to see how Shumi always pushed it over the edge in testing just to see if the edge could be moved a bit. Cant do that in a sim either


I’ve thought for the last several years that a lot of F1 drivers are very good at ultimate pace, but not very good at actually racing. A sentiment which Juan Montoya expressed when he departed in 2006 about how you get regarded as an “animal” if you do a bit of wheel banging when battling, and most drivers seem to cry “maniac” and “dangerous driving” if they’ve had a close one whilst racing and run a mile!

Then I think American (race) schooled drivers tend to maybe lack the ultimate pace of a European schooled driver, but can race wheel to wheel quite happily at what ever speed. Anyone agree?


Half truth. Yes the computer simulation does help. But fitness is the essence in F1. Armchair racing and on the track racing is another planet all together.


Really interesting article James! Talking about rich drivers paying for their seats, they have always turned out well below standards. One driver comes to mind – Pedro Diniz!


I play Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on the Playstation 3, using a steering wheel with force feedback. Admittedly I haven’t driven performance or racing cars in real life but from the game I’ve learned a lot about tuning of suspension, modifying downforce, best use of engine characteristics, racing lines, understeer, oversteer, weight transfer and difference in handling between the different drivetrains – it’s pretty realistic I think for an off the shelf computer game and not far off the likes of rFactor and iRacing on the PC. So, I do think simulators will have more and more of a place in at least training for drivers – more than just learning which way the circuits go.


Thank you for the editing in my post James! 😉


Its here : 😮 [ Enjoy the simulations but be prepared to install Flash 10.0 and restart your browser – Moderator ]


When most people talk about “computer simulations”, they end referring to PlayStation games, but the truth is that the best and most realistic racing simulations were always made for the PC.
Today, the most prominent one is rFactor, a open-source game, where you can run your own cars and tracks, with custom-built physics.
This led to groups of racing fans making modifications to this game (the so called “mods”: featuring modern and old F1, endurance racing, etc), with levels of realism far beyond of console racing (which has to appeal to much more people than a bunch of motor-heads). Couple the game with a expensive wheel (one with good force feedback and the three pedals) and you have the best simulator next to the McLaren one.
So, it’s a cheap software (about €25-€50 , I can’t remind the prices now), with free (and most of them) high-quality add-ons (just take a look at, while still offering a realistic virtual racing environment. There are already real racing teams using rFactor for testing purposes: per instance, the A1 Grand Prix series has built one simulator (with a real A1 cockpit) using rFactor software.
One other racing simulator is iRacing [ Thanks for the link above, Sébastien – moderator ]. This one is being developed with the advice of Dale Earnhardt Jr and focuses mainly in American racing (stock cars). It has laser-scanned tracks, and the simulation is indeed very accurate, probably even more than rFactor. But this has a price, and in iRacing you have to pay a annual fee. Also, the add-ons aren’t free: a single track (the last one being Watkins Glen) costs about 20€. There are also other great sims for PC, based in GT and touring racing: GTR2, Race 07, GTR Evolution…


When I was a lot younger I spent many hours (and lots of money) at Brands Hatch racing school in an XR3i, so I know the indy circuit quite well; so when my daughter produced the BTCC playstation game I was keen to try my hand on a track I knew physically. Hopless! I could get nowhere near my real time of 1:05. The default viewpoint is from outside and above the car, it felt nothing like reality. However changing the viewpoint to “in the driver’s seat” though much more restricted, enabled me to improve dramatically. But it is still nothing like the real thing. My daughter not having the disadvantage of the real experience can leave me in the dust. However there is no feeling of grip or bumps or rumble and no fear of being castigated by the late Tony Lanfranchi for going off or overtaking on the right.

It cannot be long before the test rigs used by motor manufacturers will be used in simulators. These record all the suspension movements on a test trip, these are then fed into a dynamic platform which reproduces the trip and thus cars can be given a test trip on the platform without moving, (whilst measuring the effect on various components) the use for track training is obvious. The missing link is G force. On aircraft/fairground simulators this is achieved by tilting the platform (often the wrong way) however this is not powerful enough being limited to 1G.


I know this doesn’t have anything to do with this, but does anyone know why Hamilton’s McLaren has been running a 2008 spec rear wing over the last couple of days testing at Jerez, seems a little odd! Why bother when everyones gearing up for 2009? And despite running a 2008 spec rear wing which must have considerably more downforce than the ’09 rear wings, Alonso’s Renault was only 0.3 secs slower, quite an amazing jump in speed from the start of week…Perhaps the Renault is a much better car than it first appeared?


Should we be concerned that McLaren are still running the ’08 rear wing – James your views are welcomed….?


As you say, all the recent world champions have come from working class backgrounds. So the real question as far as I am concerned is ‘how do drivers from working class backgrounds succeed in spite of the need for cash?’

It must be down to having the will and determination as well as the talent. Arguably kids from working class backgrounds will have more determination than the privileged ones – because they have to have it. When was the last world champion from a privileged background? Probably Senna and no-one could argue that he lacked application.

I have no real idea whether video games indicate whether someone has the talent to succeed in F1. However, they certainly wont help with the determination and application required. There are no short cuts. And as long as a world championship has any kind of value this should always be the case.


Simon Lake: What you say makes sense. But remember that James could be influenced by the fact that he belongs to the one tribe that seems to buck Mr Gladwell’s trend. I may be wrong, but the one job where 10 000 hours more often than not appears to prepare you for retirement, rather than peer acknowledgement, is the media, where the “experts” (in particular BBC producers, it seems) just get younger all the time.


Not long ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, in which he argues that if you look through history in every field there are no genuine prodigies that reached the top without vast experience. The super-successful all got to where they were because a happy set of circumstances allowed them to put a huge number of hours into honing their craft at a young age. Their support network played a big part as well.

His examples include The Beatles getting the contract to perform 500 8-hour shows in Hamburg, and Bill Gates’ mother being among a group of wealthy parents who contributed to a fund to get some of the world’s first micro computers for their sons to use. The magic number he gives is 10,000 hours of practice in order to master a particular skill.

So from that perspective, yes. If you get a kid playing Gran Turismo 8 hours a day from the age of 3, he’s going to get his 10,000 hours in by the age of 7, and once he hits the kart track he’ll be a demon. How many 3 year olds are putting in 8 hours a day on GT5 right now though? Probably tens of thousands.

The real question is, however, how many Dads are going to get their sons onto the kart track at age 7? Is this number greater then it was 10 years ago? That would be the really interesting data to look at. I have no idea, but my guess is yes. If it is, I don’t think it would have anywhere near as much to do with wealth or simulator time as it does with safety. If your son or daughter is 100 times less likely to be killed or permanently injured in a motor racing accident during their career than they were 10 years ago, are you more likely to support that career choice?

So yes, I agree that drivers will have better skill at a younger age, and this will be because of technology. There will be a greater number of exceptional drivers in the top categories, but this will have more to do with safety than it will with how good Playstation games get.

But the best of the best, the World Champions, probably won’t be much better than those who have come before. There will just be more competition for the top spot. Can you imagine how good that would be though, with 20 drivers genuinely within a tenth of each other on the track?

What’s more, I think the powers in F1 realise this, and that’s why they’re shooting for greater parity between the teams.


Check out the recent 24hrs of Dubai. Playstation held a competition to find the 2 best online racers and then, with just enough training to get them race licenses, enter them in the 24hrs of Dubai…as teammates to, among others, Johnny Herbert. The two who won the competition had differing results in the real world. You can read about it in Richard Meadens, “Night Fever” posted now on Driver’s Republic (

One (a taxi driver!), could not adapt to the real physical reactions of a car and was dropped from the team just weeks before the race. The other, an MBA student from Spain, wound up finishing and apparently showing competitive times and consistency on par with Herbert.

Seems to me that this proves James’ point pretty perfectly. The virtual champions were culled from thousands without the vast expense and time of karting or other junior formulae. But in the end, talent is talent. This kid from Spain would definitely not have found himself running in an endurance race alongside an ex-F1 driver without Playstation that much is sure. And apparently he has real talent.


A few issues here.

1. As pointed out, computer time doesn’t replace track time, it augments it. Several F1 drivers have commented that playing computer F1 does little more than help them learn the sequence of corners so at least they know what’s coming up around the next corner when they hit a new track. JV said there’s no substitute for feeling the circuit physically. It’d be interesting to get a turn in a simulator though to see how much better it can be than a Playstation.

2. One reason kids take to new technology so easily is that they haven’t already expended synapses on earlier technology. Their world-model _starts_ with windowed graphical computers whereas mine starts with TV and text-interface computers. For me TV is TV but for my parents it was Radio with pictures.

3. I’m definitely a “seat of the pants” driver. Computer driving is like driving when I’m very tired – I lose stereo vision and I can’t feel the car. So, the start-point for computer racing is actually the point where I park my car and have a nap! I’m fairly good as a computer racer but I’m not as good as I’d be in the real thing (except I take far greater risks in a virtual car because crashing doesn’t hurt).


Evidently simulation can be used to train, as happens with airline pilots, so I see where you’re coming from James.

I also feel we’re currently in a ‘golden age’ of F1 drivers. We have several blindingly good drivers all in the field at the same time. I can’t see the next generation along (e.g. the Piquets, Sennas and Buemis etc.) being as good.

Schumacher had a degree of luck in this respect – his team and he hit form while the opposition was not up to scratch, and that led to the long string of titles.

He wouldn’t do that today.


JA is right – computing facilities will make it easier and cheaper to train drivers, and allow teams to give divers/possible drivers virtual track time at a fraction of the cost of going testing/racing

We could all go to Monaco today and, with thanks to the PlayStations we’ve abused, would know the track pretty intimately and therefore on our first laps be faster than we would be if we had never had the PS simulation experience.

Computer resources can’t replace the actual time spent in a real car in real world conditions, but they can do a huge amount in terms of preparing drivers and helping teams to assess set-ups for different tracks.

This will allow teams to assess different drivers and make it easier for talent to come through. At any time, we only see the drivers who have had a chance to make it in F1. There are plenty of other drivers in the world who are better than the F1 drivers we have today, but they either don’t have the opportunities to race in F1 or they simply choose to do other things with their lives.

That’s why I think the salaries paid to drivers are mad … you could go out tomorrow and easily find 20 good drivers outside of F1 who could put on racing as good as the drivers we have got signed up for 2009 … but at a fraction of the cost.


JA writes: Not sure you’ve quite understood me here, I’m not saying that computer games will replace karting, kids will always need to come up through racing and learn how to race, but that gaming and simulators will help to train drivers and give teams more chance to evaluate more drivers, because it’s so much cheaper than track time.


Give it five or ten years, link a few dozen McLaren-spec simulators together … depending on network latency, hopefully in a large number of different countries, and you have a driver factory (if the simulators are good enough for lewis to re-learn a brand new car set-up and driving style for Hockenheim, they are good enough for our purpose here).

A season of sim-racing would be priced to attract the widest possible talent pool. fast turnaround, perhaps entered in numerous simultaneous seasons, all the “cars” in each event are the same, no matter how much money dad or the sponsor has, no mechanical failures or wrecked cars to expensively repair, no trucking all over Europe during school term.

Just hours and hours and hours of training, coaching, car set-up and racing. your own kart-track kind of hours. every lap, telemetry-trace and driver input available on hard-disk for any team scout that was interested in checking out a new name that they’ve heard whispers about (the server would now allow every driver to render their own showreel, not reliant on tv coverage).

Maybe base them in current race circuits for an additional revenue stream, open to general public and corporate events in the downtime. but similarly no reason why they couldn’t be in city-centre locations for the footfall, or in anonymous units in out-of-town industrial estates for the rents.

Depending on the hardware and the sophistication, not sure how many levels of junior category this would allow you to skip, but i think by the time we got to serious hard- racing, you’d have shaken-out a lot of “lost” talent and would have a whole lot more different surnames on the track. a sim-champion would have new opportunities to better demonstrate their ability, opportunities currently denied due to silly and outmoded restrictions of finance and geography.


I am not convinced playing computer games will result in better drivers. Drivers like Schumacher and Senna got their feeling for racing from years of experience in karting. You cannot get this experience by playing computer games, because they are not real. Only a simulator which is close to real life experience will get you some, but not all of this experience.

I do agree with you that the money needed for the F1 feeder series are absurd and that is why Mosley introduced Formula 2 as an opponent to GP2. Cheaper racing series will lead to more talented drivers (without the currently necessary backing) going up the ranks.


i’m not convinced. whereas you are right to a point, in that the young guys driving F1 cars at the moment may find the technological side easier than the ‘old school’ – but that’s not helpful for a karter, which is where you need to start to. there’s absolutely no guarantee that a playstation warrior will be any good once they are away from their armchair and sitting in a racing kart with only the steering wheel, throttle, and brake between them and the tyres, with no reset button.

i think talent is talent, and that stirling moss could still teach hamilton a thing or two.

as for technology opening up F1 to outside the rich, there are enough drivers in F1 today who’s parents didn’t have the millions required to buy their way into F1 to prove that if you have the skill, you can still make it, provided you have the determination to keep at it. and looking at the current field, for those who make it, it would seem to confirm that this fight up the ladder sttrengthens your skill and prepares you mentally for what it takes to be right at the top (you can add kubica to the list)


Which of the current F1 drivers do you consider to be the ‘wealthy also rans’? Don’t worry about offending them, they might not be reading!

Top Tags