F1 Winter Break
F1 in the Future – Simulation and Gaming
F1 in the Future – Simulation and Gaming
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Dec 2009   |  11:42 am GMT  |  94 comments

We are coming to the end of this Christmas series. I hope you have found it interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for all your comments.

The sport is fully engaged at the moment in thinking about its short term future; how to spice up the racing, how to balance sport with entertainment and how best to harness the power of the online media to boost the following.

I thought it would be interesting to look a little further ahead and that is what this series has been all about.

The final post is on simulation tools, commonly used today by teams, and their application in gaming to open the sport to a much wider range of children, who will become the drivers of tomorrow.

Most F1 teams have very sophisticated simulators. The McLaren team has been working on simulation for longer than the other teams and has invested more. Ferrari recently unveiled its new simulator, while even new teams like Virgin Racing have one. It is seen as indispensable these days.

That investment is now paying dividends. McLaren’s unit, which is considered the most sophisticated, allows the driver to feel every bump in every race track on the calendar and make changes to his car, even featuring the latest parts under development. The drivers need to spend very little time now setting their cars up during practice sessions at a race weekend as that work has all been done in a simulator before the cars were packed onto the transporter. The driver still has to use his inbuilt ‘feel’ to fine tune certain aspects, but even that aspect of the driver’s art is disappearing.

The rise of simulators and pin-point accurate GPS positioning technology, even of a fast moving object like a racing car, gives rise to unlimited gaming possibilities which could attract a whole new fanbase to the sport. In the US the Colin McRace driving game became hugely popular, but fans initially didn’t realise that McRae was a real person – they thought he was a Lara Croft-type made up character. WRC research shows that quite a few of them took an interest in rallying once they learned the truth!

It is clear that very soon fans will be able to sit in their game chair at home and virtually take part in a Grand Prix. This raises the question of whether people will still turn on a TV at an allotted time in order to watch a live sporting event like a race, or whether the main purpose of the event and certainly a major source of revenue, will be allowing the public to virtually compete with the Grand Prix stars of the day. There will be a blurring of the lines between the virtual and the real, which will reflect wider changes in society brought about by gaming.

The star drivers of 20 years from now are likely to be far better trained and therefore more able than today’s stars. Today 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. It is very hard to get past the first hurdle which is karting.

Soon new ways will have evolved to evaluate and train drivers, using gaming and simulations and this will make it much less elitist. They will still need to drive real karts and cars of course, but the FIA is determined to drive down costs on these in future, to make the sport more accessible. Those drivers who make it through 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. Lottery finding and other sources of income have democratised the sport. F1 which has always been elitist, will still be about the best of the best, but the pool from which they emerge will be far larger.

F1 engineers all agree that the young drivers coming into F1 today, like Sebastian Vettel, are all far more computer savvy and technically intuitive than the great drivers of the past. This process accelerates with each new generation of children enjoying ever more sophisticated gaming experiences.

Gaming recently overtook Hollywood in terms of turnover as a business and this will only increase and from it will come a new generation of super-drivers.

Thanks for all your feedback and ideas throughout this series.

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It's interesting to see how much Formula 1 gaming can be found in the younger drivers of today. Plenty of times have we heard the likes of Hamilton and Kobayashi mention how they get to learn track experience via playing the Formula 1 series or sophisticated sims like rFactor.

As you say though James games is a big money business now and can generate some serious cash, I'm just glad that we finally have a series of games from Codemasters being brought out in terms of F1 games again!



Have you followed iRacing's progress over the last year? What do you think of it?


No, I will look into that. Sounds interesting


Another great commentary, James.

I'm very glad to hear someone in the know refer to computer gaming as more than just a 'toy'. Some car games do squarely find themselves in the 'toy' category, but there are some very, very good simulators available, and they're getting better all the time.

I know the racing games you can get for your home PC and consoles significantly lag behind the full-blown simulators that F1 teams use, but these days home simulators are so good that they really can help improve a driver's performance. I can only imagine how good the proper simulators are...

I remember back in 1996 when Jacques Villeneuve was the first (and then only?) driver to publicly state that he plays computer games to help learn circuits new to him. He was derided from many angles, which I never understood at the time, and doubly-so now. These days many of the young drivers on the grid regularly play home racing games and compete online. And all of the drivers now use factory simulators. It won't be long before everyone who ever gets to drive an F1 car will have been required to drive many thousands of miles in a simulator first. In fact, that time is probably alreay here.

Of course, games and simulators can't reproduce the real thing. Fear, adrenaline, unexpected circumstances, the feel, the physics...simulators can only crudely approximate these factors. But in the basic skills or driving and car setup I know that they can give a driver the edge. Or further still: give them their first taste of motorsport, which they then transfer to the track.

I know this to be true because I'm one of these people. I'd never karted, but since Geoff Crammond's seminal F1GP series, I've played a lot of racing simulators on my PC, and I'm good at them. In the late 1990s I tried my hand at the real thing, in Formula Ford. I was instantly quick. That I had never driven a racing car before, and had only just passed my road test, speaks volumes for the years of training I'd been doing at home in my bedroom.

For a while I mixed it with some now well-known names in real life, but I'm not nearly as talented or as driven as the best. This, coupled with a lack of funds, brought my very brief and quite unglittering racing career to an abrupt end. But I still race a lot online. If you know where to look you stand a good chance of bumping into some very famous people (albeit under an obscure pseudonym), and a far greater chance of bumping into some quite unknown but extremely talented drivers.

I can almost hear some of the readers here sighing, tutting and shaking their heads. But trust me: we're not all geeks with too much time on our hands. Some serious training goes on in the gaming world. It's no substitute for the real thing, granted, but it really does help.


We just need to make sure that our potential future world champions aren't giving themselves RSI or other keyboard/joystick/console related injuries. I stopped playing the first of the Geoff Crammond simulators (1991 vintage) after I developed tendinitis in my left hand. I found I could get away with minimal rear wing angles. Provided the front didn't understeer everything was okay. I guessing the realism has improved slightly...


I must admit, I am not a gamer and a couple of month ago I watched a program about people from the agming world becoming a driver in the Le Mans series with Jonny Herbert as an expert.

I recently bought F1 2009 for a very famous game console and played with it and find it very fascinating and at the same time very interesting.

Being a F1 fanatic for more than 30 years, I can appreciate the different set ups and variables that allow to make the car faster.

Simulation will be the biggest part of a new F1 for sure in order to satisfy the general pubblic.

I don't understand why Ferrari and McLaren they don't set up simulators, probably not as god as the one they using, in they factories and maybe in their corporate hospitality at Gran Prix and let the public using paying for it, I think it will be a great stream of revenue


There was a McLaren simulator in the new Mercedes-Benz museum when I went ro Stuttgart in 2006. Similar to some theme park rides it used gravity to induce some sensations. The queues were quite long so I did have a go.



Thanks for these great articles.

This one has revived a memory - you said you were going to review an F1 game after playing it with your son..

a) who won

b) what is your verdict on it?

A belated merry Christmas happy new year and long may this website continue 🙂


I'm still trying to beat the little blighter..It's a great game, though. Spa is uncannily like the real thing.


This is the Wii game you are playing right James?

Any chance you can make contact with your countrymen at Codemasters and get some inside info on the upcomming PS3/Xbox 360 game?

It's due for release mid-2010.


F1 2006 for PS2 was quite trick for me already... imagine what it would be to play live against top drivers...

"Recorded" races where you can drive after the fact would appeal more to me. I still like watching the races and think nothing is as thrilling (well, maybe excluding Yas Marina), but that's just me. I do think there is a huge audience that would rather race online, but one thing that comes to mind is that many would get frustrated by never winning. Some people like videogames because in virtual world they can do things that they can't or are not able to do in real life. If that becomes so real yo still not able to win without lots of training (and a bit of talent?), well, maybe it will be limited to F1 enthusiasts.

Has any sport done something similar already?


Given the growing convergence with reality should simulators be teated as practice and be limited in sophistication and usage time allowed? After all the deepest pockets will almost certainly get the better simulators and afford more simulation time. Maybe we need to break the dominance of the simulators and move to a golf-type situation where the position of the pin on the green is changed with each round. So we could look forward to the shape/nature of tracks being changed between races to provide a fresh challenge, perhaps even between practice and the race? Now that would be interesting!


Hi James,

Have you heard about www.iRacing.com? It's currently the leading driving simulation that is run from the US and it has opened up a refreshing new insight into motorsports for a lot of avid fans and armchair racers. They run a racing service where people can log in and race against each other, all over the world.

One interesting factor about it is that a number of professional racers also race there (partly for fun, partly for track acclimatisation) with the notable racers being Dale Earnhardt Jnr, our own Justin Wilson, Australias Marcus Ambrose and open wheeler Will Power, and a lengthy list of other drivers.

It's particular interesting to me as you frequently meet these drivers on track and it's quite a surreal thing, especially as a keen racing fan.

It's a US centric thing at the moment, with heavy partnership with NASCAR and the Indycar series (hence Justin Wilson and Will Power) but there's momentum behind it - look into it!


The rFactor leagues are another extension of the iRacing idea too, albeit with fewer pros


Thanks for a typically insightful series - F1 in the Future. A number of very interesting ideas both from Engineers within the sport and the blogging public.

Just one comment on the use of simulation to broaden the sports appeal. I suspect like many other casual gamers it is fun to get behind the wheel of a McLaren or Ferrari. However, unless new games implement a handicap system, that is slowing down the real F1 drivers, there will be a very small number of gamers actally able to keep up during a virtual grand prix. I certainly wouldn't want to finish a 90 minute race 8 or 10 laps down the field.

Potentially future simulators will reinforce just how talented F1 drivers really are compared to the armchair punters.

For all the talk of engineering advances and potential rule changes it is perhaps fitting that the brightest stars in F1s future are the drivers themselves.


Well you are gonna finish 10 laps behind in the start but you are gonna get better. The first time i tried playing an F1 game i couldn't even keep it on the track. Now i can make it threw a GP by keeping my self in the road and am actually a lot faster that what i ever thought i could be. I don't even choose Mclaren and Ferrari in the game anymore because it's too easy to win with them now that am good at it. I choose smaller teams and although it's very hard to win if you put realistic level, i feel very proud of my self if i get points or even reach the podium.

Am certain than in real life Hamilton would drive more than 10 seconds a lap faster than me because of many other factors that the simple ability to change gears and brake at the right time or keep the right lines on the track. But am also sure that even if his good at gaming he won't be much faster than me. You guys ignore the fact that many of us simple people could have been very decent drivers if we had a few millions in the bank and devoted our life to a racing career when we where young. Hamilton could very well be the pizza delivery boy if he was born in a different family. He would have never known how good of a racing driver he could be. But in virtual reality all those things that made us what we are and racing drivers what they are, suddenly disappear.

Of course there are some with no talent at all and that shows in the gaming world also. My friend can keep the damn car on the track or drive fast no matter how many times we played together. She just can't do it. It's not her thing.


What do you think of Nissan's GT Academy on Playstation 3?


Great articles James,very informative,this one has me looking forward to the new Codemasters game thats due out next year,if you get any info on that e sure to pop it up on here.

Keep the news coming and have a great New Year.


I think the idea of the F1 drivers 'competing' live against the simulation drivers at home is always going to be flawed - if Lewis Hamilton is driving in the British Grand Prix and I'm driving it from the PC on my desk he won't be able to see or respond to my sim-racer car in his rear view mirror, he won't have to pull off line to overtake me (or lap me, more likely), and if we both try to occupy the same piece of tarmac then there'll be no crash, all that will happen is that we'll 'ghost' through each other. The interaction between the cars simply won't be there.

Some games company will try it, but I can't help but think it'll be a short-lived gimmick.

More interesting, I think, is the idea of the 'Virtual Championship' existing alongside the real thing with the world's best sim-racers competing against each other - something that we're already seeing the dawn of in products like iRacing (which has seen real-world NASCAR drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr sign up to race online alongside the regular subscribers). As well as bringing a form of racing to those of us without the budget or the extreme physical fitness to compete in the real thing, it opens up options not available in the real world - modern F1 cars racing on the Nordschleife, or NASCAR on a reconstructed Brooklands!

Better yet, track designers could produce new or modified layouts for the simulation community to try out and give feedback for the real thing. Imagine Silverstone releasing their new layout in sim-form 6 months in advance of the construction work to find out if their new 'Arrowhead' infield section improved overtaking opportunities or not, or even releasing 3 or 4 variations to see which one provided the most excitement.


I still play F1 Championship Edition on the PS3, that you and Martin did commentary for James, its great fun. Its a shame we havent got a proper sim of an F1 car yet, a lot of the games tend to appeal to a more arcadey audience.

Apparently a lot of gaming studios are put off making F1 games due to the huge cost of obtaining the F1 license, ridiculous really. F1 should be opening its arms to the millions of potential fans who have consoles.


While I think racing games are great and I have a ton of them, I think they aren't the best training tool for drivers... testing virtual parts out in the McLaren simulator is a genius way of testing parts and things, but as there's no real human risk to 'driving' it, there's no honing of the senses, and elements of bravery and risk that characterize the best F1 drivers.

This can only be taught through racing for real... whenever I go karting with friends I'm always surprised at how hesitant I am at first, compared to when I'm beasting allcomers on my PS3 and Wii at home, achieving times in F1 games that would embarrass most real drivers... I can feel in the kart that the tyres aren't up to temp yet, that I haven't quite mastered that 2nd left-hander, and if I give it the beans anyway (as I would in a game) I could hurt myself as well as look a compete idiot.

I remember a piece from Top Gear where Jezza struggled to replicate his time from Gran Turismo at Laguna Seca in a real car, because everytime he got to the Corkscrew, he bottled it knowing that one mistake or late braking moment could chuck him into a massive crash, whereas on GT4 he could experiment with it's tolerances...

The flipside of this could be though that F1 drivers of the future will be so brought-up on the no-risk element of games, that they will be just as fearless on the track for real, having no real comparison in the real world...




I second that.


It's only getting better as time passes, which is where most other "games" failed by simply releasing an [arcady] once-a-year, one-and-done release.

The world's first true online motorsport.


We (the public) may be closer to it than you think. An american company, iRacing has a simulator available to the public which uses the same laser technology to scan every bump of a track, I think they even provided Mclaren with the scan data for silverstone.

It's mainly american tracks but they hold the license to simulate indycar so I could see it working for F1 aswell.


I for one don't think that the gaming will overtake viewers. Sure, I'd like the option of racing but in the end I'd watch the race and would want to play it later. I don't want to miss the action of my favorite drivers and the feed jumps around too much anyway - meaning it would have to be gps data based and CGI. Steaming all that video content in hi def to milions would cost so much in source bandwidth it's not worth the freeloading players - even ad support would likely not cover this. And as we know from the digital tv that was available few years back - F1 fans won't pay a suscription for it. Well, at least not enough players would pay to make the investment worth while. If it was feasible it would have been done long time ago.


it's peculiar that you call it a "christmas" series. i'm sure your objective isn't to alienate most of the population of the world that doesn't go in for that kind of thing, but i think it would be better served to call it an "end of year" series. it also seems more logical, as the end of the year is a time to review the year past and preview the next year, whereas christmas is... well...


Perhaps we could just be a little less sensitive. James probably has a long tradition of celebrating Christmas. It's part of who he is. If you can't abide others even mentioning their religion, you need to loosen up. If a Sienfeldian called it a 'festivus report', would you be so critical?

Merry Christmas to you.


Great finish James!!!

There are numerous issues I don’t agree with you throughout the series. But I agree with most as well as have a very clear imagination of what F1 is going to be in 20 years time. So thank you for this. I’m involved in IT and computer business very closely. I basically make living out of this business. Being in the middle of this business I know exactly what you mean by the domination of gaming industry over the past 5/6 years. It’s insane!!! Can you imagine that more than 10 million people play 'World of Warcraft' every second of the day!!!

Now relating gaming and simulation technologies to F1 it is obvious McLaren has been able to benefit from their simulator more than the other teams. We always talk about KERS as a negative input for F1 based on the 2009 season. I disagree with that view & believe KERS has a future in the sport. Anyway, McLaren team not only used the KERS well but also managed to develop the car significantly in the 2nd part of the season even though the McLaren cars were nowhere near competitive as the Brawns or Red Bulls or even Ferraris before they froze up. My question was how they were able to make the car so much faster with the strict testing regulations. Was it just KERS? No, it was certainly the development of the car in the 2nd half of the season based on the perfect use of technologies available to them. In future I see cars being faster than the today’s cars without any testing at all. The question of people turning the TV on for this sport will remain uncertain. Even being involved with IT business I hate the idea of choosing made up games over real live sports.

Maybe one good thing will come out of the rise of gaming technology is that I will not need millions of dollars sitting in the bank for my child (don’t have one yet) to become a professional F1 driver. It is still just maybe and I still don’t see people being able to invest little to create a F1 champion. It really is the sport of richest to play and ordinaries to watch with the question in heart, ‘what if’. No matter how much the gaming and simulation technologies improve I will always turn the TV on or go to Albert Park to watch the practices, qualifying and the races.

To end up this great series, I leave you with a special request James. Do you see becoming an F1 driver is going to affordable for middle/low income earners rather than only the richest of the people around? If so, when will that happen? We all know you need hell of a lot of money if you want your child to have any future as a F1 driver. My request to you is to write about this particular topic in your blog and discuss if possible and maybe if there will ever be a female F1 driver in future.


I'm not convinced that simulation was the key to McLaren's improvement. The big improvement came from the new front wing that arrived in Germany. CFD calculations and wind tunnel testing would provide lift and drag data. The simulator takes this data as part of the cars overall simulated dynamics. If the wrong inputs go in then the simulation will also be wrong.

The simulation work probably helped McLaren get the maximum out of the package at every race, as it would help the choice of springs, dampers, weight distribution, differential settings etc. Changes in track temperature can negate the starting set-up work and the simulator needs to have extremely precise models of the bitumen chemistry to assess all possibilities.


Well I just did...? That's what the final part of the article is about. As for the female driver I'd love to see it as soon as possible, but I find articles about that subject incredibly tedious and patronising


James where do teams get there track layouts from? Are new circuits such as AbuDhabi required to provide hyper-accurate 3D surfaces (LiDAR, Digital Elevation Models), so the teams can test run the circuit before they arrive? Or are they created solely by the teams based on previous on car GPS experience.


"and a son with some talent"

Sorry to charge out the PC brigade but surely a daughter would also suffice!

I have a son and daughter and would love to see them battling it out in karts together in the not too distant future....Now where did I leave that spare 4 million?


I never picked up on that, but then im not a PC guy.... but I couldn't help but laugh a bit tonight when my 12 year old boy went out with my bro in law to the pub to watch football, and my daughter who stayed in with me had some of her school friends round.... and I over heard in the kitchen say 'I can't wait to see Lewis Hamilton beat Michael Schumacher in a race...' now obviously she has got that from me, and I have no idea why she 'announced' this as her friends responded with an 'eh? where did that come from.. ?' but my point is, she actually likes F1 and whats to stop me from taking her go karting....


Interesting that the software used in a lot of the F1 simulators is supposed to be rfactor. Although the F1 teams are provided with a professional version, rfactor is available to the public, and there's a fantastic community behind it developing cars and tracks.

I have a copy of rfactor myself, it's great. Especially considering the gaming side of F1 has been ignored recently.


I remember an interview with Alex Wurz a few years ago in F1 Racing where he tested one of the (then) latest PC F1 computer simulations. Whilst he said it was unrealistic in that you weren't exposed to the physical battering of G-forces, he was impressed with the realistic level of detail gamers were allowed to impliment to set up their cars, and the fact that gamers could check the telemetry to see what their changes had left on the car. Also, he was impressed that the tracks were recreated faithfully, down to the bumps and braking points.

I can well imagine the F1 stars of the future will be more savvy to bumper dampening, aero tweaks and gear ratios based around the latest Playstation edition of F1 2015.


First of all, happy New Year James!

Frankly, the basic tools are already available. It's not about Colin McCrae or Gran Turismo and games consoles, but simulations such as iRacing, which is used by real top-line drivers of other series (such as Dale Earnhardt Jnr), and several recent F1 drivers (Justin Wilson for example).

Granted, there is no modern F1 car in iRacing yet (rumours are that one is coming in the first half of this year, probably from one of the new teams - USF1 is frequently suggested), but all the tools are available in order to teach the users the basics - real tracks, laser-scanned layouts and real cars with physics from the manufacturers.

It's not as indepth as the simulators in the factories of course, but the focus is on getting as close to reality as is realistically possible. It's the perfect tool for those attempting to launch or improve on their motorsport career.

All you need is a half-decent gaming PC and a decent steering wheel and pedals, such as a Logitech G25 (though there are cheaper alternatives).

Games consoles and the 'simulations' that are commonly associated with them are nothing of the sort. They're merely fun toys that look like they're replicating the real thing. True simulators, such as iRacing, do it properly.


Brilliant post James, and very thought-provoking. In a way it makes one realise that F1 probably won't go on indefinitely... I could easily see that by, say, 2040 races, with their attendant dangers and costs, not to mention headaches for the organisers, will simply cease to be, and the venues developed as 'Heritage and Recreation Parks'...

Instead the Formula One racing series will be a solely virtual one, with the stars being the ones who compete in preliminary heats like X-Factor to be whittled down from 20,000 to a final 50 or so, all of whom compete within simulators which are all overlapped to create a complete grid of racers, and the 'race' will be broadcast to our 3D media stations...

People have long opined that the internet would spell the death of books, and video-conferencing would be the demise of meetings and business travel; both of which had thankfully turned out to be rubbish. But with the green and health & safety movements becoming ever-increasingly powerful, plus the eventual issue of Peak Oil, it's very difficult to see how real races will exist in several generations, when identical spectacles can be offered electronically, and when the general public will be able to log on and participate alongside the main event...


Hi James, I'm an engineer at a company that produces flight simulators to train airline pilots. I'm also a massive F1 fan and a lover of racing games going back to the original Grand Prix by Geoff Crammond. Modern gaming and professional simulation technologies are very impressive and are certainly slowly merging as costs reduce with stability and volume markets. However, I hope your fears about whether people shall tune in to watch a live F1 race in the future are a little far fetched. As realistic as simulation technology is and shall become, it is still not real. The element of danger is non existent in gaming. It doesn't matter if you crash, you just start again. You cannot replicate the exact g-forces, weather conditions, track surface variations etc for a virtual racer to have the same credibility as a real one. F1 isn't just about a bunch of cars whizzing around in circles to see who comes first. It is the whole package - the atmosphere, the politics, the personalities, the team work, the engineering and the pressure to perform and succeed. I play racing games to scratch the itch of not being fortunate enough to compete for real. I watch a race because I want to see the chosen elite drivers duke it out on a real slice of tarmac, in a highly advanced car with a lot a stake personally, professionally and financially. Logging in to virtually race against a bunch of unknowns who I'll never see again does not have the same appeal. F1 is the ultimate racing series and is also a big entertainment franchise. Gaming will continue to develop and no doubt add to the entertainment potential of the sport. Engineering simulation is about achieving peak performance at relatively low cost - no hiring of circuits, burning fuel, wearing out tyres etc just a bit of electricity back at base. It is a tool to perfect the preparation of both car and driver. It does not replace the thrill of physical competition. Furthermore, the outcry at the various scandals demonstrates the public's interest in the racing being real and fair. For these reasons, and many more, I hope that actual racing continues to thrive as it evolves to meet the changing environmental and social challenges.


Racing will never go away, juts like sex will never be replaced by virtual/internet porn.


I don't think that anyone is suggesting that one form of consumption should be at the expense of another. They will compliment each other and provide choice for a very wide demographic.


Some interesting ideas here James, especially on the simulation front, where the significance of simulation almost can't be overstated.

I develop games and have done pre-production on several F1 titles -- if anyone from a team is reading this and wants a game developed for their marketing efforts, James has my contact details -- so my thoughts on how the interactive side of F1 might develop diverge a little from yours.

I love your "live game feed" idea. It's very difficult to turn data such as telemetry into AI so while a full race based on telemetry data would be challenging, it would be reasonably simple to make a game that simulates qualifying with very high fidelity. The difference is that the cars are (supposed to be) separated on the track and there is limited scope for responding to someone else' laptime.

The virtual race itself could certainly take into account the live weather, the starting fuel, tire pressures, etc. Perhaps even some of the first-lap incidents... but it would diverge from reality very quickly. Blocking and a lot of the tactical to-and-fro could probably be simulated well enough to fool most people but the larger strategic calls are likely to be completely wrong.

The other big issue is that there are 26 cars on the grid of an F1 race but there are millions of players that want to be there. A single-player game is easy but driving simulated races against simulated drivers tires quickly; it's much more interesting to be racing against real people. Unfortunately, as soon as you think in that direction, the exclusivity of F1 -- that these are quite possibly the 26 best drivers in the world -- starts to kick in.

So all up, I think that we will be watching F1 and then firing up the game/simulation after the race has finished (or become a forgone conclusion) to fuel fantasies of fastest laps and great victories for a while yet.

The idea of simulations being incredibly significant to future racecraft deserves more coverage but this response is already getting a little long, so I'll leave it there.



I thought it was interesting in the one of the later races where Eddie Jordan was ranting against the use of computer simulations. I understand that he was getting at the "magic" of someone who has a gut feel and knows what will work when, but its foolish to think now days that simulations will not play a huge part in the sport moving forward.


With gaming drivers would be able to learn the track before the race. When they get better they would draw more fans in. Some people would just like to play the games but other would do both.


Thanks James another great article. Now i am begining to think i was born too soon; could've been a racing driver.


Here's an idea. It's great for the sport that Shumi is back. How great would it be in the future to have a series of celebrity/past F1 champions being the official virtual drivers in a GP?
Moss, Prost, Alonso and Hamilton at Monaco?


I wouldn't mind a go on the Mclaren simulator. I'd be interesting to see first hand how good it is.


In the near future it's conceivable that the data from the fans racing games could be analysed by teams who could then offer test sessions in their state of the art simulators.


Alonso started his career from three years old, I do not think such a talent would be discovered by games, or compared with a 4 million pounds lucky boy.


That makes Alonso the equivalent of a grand master. People that go on to become chess grand masters, virtuoso musicians etc, nearly always start by the age of 4, definitely by the age of 7.

Our brains learn in different ways at different ages. Up to 7, what you learn is what you are (subconcious), Up to 15/17 what you learn in part of what you are (semi-subconcious). After, that what you learn is in your concious mind, you are always overriding your built in instincts.

Which is why I'll never be a virtuoso musician - I didn't start playing until 14. Music is something that is part of me (semi-concious) but which is not completely deep rooted (subconcious) in me. I can compose tunes which other people really like and even though I can play them well I'll never be able to play them as well as those that had talent and started playing prior to age 7.

For Alonso, all the things he learned about driving before 7, they are part of him. He doesn't need to think about those actions, he just does them, no concious overriding required.

Anyone that starts driving at 8 or over will never be as good as Alonso.

There are some interesting books on learning topics such as this. Makes it much easier to see and understand why you are good are some things and not at others (quite apart from any natural affinity you may have with a topic). If you are interested, search out Daniel Goleman.


Scientists can explain anything once you give them enough data to work with and manipulate and excuses to put forward for the people/variables who are the exceptions to the rule, to fit with their 'system' of understanding. Scientists also love to impose order on the world and make things 'fit' together, but it doesnt work that way...no matter how much they would like to believe it does.


Very interesting. However, how would you explain successful drivers like Graham Hill who started quite late. Even a driver like Jacques Villeneuve never raced karts at all and got into a race car at racing school for the first time at 15. He didn't even know how to shift gears!


In any system there are always outliers (data points that don't fit the natural (Poisson) distribution of ability (for whatever subject).

Such people just have an innate ability that far exceeds the norm.

Most people, including grandmasters, have to learn. The earlier you learn, and the more you get into your subconcious, the better you stack the odds.


Was it you who recommended the book Inbound Marketing a while back?


I live in us and the story about Colin McRae seems to be a joke.... but it's not.... quite sad.

Formula 1 and WRC need to be promoted differently here... In my opinion NASCAR doesn't have "the spice" but the industry keeps Formula 1 and WRC under "the shadow".... The only driver known by the young generations is Ken Block with his Subaru Impreza WRX STI, but he's part of the DC shoes promotional campaign...

With no F1 races scheduled in US, the only hope comes from the new team from Charlotte, North Carolina.


Who is Travis Pastrana again?


this is exactly my point.... thanks


It's always interesting to read your articles James. I love all motorsport, especially F1. I also love gaming. I'm fortunate to be a bit good at the old driving sims, sitting in the top 1% in most. I'd love to know how quick in am in one of those things against the main boys. Have teams never tapped into this army of knowledge? I know games are different. But that don't mean I couldn't drive a car. I recently done a track day at brands. Before I'd left the garager I already knew what gear to be in for what corner.


Do they still sit you all down after your first ever lap in a single seater and ask you to fill in the test paper? What was the oil pressure range and the temperature?


Knowing what gear to select for a corner means nothing, I'm afraid. I know how to calculate 2 + 2 but that doesn't make me Einstein! And that's about how much knowing what gear to select for a particular corner is worth.

Wurz is right. Computer games can be somewhat helpful but lack so much of what happens at speed in a real race car that it really is not a good predictor of competence in the real world.

I spent some 20 years on track and now that I'm in my 50s I'm crazy about racing games but, trust me, it ain't nothing like the real thing.

Taking Eau Rouge in the rain at well over 100 MPH in real life has nothing to do with playing a game in your living room. Something about the size of your attachments...


A lot of good points in this post James and I can see a large proportion of F1's fanbase shifting from passive consumers to active protagonists via gaming and other forms of interactive media. Much has been written about the Japanese exodus from F1, but they will return to play a big part in powering new forms of consumption in the future.

" if you have £4 million and a son with some talent, you have a one in three chance of getting him into F1"

Wow! For some the sony GT academy represents their best route to a career in motorsport and last years winner Lucas Ordonez went on to be very successful in the FIA GT4 championship. Gran turismo's simulation seems to do a pretty good job at identifying potential talent.


Great blog Mr Allen, on board cams via the red button, live timing and game sims have greatly added to my viewing pleasure recently but F1 seems slow to catch on. For years the on board shots from the IRL/ALMS were far superior and more frequent than in F1, as were the on screen data sources. Gaming is not F1's strong point, where are the new titles? A few years ago a few publishers made games, now there are none. Where is the HD feed? Your vision of a digital future sounds great, maybe they should put you in charge. Oh and the best game ever, Grand Prix Legends, the cars and tracks are absolute monsters, that Jim Clark was a bit good wasn't he


James - what a wonderful gift you have provided to all those in F1. Look at all the ideas! Shush... don't tell Berni or he'll find a way to tax it.

Really enjoyed this special series. Very thought provoking and fun to get tangled up. And that is the whole point - what TV watchers can now do to get tangled up in the whole thing.

The F1 spectacle only makes it possible for a very few to actually attend a race, unless you have unlimited resources. Then there's the rest of us. Big fans watching it on TV.

I so much enjoy your commentary each Sunday morning during the season.

My New Year's resolution is to be a regular reader of your blog.

Happy New Year!


rFactor is a quite realistic simulator for those that haven't played it but are interested in such things. Once you have the base game, you can download hundreds of different cars and tracks for free, and can run any car on any track you wish.

My current addiction is running a 2009-spec F1 car on the old Nurburgring Nordschliefe 22km loop. It's an absolute blast and realistic enough that you will at times find yourself white-knuckling the steering wheel and holding your breath when you make a mistake.

Having spent many hours intimately learning the ins-and-outs of tracks (especially current F1 tracks) on rFactor, I can certainly see why racing drivers are using sims to hone their skills. I can't even imagine the simulators that actual F1 teams use. Those must be insane!


I think simulators are only good if you already have the skills and talent from driving real karts and cars in a racing environment already. There is nothing like the real thing. Having played racing games all my life from Atari's Pole Position to iRacing.com, real is real, and pixels are pixels. Give me the talent from reality over pixel talent any day of the week, I don't care how fast they are on a sim.


I think the key word in your post is 'casual'. As JA pointed out these type of gamers are getting smaller and smaller in number. In 20-30 years time I doubt there will be such thing as a 'casual' gamer.

Completing a game on 'easy' cheapens the feel don't you think? If F1 drivers are the greatest why would you wan to race a against a tame version?


On the idea of making the race more exciting for viewers at home by way of virtual simulation it's interesting that they have already tried to increase entertainment for fans at the GP by way of music concerts. These concerts have attracted big names like Beyonce, I have no doubt in my mind that these artists agreed to this due to the younger driver age. I would never expect to see Beyonce perform in 2004 watching Schumacher dominate again.

Also of note is Ferrari World. A weekend GP will turn into a week holiday with such amusements and entertainment attached.

So (hopefully) not only the at-home-viewer will be catered for but the race goer too!

P.S. James, lots of rumours around about you commentating on BBC next year, would you kindly confirm or deny this? Please say it's so though!!


Happy new year to you all!

I firmly believe that the software for racing simulations is only now starting to show its true potential. With affordable core and gfx processors capable of millions of real time calculations per second, this has gifted software writers the opportunity to make significant steps forward in producing more lifelike games.

Of course, it’s not going to stop here. Personally I want the opportunity to race against Hamilton etc from the comfort of my own home. Perhaps directly after the race has finished for a nominal fee, I download the race details to my pc/games console, plug in and race against the drivers. You could just as easily race real time, for a few penny’s more...talk about bringing F1 to the fans...but right now we can’t even get F1 in HD!

Online gaming has always been a great deal of fun, Quake, CS etc... have all been enjoyed by millions of people, I doubt there’s many people reading this site that hasn’t got at least one racing sim for pc or console in their collection, all F1 needs to do is open up a little give the fans more online access, and I’m sure a significant business plan can be constructed to accommodate.... just look at World of Warcraft!

Does the present budget cap plans include money spent on simulators? I wouldn’t be surprised if the FIA were already looking into how they can limit this in the future as well.

I believe the best drivers will always come from driving for real, the fear and the feel of driving a car at very high speed through the corners sorts the best from the rest, but undoubtedly honing your skills for hours in racing simulators is already upon us, and surely this makes for better drivers and maybe less mistakes (but that’s another discussion)

Can't imagine the next Jim Clark being discovered behind a PS3 somehow...


James, wonderful series very thought provoking.

Having forged out a living in the IT industry for 24 years and raced 250cc International Superkarts for the last 12. I can see the potential of this area blooming, and often played the simulators just to see how they compare to real life. They are good, very good, particularly with setup, but struggle with the feel. It's hard to imagine what it is like driving under 3G loadings. Reacting and planing a race under these conditions is where the great drivers can gain the edge. So at the current point I tend to think that the simulators are more weighted towards setup and helping the driver understand the changes than improving the driver's skills.

In years gone by other than raw speed and bravery, good drivers were identified as the ones that could translate car changes to the engineers effectively. With simulators the need to do this is somewhat reduced and certainly changed. Help drivers improve thier feedback by comparison, help engineers verify before committing to that high cost and long delay change - great lets have more.


I really can't see the idea of taking part in a GP on your playstation as the race is happening really taking off. I love to give a race my undivided attention, sometimes with the laptop at my side checking live timing.

Sunday afternoons are for races, you have the rest of the week for gaming.


Nice Article James. 🙂

I completely agree with others that have commented. iRacing has the best thing going right now in terms of realism. The turns like the corkscrew like someone mention at Laguna Seca is actually pretty scary even in the simulation. The elevation changes is where the laser scanning of the tracks really makes a difference. The downhill drop at Road Atlanta where you can't see anything but sky on the entry. At least from an immersion stand point is fantastic. Rears get let over the hill then you plummet down into the final turn. 🙂

I personally think after reading your article that in time I think Simulated racing will become a legitimate feeder series to real racing. I don't think Formula One mind you, but I don't think the technology is that far away, maybe 15-20 years at most. Then it will just be a matter of a team stepping it up and putting some young kid in a car. To some extent this is already happening, but not so often. 🙂



With all the talk of cutting costs of F1, maybe the future will see no physical cars being built and the drivers just sitting in their simulators connected together having a virtual race!


It just sounds like a new arms race to me. If traditional testing was considered expensive then what kind of cost blow outs can we expect with this? Sure, the technology will become more affordable but don't these things become obsolete within a couple of years anyway? To stay cutting edge will always be an expensive exercise. That said, the gaming element does sound exciting.

Great series James - especially in the absence of testing.


My initial thought on the subject of F1 teams with simulators is that this will be another positive for JB moving to Mclaren. I think that most of his issues were based on setup in the last half of the year. If they are that useful why doesn't everyone have them?

I think that the wider question of making the sport more accesible through new media such as games is clearly something most of us have overlooked. I think that that Brawn GP did this well with their Iphone game. I personally prefer to play racing simulators like "Live For Speed" rather than arcade type games. The problem with many games with good physics is that the tracks aren't real. If you could combine the two that would be great.


one thing I have always wanted to know, and it's a question I have asked for about 20 odd years....if an average person, lets say ME for example, with no training, no tests, just with years of watching F1 so have a rough idea what to expect, was strapped into an F1 car and let loose....... how far down the road would I get? I would take it extremely seriously, how far around a track would I get, how long before I was just too tired to go any further?

To answer this question, will Ferrari, or McLaren ever let 'fans' have a shot of a simulator to experience the experience of the forces of an F1 car?


Judging by the piece Richard Hammond did on Top Gear a few years ago, someone with out experience wouldn't even get it out of the pit lane.


James, maybe I could ask you this now? have you ever driven an F1 car, or been onboard a 2 seater?

I would do anything (and I mean anything) to experience this! just ask my wife and family!

I have sat in Michael Schumacher F200 car (it's a long story) and even from that I could tell it's physical, it was so hard and the thought of being in a crash terrified me!


Hi James

I have been lucky enough to spend quite a large amount of time competing within the simulation racing community. Racing them online, and in reality too. I can assure the level simulation racing is at at the moment is extremely high. Sims like Live For Speed, NetKar Pro (I have my suspicions the developers for that worked on Ferrari's new sim), and iRacing hold testament to that.

(btw This idea of racing a sim against a real race type GPS thign is is a red-herring. It won't work! However the real sim community does already exist and several projects already exist to try and find a driver from simming)

However James the idea of the pool of talent increasing is pie in the sky... well for the next few decades anyway.

Most sim racers are teens through to adults. They crucially don't get the opportunity to race karts from age 5-8. Now if you listen to my interview with ex-Tolemean boss Alex Hawkridge on my website you will discover why he, and many others believe it is so important to get the early driving in. All to do with spinal development. And let's face it. Racing karts young isn't cheap.

Also, sim racing is a world away from reality. The racing itself is very different. Believe it or not people are more risk averse racing online they I have discovered in reality. And when you race top flight sim racers for real... it's much of the same.

Another thing I discovered is that if someone is able to race sims on a computer, and are not racing in reality, at least in karts, they haven't got what it takes. Why spend so much money and time racing sims, when you could do it for real?

You still crucially need that real life experience, and that drive to race for real. And for that reason the pool of talent won't expand. If your a sim racer, and aren't racing for real as well, no matter what level, you haven't got what it takes and aren't part of the 'pool of talent'.

To prove that point I worked with a young driver who literally put his life on the line to pay for his kart racing, and did some quite extraordinary things to gain awareness (like running the london marathon in race-suit and boots as seen here http://www.willdendy.com/images/stories/untitled.bmp). That's drive and ambition to race for real. he also happens to be a very good sim racer.

And one more thing, if you want the best sim gear available to the open market your looking at spending more than you ever would in the real world 🙂 I did an article on this a few years back before I developed a differing opinion to one shown in the article but it gives an insight into the world of simming and how it could be a new grassroots motorsport http://www.karting1.co.uk/sim-vs-real-life.htm


Yes Mr. Allen. Please do look into the iracing.com simulator. If you decide to try it out, the members are always on the look out for new comers to help get them started.


Bravo James, Made all us F1 fans to think what F1 can and will be like in the Future. Most of all i would like to use the 'red button' to pick what camera angles I would like to use during a race plus a lot more back stage footage. All the best for the New Year and look forward to another interesting year in the Crazy world of Formula 1...Happy New Year people


Also have a look at Netkar Pro. This is software with a direct link to motorsport, as the 'game' developer, Kunos Simulazioni, work for one of the major teams.


I've skipped karting by learning through gaming/simulators, and I'm doing just fine where I'm currently competing. Sure it's not Formula1, but gaming actually teaches you a lot more than which way the tracks go. Mental fitness, pushing the limits on a regular basis, attacking and defending against other drivers, applying pressure and driving under it....it's worth plenty. There are plenty of real-world racers who drive online, and you can compete against them.

James, iRacing is currently and probably the most realistic simulator/game publically available, but it costs a lot more than others. I gain what I need from sims like rFactor and Live for Speed. Realism only adds to the fun, and a bit more to car setup of course. Most would be surprised how much is to gain from these things.


The sad thing with this is that publishers take advantage of big name drivers, release a game that is officially licenced by a driver (E.G. Michael Schumacher's Worldtour Kart, which is quite Unrealistic and only really appeals for a German audience.) but is more arcade than simulation. I have always considered that no one game can test all the attributes that a driver would need in a Grand Prix season (E.G. Reactions, car setup, Rules, Stamina, PR, etc...) and some of these things cannot be tested in a game at all. I think a game that best balances some of these things (In particular reactions and Logic) is a game called Trackmania, made by Nadeo. It is basically a stunt driving game, which has a huge online following. In an online game of Trackmania, the issue of running into another player is avoided, so in a typical race all the cars (Which are homologated so they handle the same way) are capable of driving through one another, and the end result is that the player focuses more on the lap/course times rather than racing. (Consequently, Replays can be saved so a player may challenge another player's time outside of an online match, or perhaps more intrigingly, re-do their own laps to see if they could have done better...) I'm not saying all racing games should be like that, (And definately not F1, because some of the loops and jumps would be extremely dangerous and Impractical.) It was just a thought that occured to me.


James, a great set of articles over the Holidays, excellent, thought provoking stuff. It will be interesting in 2010 to see the progress of Virgin Racing Cars that will be designed and developed used just CFD. It seems that Nick Worth is getting a jump on the rest of the grid with this. Do you know how many other teams are using CFD and in what capacity?


Simulation definitely is the way of the future...no doubt in about 20-30 years todays simulators will be available to the average joe. While it may broaden the talent pool from which F1 may draw it will alway be the case that only the best prepared and most talented will ever experience F1 power for real.

Thanks a million James for all the insight during the year and the fascinating and thought provoking posts this past week.

all the best to you and yours for 2010.



Bobo The Sperm Whale

"only the best prepared and most talented will ever experience F1 power for real."

Or the rich, the Caparo T1 is supposed to be a street legal F1 car - a mere pinch at £280,000.


I read somewhere that the McLaren simulator can recreate g-forces. Any idea how that's done? Do they strap weights to the driver's helmet?


Hi James,

As someone who has to keep abreast of new technologies in road vehicles I found your articles fascinating and informative. I was recently asked to review a document on how road cars will be constructed (including the different types of metals used) and the software that will bein use by 2016. Your articles and the comments and the contributors to this subject has provided a completely different light on the whole subject. I suspect that there will be more crossover of technolgies in future.

Many thanks and Happy New Year to one and all!


Sorry but no home game, console or pc or online sim can be realistic until you have the proper platform to sit on which creates the correct vibration and bump effects (recorded from the track) Only then can you start to feel the car. Only then can you feel what the wheels are doing and when they loose static contact with the track. (definition of skidding/drifting) And of course the vibro channel has to be supported with car data, not just engine noise.

I gave up racing games at home when my daughter regularly left me in the dust in Colin McRae, seemingly with little or no effort.

I have ridden as ballast in a group A Touring car at race speed, driven most UK circuits on track/school days at race speed in BMWs Saabs and Alfas and spent a few years and lots of money at Brands Hatch race school, so know the Indy circuit very well. But I found that driving the same circuit in the same way in sims was impossible because the cars just did not react in quickly enough or in a realistic way. So much of driving is reaction by feel, to the effect of your last input, most of the feeling comes from physical sensation of G forces in 3 planes and of micro vibrations from the track surface.

Also the changing sound as your surroundings flash past along the track, as the reverberation time changes. Of course nowadays the visual part is correct and very important too (I can still hear Ian Taylor saying "Look up and ahead at where you want to go") and games can get this about right now, but it's a long way from reality without the vibration and G force to go with it.

The McLaren and Ferrari sims must be very realistic with the actual track bump data fed as live, but they must not be able to create the G forces on a 3 (or 5) axis platform. (Having only 1G to play with, when braking can be a 5G experience) But then the primary purpose is to test parts and teach the driver how to work with the car, and not to be a game.



You based your opinion on 1 game, therefore all simulation software is no good. interesting...

I can assure you the best of the best in sim's like iRacing, Rfactor, LFS, and Netkar pro have to be well reversed in car dynamic's from weight transfer to slip angle. Threshold braking, trail braking. Yes you don't get G-Forces, but in the case of iracing you do have all the bumps that are actually on the real track. You rely more on visual Field of view and engine and tire noise in the sim, but the way you drive the cars is much more realistic then you think. You have to drive a little more predicatively in a simulation, in many ways it is actually harder than driving a real car. (on the actual handling of the car) because you get much much less overall car feedback because of the lack of g-forces.


No not from one game.

How do you feel the bumps?

I did not say the games were no good, just that they cannot be realistic.

Nowadays I run a laptop most of the time for online trading, so it is not really suitable for racing games. (The pc is in the shed in the cold) Also I run on Ubuntu not windows, I have to admit I have not really looked for Linux racing games, though some things will run under Wine or ScumVM or PlayonLinux. (though the Linux Quake version runs like lightning even on my old laptop).

But quite frankly does an hour gaming leave you with a buzz that lasts two days?


It all depends on your racing equipment. You can spend $100 on a force feedback wheel or you can spend $2000, Then another $2000 on pedals if you want. Or a full blown motion sim for around $40,000. Trust me in iRacing if you use any significant amount of force feedback you notice the bumps. The car reacts to those bumps very realistically. I know it's difficult to get over the fact you have less car feedback. I wouldn't say many pc titles can even come close to what iRacing is doing in terms of car physics. Unlike most pc based games iRacing is updating there software regularly usually at least every 3 months with improvements. As for the buzz I wouldn't say it lasts two days, but when I do race door to door with the best sim-racing has to ofter I do have a grin from ear to ear. 🙂 In general though force feedback has come a long way in the last 10 years. Still not great but its still helpful, and iracing has the best force feedback hands down.

It's already been done where a sim-racer from iRacing was put into a real car at Laguna, where he used the exact same lines he does in the sim. For the small amount of seat time he got he did very well in terms of overall pace. That is a driver without any real racing experience.

They're have been quite a few attempts at this most showed the drivers tend to overdrive the car at first, with little fear. I suspose it could go eitherway though.

Anyhow I understand your point of view. I started driving at the age of 5, Never had the money for real racing. Looked at pc games from the early 90's onward, and I have always looked for the most realistic experience I can find. I'm not saying its perfect, but heck its pretty good. 🙂


No I never had the money either.

Those with money do better than those just with talent, even in single make club racing. Those that can afford new tyres and new shocks/brakes each race have an advantage. Racing has long been more about money than anything else. Although Steve Sydenham started "Racing for Britain", a club/charity to help young drivers, I still have an RfB hat and badge but the organisation is long since gone. (I think Steve went to Oz)

From what you say it seems that sims are about money too.

But frankly someone who can afford the sort kit you mentioned, would be better off spending it at a race school. I knew I could never afford to race, Brands was a luxury treat once a month. I never graduated, got to 5 secs of it but hit a wall there. The threat of instantly going home if you have an off was a dampener which always kept caution in mind, I couldn't afford to waste my £20.


If you have any interest in car racng try out iracing . I just read a guy who has tried the top F1 motion sim which costs £10000 an hour to run. He said that the iracng software was as impressve but without the motion sim. Iracing actually lazer scan the tracks using state of the art surveyng equipment so tracks are inch perfect. I raced motorbikes years ago and enjoy learning tracks and find the dynamcs and following the fastest line very accurate. Although USA based the Skip Barber open wheeler is a bit like a formula ford. The beginer pontiac solstice is like a mazda mx5 and is great fun to drive and race. Although they don't have a modern f1 car (but a 79 lotus) they have a dalara indy car which is fantastic. Oh and brands hatch has just been released. I,ve raced against loads of real life kart guys and real life racers. I beat dale earnhardt jr in the solstice - plus there are i think now 15000 users of all abilities. There is a grading system so you race guys of similar abilities. Also the bane of consoles - races don't end up in a wreck fest as you have a licence structure and safety rating and iracing run a strict code of conduct structuring things like real racing. Give it a go - a good starter wheel is the logitech g25 i bought mine for £119 and iracing are offering a try it out deal of $14 for 3 months. Give it a go and be patient to start with

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