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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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



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.


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.


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!


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?


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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. 🙂



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.


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.


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…


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!!


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?


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.

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