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VIDEO: What a driver brings to car development
VIDEO: What a driver brings to car development
Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Mar 2010   |  2:05 pm GMT  |  218 comments

Here on JA on F1, we are always trying to bring content that you the readers have asked for, to answer your questions and help bring you closer to the sport.

One question which we get regularly at this time of year, when the new cars come out for the start of the season, is “How much does the driver bring to the car, in terms of lap time, from his development ability?”

Ever since Fernando Alonso famously claimed to bring 7/10ths of a second to a car in the development stage, there has been a desire to understand what the driver actually does to improve the car in its early days of testing.

So I went behind the scenes at McLaren to make a video on this subject and you may find the answer surprising.

Let me know your feedback.

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Great to hear James, you’ll add a lot to the Aussie coverage!


is is possible that Mclaren, as Alonso’s former team, are playing down how much a driver contributes to a car?


When you consider what they did to do the MP4/24 in the second part of the season, I think they know what they are talking about, mate


Hi James,

I wonder why you have forgot to include in your article the famous quote from Hamilton “I was responsible for one of the upgrades that brought us three points of downforce”…really strange. At least, Alonso and Hamilton would have divided up the jokes of some posters.

What a driver brings to car development??? I don’t know others, but let me quote Myke Gascoyne on Alonso:

“Alonso’s ability to guide a team’s development comes from his capacity to minimise human error when working with the engineers. A ‘yes’ when he tests a new part is always a reliable ‘yes’ – and that helps focus a teams development on the areas that bring real benefits, rather than dispersing their energy. Equally; his approval is decisive; it doesn’t need further evaluation testing or back-to-back running to make sure.”

So, at some point during a I do buy the Alonso’s 6 tenths thing.

Good work with the blog.


Just imagine if the Lotus gets to within one second of the established teams over the course of the season! First interview of 2011 with Jarno Trulli: “… for sure, the three seconds that I brought to Lotus makes me very ‘appy …”


I’ve always wondered how they paint the cars. Any chance of a vid about this? It must be very precise, right, because paint weight must be crucial. Are the cars hand sprayed or by computer controlled machines? Are multi-coloured non-linear colour schemes (eg last years Toyota) stickered or does someone paint the shapes?


Hi James,

I really like your site, best in the F1 business! Nice to see you’re getting into videos now as well, cool stuff.

And, talking about video’s… I found the video below somewhere and I figured you might enjoy it. I think it illustrates the competition in the pit-lane between Ferrari and McLaren very well and in a funny way at the same time. Can understand the Ferrari engineers being annoyed since McLaren is trying to copy their ideas, but I can also appreciate the McLaren engineers trying to have a peek. Fun fun fun. Hope you enjoy it!



Question to James Allen:

Any idea if the audio issues would be sorted for the BBC red button.

Basically on the main channel I can hear the engines very well but when you flick over to the red button the engine noise dies down. A shame really.


Seemed good to see you infront of a camera again James.

I hope it wont be too long until I hear you commentate again!

Bit un-related but you put up with a lot of stick over the years of being a commentator at ITV, and I never understood it. You were very very insightful and you had a brillaint knowledge base.

You might not reply, but I just thought you would’ve wanted to know that I appreciated what you did over the years on ITV and throughly enjoyed it and miss your skill! But was good to see you putting it to use again.

Take care!



James is a very good commentator for Formula1.


Thanks for that


just as a brief after word, James.

I hope you will keep this as the best written text-based blog on F1 with only the occasional interesting video!


Another very good article in a series you have done in the closed season, thank you.



Bit off topic but I was wondering if BMW have any connection what so ever with the Sauber team now? If not then why has Peter Sauber chosen to maintain the name? it surely would not have taken long to get the name replaced. Look how quick the Hispania Racing name was created.




They are taking a marketing benefit from partially underwriting the team as Honda did with Brawn last year


Great blog as ever James and interesting to hear from the guys that design the car!

Off topic slightly – what happened to the mobile theme for the site? I used to be able to view a much simplified version but now I get the whole site which takes much longer to load and has to be zoomed in to make it readable? Any chance of the mobile option back for us mobile readers please?


wait a minute.

(A) “a driver brings 6/10tenths to the (raceday) car”


(B) “a driver brings 6/10tenths to a car during the development stage”

firstly, i believe (A) is definitely true. i believe put Alonso and Piquet Jr in the same car and Alonso will bring an extra 6/10tenths to it. no argument because that what happened.

secondly, i passionately, vigorously don’t believe thats ONLY 6/10tenths. it is a BIG, BIG error to try to quantify this in the first place, theres something fundamentally wrong with this notion. throughout the development phase (months), i believe the drivers eventually bring SECONDS and SECONDS to the overall speed of the car. it is a constant development, assessment, re-assessment, changing what works what doesn’t. during testing i don’t believe any driver is pushing with the same fire as he would do during qualifying or race, in the end the lap-time will only be an indicative of the car’s performance based on the current set-up, the 6/10tenths will come later during maximum driver effort, driver skill.

in my opinion you just need a test-driver who is fast and CONSISTENT, and can explain what happens to the car each inch of the track and the engineers will analyse this information and try to find a way to improve the car’s performance.

i believed Rubens was a better test-driver than Michael, but Michael was definitely the faster driver (more poles, more wins, more championships) than Rubens, so my question, who brought the 6/10tenths of extra speed to Ferrari during the 2001-2005 years? Rubens or Michael?


“i believed Rubens was a better test-driver than Michael, but Michael was definitely the faster driver” – whats ur basis?


the basis was from many comments from here. to quote a few …

“Rubens set up and just tweeked it slightly, in terms of set up and development work that was more Rubeino area rather than Jenson.”

“He used Rubens’ set up throughout the season.”

“That’s what I’ve heard too… Rubens is probably the best in F1 at describing what the car is doing and then working to make it better.”

“although I think those that are heralded as good dev drivers (like Rubens) will always help with the overall understanding of the setup that will most optimise the baseline setup.”

“I too think that Rubens did the quality input rather than Button and that Hamilton is not particularly strong and is often asking more about what he should expect than he inputs in what he thinks he needs”


As for Michael, I read in one of his biographies that though he was also very good in describing his feelings about the car to the engineers, his methodology was that he’d rather have the car designed to suit his driving style, rather than work a problem up. He was good at adapting to the present car also, but he preferred to have a car which suited his own style, rather than extensive development on an under-performing car which didn’t suit his style.

best example, Eric Barnard’s designed Ferraris in the 96/97 seasons, whom openly disagreed with Schumacher’s development approach. Barnard worked with someone like Prost, who he said was the best driver at describing the technical side of the car. However Schumacher he said, had a totally different driving style, and preferred lots of oversteer, rather than understeer (Schumacher was the kind of driver who would make hundreds of minute steering corrections throughout the lap, whereas other drivers were more smooth with the steering). Instead of trying to improve upon Barnard’s current design Schumacher continually wanted something which meant that the car had to be redesigned from scratch, from the ground up and totally different from what Barnard thought was the best way to design. Consequently Barnard left, and Ross Brawn and Rory Bryne came in from Benetton.

Likewise the McLarens of the late 80s and early 90s were designed around Senna. They said McLaren had so much difficulty redesigning it after Senna left that it took them another 5 years before it was able to challenge the Williams and Ferrai and Hakkinen was to win the championship with it.

Therefore to think about as to a driver’s contribution to car development, I think Rubens was perhaps a better test driver, whereas Michael simply morphed the car to suit his driving style. I also think this is what is happening at Mercedes now, As Ralf Schumacher said that Michael doesn’t like a car with understeer, and Nico at the present is more comfortable with the car, therefore I can imagine why Ross Brawn says that they still have a lot of development work to do, even though on low-fuel it seems Rosberg can provide a lap-time which is just as fast as the other three top cars.



Very ‘tasty’ question at the end. I believe it was schumi because the engineers would eventually listen to him more than rubens.

I think James was looking at the ‘development stage’

But what the engineers said was that a driver matters when they get to drive the actual car.


Great work James. Would love to see more videos like it.


The video content is great James, what a treat to have a looksee inside the McLaren factory and to see and hear from guys you NEVER otherwise get a chance to meet. Truly the unsung heroes. I think it is quite understandable that the engineers should wish to correctly emphasisze the importance of their efforts at producing the lap times. They are the ones putting in the long, long hours. I remember hearing a quote once that F1 is about 200 (pick a number) guys working their privates off to allow one guy to get off. Sadly – so true! And that one guy gets a kings ransom in the process – and the girl.

Such videos are a great addition to the site. Thank you, it just keeps getting better.


James great video, explained to me what I expected the driver has input so he is comfortable an familiar in the car.

Engineers comply with this because it helps them go faster, and if comfortable they give better feedback the engineers can interpret. I’m a project manager interpreting the driver speak to engineer speak is my job(in a different but still complex industry) and this makes sense to me.

The closer an engineer can speak to a drivers language, or vice versa, the easier the job of interpretation and development. Possibly support for Alonso’s claims due to him being able to talk to the engineers.

BTW just heard we in Australia are going to be seeing and hearing from you on our television coverage down here. Congratulations!


So he does bring times down right?

Doesn’t matter by how much but he does right?


That is correct. I am presenting the packages from the track on Network Ten this season from most of the races


wow thats would be so awesome!!! looking forward to it


Grr James we want you on the BBC!


Awesome! Looking forward to it!!


Keep the video content coming, it’s great to get the angles and the insights. On this one however, to me the value was the location, rather than the content. I thought the various speakers said absolutely nothing of value about driver input. It was mostly generalized waffle stating the obvious. The only insight was the implication that the drivers have nothing to do with it until the last minute.


Hi James

Just wanted to say great job with the video. Would love to see more insights on the blog.

Look forward to another big year!


Interesting the different bias’s with the closer to a suit you get the more commoditised their view of the driver’s input.

To me it sounds like they are going to miss PDLR one huge amount and I think the Sauber is set to surprise big time in the young Japanese’s hands.

I too think that Rubens did the quality input rather than Button and that Hamilton is not particularly strong and is often asking more about what he should expect than he inputs in what he thinks he needs.

I think Webber’s relationship and dialogue with Newey has been a big part of the RBR move to the top.


What he seems to be saying is that the time he “brought” he expected to be his margin to Hamilton for the rest of the season.

I think that is a very naive expectation.


James, great stuff -thank you.

I really like the idea of you blog supplemented by videos – specifically dealing with things that you won’t get elsewhere – such as the more technical side which a lot of us talk about but actually know very little.


Thanks James. Yes please more videos. Behind the scenes with focus on the technical and the people we don’t normally get to see. Also interested to learn more about the technical roles of the FIA people at the races.

Doesn’t bother me if we never see a driver, Team boss etc in the videos.

Also suggest you develop your YouTube channel as you will get traffic from that source.


These videos could not appear in better time as I have just purchased myself a projector and use every excuse to keep it blasting pictures away. What used to be a tiny YT video window on my monitor is now a massive 80″ display on the wall without loosing any quality. Cannot wait for the race.

Brilliant short video, this one. And the blog is on its way to become a must read.


Loved it! I was also surprised that the drivers have no say until the car is ready to drive, I thought they had a say in the design of it as well.. Do you think this differs from team to team? Say with a new team and an experienced driver?

It’s funny how Phil Prew kind escaped your question about whether some drivers bring more.. Mark Williams explained things pretty well.. Thank you that was very insightful indeed.


Interesting, but not very clear answers from the people in the video.

Also, they are McLaren employees, so are they gonna admit now that Alonso brought some serious speed to them? I do remember that the ’06 car was a real turd! Not to downplay McLarens engineers, but they made a quick turnaround in ’07 with a two time world champ!

Somebody away up had a link to a Reuters article that quoted Alonso as saying that he remembered how the car first felt when he drove it. I don’t recall how the McLaren went during the first races of ’07, but is it really that hard to believe that Alonso helped them make the car faster by six tenths? I remember someone observing that nobody threw their car through Becketts at Silverstone like Alonso in his turd of a Renault!!

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