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Video Exclusive: Inside an F1 team’s driving simulator
Video Exclusive: Inside an F1 team’s driving simulator
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 Oct 2010   |  4:08 pm GMT  |  84 comments

This is something a little bit special, something I’ve wanted to bring you for a while. On a recent visit to Wirth Research in Bicester, technical HQ of the Virgin Racing team, I was allowed to film in the simulator, normally an area which is off limits for media and especially cameras.The graphics on screen are off limits, which is why we’ve shot this as we did. That’s where a lot of the IP is.

Wirth designs and builds the F1 cars for Virgin Racing, but the simulator is available for hire by others. Michelin use it a lot for tyre evaluation and drivers can hire it too. Fernando Alonso has done a spell on the Wirth simulator this season. In this video the operator, John Lammerton, says watching an F1 driver on the simulator you can really see where he gets his speed. And he says he can tell from the way a young driver gets up to speed on a simulator whether or not he’s going to make it.

Simulators are used to help drivers learn circuits but they are so sophisticated now that teams rely on them to help set their cars up for races and to test out whether new development parts will work. They have an astonishing degree of accuracy.

The Wirth simulator is a key component in Nick Wirth’s digital car philosophy and he says that the numbers he gets from testing a new component developed using CFD are remarkable similar to what they find at the race track. Devices like this are the reason why F1 teams can get away without in season testing.

With the next race being on a new track in Korea, teams have been using the simulators to try to evaluate what kind of set up they will require. Typically the drivers will do at least two Grand Prix distances on the simulator before going to the new circuit.

The on-board lap done by Karun Chandhok recently was useful to simulator engineers, but it revealed a very bumpy surface. Since then the final layer of tarmac has been laid, so we will see who has the most accurate simulator when the cars run in Korea for the first time next week.

I hope you enjoy the insight. Thanks to Wirth, Virgin Racing and their partner LG for this opportunity.

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To use the simulator is anywhere

from $15,000 – $27,000 per session, ( meanning 3-5 hrs max of use). The simulator cost from $750,000 – $1.3 million base upon setup and brand. There are 3-4 brands that make one for the F1 teams. There are far better ones that air defense use that cost $14.3 million + per simulator.


And the team does not even own it, that’s how expensive this motion simulator is!


If you support Formula 1 returning to the US, join “Friends of Formula 1 Austin Texas” on Facebook and

Great commentary, pictures and anything related to the new circuit in Austin Texas.


Nice work again, James. I’ve really come to value your videos and your website. Ever since I moved from the UK I’ve not had access to the quality presentation you all get on the TV back there with interviews and pre-race shows. I just get the FOM feed that starts 5 minutes before the race.

Anyway, what I wanted to ask, James, is that despite not being able to show the graphics, did you at least get a good look at it? Being a videogame developer that has worked on racing games I’m intrigued to know the level of visual fidelity in these sims. What was it like?


I’m no expert but it looked pretty good to me. It’s a wraparound screen and it seemed very much like the circuit (Hungaroring) as I know it. the key thing with these is the kerb heights and the grip and all those details which make it more realistic.


Don’t think the Toyota team were using this simulator for training!


I just came to post that link. It’s a cracker.

Just shows what you can get for your money if you stop pouring millions into a dysfunctional Cologne money-pit.


Great insight James.

Just wish the engineer would have said which drivers were quick and which ones were surprisingly slow 😉


Nice stuff james.

off topic:

You know what I think is interesting:

Alonso-vettel is 8 against 4 in the races they both actually finished. fernando finished 8 races ahead of vettel.

Alonso-webber 7 vs 6

you could say using these statistics that the Red Bull does not seem very effective in translating their speed in high place finishes.


That seems to be the case this year, doesn’t it?


Nice article, James!

Question though: does Mercedes GP have a simulator too? and if yes, does Michael Schumacher (and Nico Rosberg) use it as much to prepare? If so, how is Schumi coping with it?

Just wondering!


Mercedes GP do have a simulator, Anthony Davidson(Five Live Commentator) is their sim driver. I think I heard Anthony say once on air that Schumacher doesn’t use the simulator as it makes him feel sick.


James you should get in touch with Codemasters for a piece on their F1 game. They are all british lads. I know Anthony Davidson does simulator work for Mercerdes and was involved in the F1 2010 game.

I wonder how close to the real simulator these F1 console games are getting. Similarly with Ferrari launching their virtual academy software are we seeing a push by F1 teams to find the next generation of F1 drivers.


So James – Did they let you have a go?!


No. Not this time. Maybe another time..


I am a big fan of flight simulation and without several million to spend, I make do with Microsoft FSX rather than a commercial flight simulator. This must surely be the same in that we can all afford F1 2010 but would want one of these simulators if money were no object! Great video – thanks.

Picking up on Dan’s point, since it is programmable, then you could load in the characteristics of anything I guess. In a sort of perverse way, I enjoyed the safety car laps as Bernd Maylander was driving the doors off it and four-wheel drifting around the right-hand corner before the Spoon curve (I think…) How much fun would it be to load up that high performance Merc into the simulator and take that around Suzuka too?


Module sure feels like a space program going on. Awesome!


I remember seeing a feature last year where David Brabham was using the same simulator to test the Acura ARX02a (designed by Wirth) at Sebring. Obviously a versatile simulator, makes me wonder if they do their own GPS-based track modeling or if they buy 3d models from 3rd parties…


They will generally use laser scanning to model the tracks. It’s becoming quite a popular tool in the sim community as well now.

I recall it was McLaren who modelled Bahrain, and thought the ‘bump’ in the new section was an anomaly in the scanned data. hence why they came to the circuit with completely the wrong set up.


Great piece James, thanks.


Brilliant piece, James!


Haha, is that Andrew Netwon driving the simulator?? was wondering where he went to these days!


looks impressive, but the red bull simulator looks amazing. they have a proper red bull chasis to sit in so they try to simulate the whole experience. check it out on youtube.


Yeah this vid shows Seb in a Red Bull simulator though they seem to have turned the motion down a bit on it, probably to help him commentate.

That sim reminds me of the Jaguar simulater I went in at RAF Coltishal, managed to crash it looping under the Menai straits suspension bridge, had a coffee while it rebooted! Quite an old machine that though, the Eurofighter one at BAE Warton and the Hercules sim at RAF Lyneham were more advanced with the hyraulics and graphics. Discovered a Hercules could do a loop with that and it certainly felt quite realistic doing a ‘loop’ on that one even though the pod obviously didn’t go upside down. You did get a little g and the F1 sim shown seems to be of a similar standard.

The sim must benefit the teams as they can decide what weather they want and not need to go book a track or show their rivals what they are trying. I suppose once they have a decent sim they do save some money though maybe not a huge amount.

Will HRT be buying some time on a sim for Korea as I understand they don’t have one? Maybe otherwise they’ll just be relying on the PC game or talking to Chandhok about his experience there!

michael grievson

Excellent piece James. It shows the level of respect people in F1 have for and and your work.

Our next assignment is to get Ron Dennis drunk and steal the keys to the Mclaren simulator :o)


I don’t think Ron has them any more, I think Alonso took them when he left in 2007.


James how much does one of these driving simulators cost a team to make? I remember hearing that the Mclaren one was ‘best’ one, im guessing theirs therefore cost the most?

Also what do you make of this footage of Vettel jumping the start that’s started doing some rounds on the internet (just spotted it on the autosport forums). I remember Hakkinen did something similar in Malaysia 2000 and was punished for it, do you know why Vettel wasn’t? Kubica apparently told his team immediately about it.


I remember many moons ago watching James Allen drive Mark Blundells Pac West racing champ car.Who needs a simulator, eh James. !!!


Ah yes, that was fantastic. I should try to find the tape of that and run it here. What a great opportunity – a whole day to drive an Indaycar around Homestead!

Stephen Pattenden

Another example of why I frequetly visit your site James.

Fantastic insight; I’ve always wanted to know what’s behind thoase doors – especially after seeing Jake being taken around the MTC by Jenson at the beginning of this year.

Thanks a lot

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

I want one for my living room


Wow! Thanks for that. Now I know what I want for my next birthday present…

Seriously, this is amazing stuff – given the level of detail on an ‘average’ playstation game now, I suspect that that simulator would be ‘even better than the real thing!’

Do the drivers bring their own steering-wheels and seat fittings, and is there a mockup of the cockpit to simulate sightlines etc?


Available for hire? How much? I’d love a shot 😀


I think it’s about £5k per day


Actually, now that you put a number on it, I think anyone who spends that much money on some pleasure or fun, and that fun is not the simulator in case, has really wasted his money on something worthless compared to this amazing “toy”. 🙂


True, for a few grand more, you could likely rent an older F1 car and get a real thrill!


Surprisingly cheap, IMO. I expected it to be much more expensive, if it actually works so well and gives the teams such a high quality feedback.

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