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French Grand Prix
Is there such a thing as a “Perfect Lap”?
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Oct 2013   |  7:17 pm GMT  |  166 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of a “Perfect lap” – the lap in which the driver takes the absolute maximum from the car and leaves no time on the table, not even a hundredth of a second.

F1 is all about the quest for perfection. At the highest level of driving there is a purity to it; the combination of man and machine, looking to achieve the ultimate around a ribbon of tarmac that makes up the circuit.

So is it possible to do a perfect lap? And do the simulation tools, which all teams have these days, help drivers in that quest or do they merely highlight the limitations of the human being behind the wheel?

We’ve asked a few of the top names from F1 and we’d love to hear your views too.

When we asked Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, he was pretty honest about it: “I’ve never done a perfect lap. But Singapore this year was pretty good!” he said. (He qualified second)

“It’s not possible to do a perfect lap. There’s always something where you think you could have done it slightly better and I don’t really believe you can do the perfect lap. You can get very close, and I did in Singapore, but there’s always a couple of hundredths that you leave on the table.

“You don’t do it in the simulator either but that’s more laboratory conditions. You always have a better chance of getting things right than in the real outdoor world. Drivers, of course, also have competition in the simulator but the problem is that it’s always a moving target with different tyre models and so forth. From time to time we do get in one after the other but it’s quite rare.”

“Probably not,” said Mark Webber, when asked if he has ever done a perfect lap. “It’s very difficult to do the absolute perfect, perfect lap. I’ve been close. But if a drivers says he’s done the perfect lap, I’m not it’s possible.

“The simulators give us a perspective on what is possible, but even so, the most important factor is the real driver in the car understanding what the limit actually is. Even when we do downforce wing comparisons in simulation, looking at what happens with different wing levels, there are certain things that the simulator still can’t take into account that the driver actually does in the car. So thankfully that’s why it’s still a bit of a black art for us in the car and we get to do the job we do!”

However Williams driver Valtteri Bottas disagrees and thinks a perfect laps is attainable. He did a stunning lap in qualifying in Canada to put the Williams third on the grid.

“A perfect lap is possible,” he says,”And it’s always what I’m aiming for but sometimes it’s more difficult. When the car is better balanced it’s easier but then it’s our job to get all the data on Friday and work with the car set-up to get it as strong as it can be so that you can drive it on the limit with a good balance. Every car is a bit different though, and maybe with some it’s easier.

“In Canada, where I qualified third, everything came together for us. There was the weather and that track is quite special was good for us: no high-speed corners, big brakes and chicanes and every corner is quite short. And, for us, normally the shorter the corner the better for us. I think the conditions, the track, my lap, everything just came together.

“I think it is probably easier in the simulator because there are less variables. For example wind speed and temperature. In the simulator those things are a bit behind reality and at a real track there are more variables. For example, a single little gust of wind can change things.”

So what do you think? Is a perfect lap possible? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Hi James,

I’ll throw a few thoughts in late.

In many cases we tyres that do not give their best for an entire lap, so making best use of the available resources can mean that a driver who conserves tyres slightly in the early part of the lap can make massive gains in traction zones at the end. A good example is the Mercedes in Spain. It was not low speed traction that made the car quick in sector three but tyre preservation earlier in the lap. Perez did the same thing in Spain.

Anticipating track evolution is a key part of modern qualifying. Being last over the line is part of it, but if a driver goes to where the track was on the previous lap then time will be left on the table. Every corner is a progressive estimation of where the grip levels will be. The driver is going to have to use instinctive process to minimise the delay between feeling the grip level and adapting to it. The brain doesn’t work much faster than 0.1 of second, so even at the most instinctive level, the there is that 0.1 of second when the driver should have been doing something very slightly different if the initial estimation is wrong. In 15 to 20 corners, to get that initial estimation perfect is improbable.

Wind and track temperature conditions regularly vary, so adapting to these is an extension of the track evolution problem, except these can be less predictable.

A further consideration is the data the drivers have to consider how good a lap was. Friction ellipse data will show how good a use of the tyres a driver has made in a corner, but not whether the driver has taken the optimal line.




Beating the computer calculated time has been done a few times- I remember Hakkinen dit it once at Barcelona. Much to the surprise of Norbert Haug.

The perfect lap.. All cars have the delta timing on it, which compares current laps to previous best laps (or other benchmarks). If a driver over the entire lap makes positive gains on the delta, he’ll look at the lap as being perfect.

Ofcourse if they then analyse it to his teammate/earlier laps in qualifying you can be sure that they’ll find room for improvement.

So in theory it’s possible, in reality near the impossible but some of drivers go damn near it (Senna, Hamilton, Vettel, Hakkinen, Schumacher).


there was a driver who danced with perfection and that driver was Senna. I sow the full feature of The Right to Win (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb_d9JeafJM) and Prost said that Senna in Monaco 1988 drover the perfec lap.

Surreal experience for Ayrton in Monaco 1988:

“The last qualifying session. I was already on pole and I was going faster and faster. One lap after the other, quicker, and quicker, and quicker. I was at one stage just on pole, then by half a second, and then one second… and I kept going. Suddenly, I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my teammate with the same car. And I suddenly realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously.

“I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel, not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit for me was a tunnel. I was just going, going – more, and more, and more, and more. I was way over the limit, but still able to find even more. Then, suddenly, something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and I realized that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. Immediately my reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove slowly to the pits and I didn’t want to go out any more that day.

“It frightened me because I realized I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely, but I keep these experiences very much alive in me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.”


Possible in theory, virtually impossible in practice.


Driver’s do their “best” lap and this becomes the benchmark (personal best, which may be the best of everybody) for their next best lap. This becomes the new benchmark; there is a process of continuous improvement.

In trying to put together a “perfect” lap there are just far too many variables: every millimetre of the way forward, sideways(left or right), up or down, all the weather related issues, etc., etc…… make absolute perfection almost impossible. It is a bit like the lottery.


silverstone that is


What was wrong with Kimi’s pole lap in 2004?


No one can achieve a perfect lap and anyone that insists they got 100% out of whichever car they drive and the circuit is someone I do not like because if your an honest person- you know noone is perfect .If you say you delivered all you could at that time- that’s a different story.

Vettel and Hamilton exchanged some beauties last year that were right up there. Kimi Raikkonen as early as his first Sauber qualis- Aust 2001 were very special. He had a host of them in 2005 also that Mclaren was on the limits of adhesion in every single corner and every exit ( Imola, Monaco) He was a remarkable qualifier.The modern era with limited tyres and car/ engine/ strategy set up requires a far more balanced approach and the guy regularly ending up on the podium from 6-9 place is doing the best job balancing all these variables especially if he’s not in the fastest single lap car.

Prost in my book was an extraordinary technician and the very few times he was quicker than Senna ,were as close to perfection as you will find. By default that meant most of Sennas were somewhat unique.What blew me away was Prosts incredibly close to perfect race laps also.i think with race / quali engines in the past and special quali tyres – we saw far more of these spectacular laps because drivers did not have to think about tyres, engines etc.


The perfect lap is pole, anything else is just extra risk.


Another “I was there” at the cafe on Sainte Devote.

Button Monaco 2009 qualifying.


..”leaves no time on the table, not even a hundredth of a second”

The question is: in comparison to what?

In comparison to the computer software guided car, in comparison to “wunderkind” guided car or senna or schumi or who?

This’s like math equation 1/x, as -x- goes to infinity 1/x goes to infinitesimal, but never achieves 0.

From this point the perfect lap never could be achieved as like ideal, but in real world it could be considered as: the comment of the BEST relevant driver, who is fully fit at that very moment, arguing that “I’m fully satisfied with my lap and I feel there could not be any improvement”.

Most of drivers often complain they made some minor mistakes and lost time somewhere, even Vettel (the BEST relevant driver) does so. But rarely you can hear – I did perfect lap.

The proof of such perfect lap is satisfied and smiling pit wall, as long as they know what the car’s treshold range is.

But the best answer to that can give A Newey.


The truth is, nobody knows what the perfect lap is. In simulations you can calculate a theoretical fastest lap, but it is only in the imperfect model of reality where all parameters are known. In the real world neither the driver nor the technicians know where the real limit is. The driver might think they were at the limit, but it’s just what they think they felt.


1988 French GP qualy, Prost’s lap was great, a mighty 0.478 s better than Senna’s.

I think James mentioned it back in 2010 in an article about Button and Hamilton



Montoya Spa 2001, perfection


That was a good one. There was his Monza lap as well – fastest ever in F1 at the time.


Schumacher Monaco 2012 Q3.


I think the question itself is incomplete. How would you define a ‘Perfect’ lap. A simulator can’t give you the perfect lap considering the infinite temperature, wind, tyre conditions and the rubbering in of the track variations. Combine all these with trying to find out the perfect line , the exact braking and accelerating points and selecting the best driving style (Yes this is also a parameter)

which would give you the best time through a single as well as a sequence of corners.

What you need is a super computer that measure all the aformentioned and many other parameters every 100th of a second and that uses magic algorithms to find the ‘perfect’ laptime and then uses ABS, ESP and an accurate throttle-brake control to get the lap. This is simply not possible at the time being.

For me the ‘perfect lap’ is when the driver, who is already comfortable in a given car feels that the car was at 99.9% through out the lap and the extra 0.1% would mean going into the barriers. It is all about the Human feel rather than what the computers spew out. Humans still have more processing power than most computers, it is just that the computers are better at some tasks(number calculation) and Humans at others (Balancing).


The problem is not can you do it…. but how would you know you have done it?


I think Kimi’s 2005 Monza Lap was pretty awesome………..Ron Dennis at that time said its the Lap of the decade !


Mansell always said his Silverstone 1992 lap was perfect.

2 seconds faster than Patrese (2nd) and 3 seconds faster than Senna (3rd) it’s hard to argue!

I’ve heard after qualifying that day Patrese also grabbed him by the gentlemans area to “see how big they really were” haha


I find it interesting to note that two experienced “senior” drivers say no, where a younger up-and-coming driver says yes.

Is this a sign of more experienced senior drivers who are comfortable with where they are being able to be open, whereas a newer driver who’s still trying to prove himself is keen not to appear “flawed” (too crude a word but can’t think of a better one).

Would be interested to know if this carried on if more drivers were asked.


I remember Panis in the Toyota beating the computer’s predicted fastest possible lap-time during qualifying for the French GP in his last season. Would definitely call that a beyond-perfect lap.


It depends how you define it I suppose. For me the perfect lap would be for a driver that feels he has absolutely hooked everything up on a given occasion and feels that he couldn’t improve no matter how much he tried.

I can think of a fair few instances where I feel a driver has done the perfect lap, although they may well disagree.


Its not about achieving the perfect lap but in my view its about getting the laps within a range to create a perfect lap in the drivers mind. We are trying to do this with my driver. In Karting like F1 or other forms of the sport the field can be separated by the smallest of margins, that shaved 10th, 100th or even 1000th can mean 1 or 10 grid spots. Was told years ago smooth is fast, consistency is the goal.


Um.No. It is not possible for a human being to produce a perfect lap. Driving is a combination of feedback and feed forward responses. Feedback is correcting against input, feed forward is predicting it. Using feedback introduces the delay of processing and reaction time. Even “fingertip” drivers use a light quick reaction but REACT none the less.

A perfect lap would have to be executed entirely with feed forward I.e prediction. No correction, no response.

Given that minute variations exist in road surface, tyres and suspension components, and more so wind and air pressure, the movement of the car is not 100% predictable. Even a computer with perfect recall and precision must react and adjust to these variations to some extent.

So no. Not achievable. Not in real world conditions, not with human biomechanics.


Didn’t Senna himself say “we are always chasing the perfect lap and it doesn’t exist”? I doubt very much if a human can be perfect in the true true sense of the word, the best of the best can get pretty close though.

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