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The Perfect Lap: The drivers’ eye view
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Nov 2013   |  4:46 pm GMT  |  45 comments

We have been running a discussion on the concept of the “Perfect Lap” recently and Sebastian Vettel referred to it on Sunday in Austin in his post race press conference (see comment below).

It’s an intriguing notion; man and machine in perfect harmony, raising the question – Is there such a thing as a “perfect lap”?

McLaren and their partner SAP have been exploring it in a short video series and the latest version – the Drivers’ Edit – has just been posted. This features Jenson Button and a number of McLaren engineers and includes an amazing graphic cutaway view of how a driver sits in an F1 car.

For the record Vettel’s comment after the race on Sunday was, “These tyres do need some management.. also in terms of driving style and looking after them and making sure you don’t go crazy too soon, because it might hurt you later on, so therefore, if you look at the perfect lap, you can’t repeat a 100 percent lap every time, because you need to look after the car and tyres.

“In the end, I think what you want to achieve is the fastest race to the finish line. I think we had a very very strong race today.”

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I think Vettel is right. What is perfect the moment could be wrong a lap later.

We simulated a race with a 600km triangle on sailplanes and looked for all the data, wind, temperature,…

The one who did the most perfect flight was only third because of unlucky crosswinds.

And the day car racing died was when i sold my first car ever: a third hand NSU Prinz. Was it the last where you opened the engine hood a bit to have a rear spoiler effect?


Tooned last year and more PR fluff from them this year. They may have a flashy factory and flashy videos with flashy graphics – but this years car is an absolute embarrassment. As the saying goes you can talk the talk but can you walk the walk? It doesn’t look like it.

Instead of talking about it, do it – like Red Bull has been year after year.

And have a shave you scruffy lot – including you James!


This may sound nuts but what about a robot? I recall reading before on the net about even the most elite driver in F1 loses about 20 seconds a race simply by being human yet the drivers reckon they lose maybe 3 or 4 seconds.

I’d love to see a robot go up against Hamilton or Vettel in qualifying in the same car. The same weight robot but one who could push the car to the exact moment it would fly off the road, a robot who controls wheelspin and of course robots would not feel pressure.

Am I being naive to think that perhaps such a robot would find a second a lap over any driver? Such a robot could perhaps lap the entire field in a race.


Given the drivers are no longer required to push the cars – the delta time is as good a it gets anyway.

The perfect delta-lap is decided by computers outside of the car now.


Robert Kubotica, anyone?

He has commented in the past that he’s half the way there! Bring it on!


James this is off topic but seeing how the video revealed Button’s modern sitting position in the car, reclined back at quite an angle with his legs and feet above his butt: is this seating position more safe or less safe in a crash than seating positions in cars of the past? Does it make the cars more or less difficult to drive? More or less tiring?


I think there is a perfect lap. I think drivers can nail it – once in a while – a perfect flow – one of those senna moments where you nail it completely. Of course Jenson always thinks he can improve…I rekon ask Lewis or Seb to look back and there will have been some moments where they took everything out of the car, the tyres and nailed it. As far as Im concerned that counts as perfect. We dont need to get too ‘McLaren’ about it and argue about data and semantics of ‘perfect’…;)


JB is the best person to talk about the perfect lap but he’s the last person I would bet on to get close.

Back in a day this guy without a doubt..I can’t help watching these over & over. Seems like he’s never actually turning the wheel- magic


He can do it, like Spa 12, it’s just a rare event…

anyway forget about that, I’ve found a replacement for Pirelli – far better behaved tyres…


James, I would love to hear this question put to the teams and drivers another way:

‘if a driver could hit an imaginary reset button and do his lap over again (just like you can in a simulation or video game), with the benefit of knowing the condition of the track and the tires etc how much time do they think they could find?’

Optimal laps using a drivers best sectors would give us a basic idea, the teams would have an even better idea using optimal ‘delta’ timing (which most sim-racers would be familiar with) but I would guess there are still tenths of a second to be found on top of that.

Your thoughts?


Great question

Of course they can do that now with multiple laps in quali

Unlike single lap quali era


Just to clarify, I meant what if they had the opportunity to attempt the lap many times (not just once more), and each time they crossed the s/f line all the variables ‘reset’ exactly to where they were on the previous lap.

Teams regularly do 100+ laps in a single day of testing, I wonder what a driver could achieve with 100+ attempts at the same lap.

It’s impossible to test in the real world of course, but it’s perhaps a more tangible way of asking the same question you have already been asking.

Great idea for a topic!


Not sure they can. You see it weekend after weekend. There’s always that timing race to bang the lap out when the most rubber is down and your fuel is just empty enough not to have unhelpful weight.

Everything before that in qualy is just a protection measure to get you to that one final run.


The problem with the concept of a perfect lap is that it simply cannot take into account the multitude of variables that occur during that lap.

Even if you could create a perfect robot driver, to eliminate the ‘humans are not perfect’ element, this robot would need to have a perfect understanding of the precise state of its tires (a black art at the best of times)and exact knowledge of the ever changing state of the track surface. It would also have to be able to predict the future to take into account wind, temperature and humidity variables during the lap.

It’s much easier to simply pay the big bucks to a driver like Hamilton who can feel 99% of this through his bum and deal with it. But to answer the question, 99% is not perfect so you’ll never see a perfect lap.


My bad I should have said foot clutch


I want to see the best drivers in the world us a clutch and h patten gearbox. No F1 voodoo you could fix f1 with 2 simple rules


Why? Formula 1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of racing technology. Even now it is still way behind where certain technologies could allow it to be.

Personally, I would like to see fully automatic transmission in Formula 1. Accelerator, brake and a steering wheel is all a driver should have to use. That’s pure driving, like in a go-kart. Continuously Variable Transmission would allow this. The racing would be a lot more action packed.


DRS is a joke… that is known as a hack in the computer world.

The real fix is lower aero, more grip and more power… that is the simple fix to f1… and all the exerts know it, but avoid it.

Even the overtaking group that was formed a number of years ago, came to that conclusion…


For the same reason we dont have traction control and ABS it’s to easy for them they never make a mistake I want to see good racing imagine if they had to bip the throttle whilst on the brakes and pick the right gear. Or they stuff the Conner and maybe a gear box . Ha and the “that’s pure driving like in go-karts” that’s priceless


Cannot believe all this fancy stuff is developed in parallel to a humiliating season for McLaren.


There is no such thing, could a driver really do everything perfectly? It would mean every gear change, braking point, bit of throttle control, weight transfer, driving line all within an infinitely small percentage of what’s considered perfect.


So Goob you could drive F1 and be competitive then?

Ever driven even a Formula Ford? Bet not!

Arm chair racer then!


If I did not have to push, for sure, I could spend a few years learning to do what Button does and hit an easy delta lap time… the car will do 98% of the work…


Jenson is such a pessimist! Boo!

I think James was giving a cheeky nod to Kimi, with his ‘no breaking traction’ comment, too.

Contrast Button’s comments with the young Raikkonen’s ‘no hard corners at Monaco’ quote.

Bring back Perez! Button can replace Whitmarsh- I think he’s management material 🙂


Excellent piece of journalism, thanks for that.

Not quite the perfect you tube clip …..There will always be room for just a little more improvement….


If there was such a thing it would be more exciting if it depended less on aero and more on driver skill. The perfect lap is an intangible thing, a figment of someone’s over fertile imagination, in reality to err is human, and all we can do is reduce error, but not eliminate it.


There you have it!

It is possible to reduce errors but, during a single lap, you really have no chanse to eliminate them all.

So, the perfect lap does exist but no driver will ever be able to achive it.


Re-read my response. If no driver can achieve it then it does not exist in reality. It probably isn’t even a constant, just a random set of variables that come together in a given circumstance.


No No reality is one thing, the theoretical is something quite else. It’s true that some theory can be proven to be fact, but in this instance it cannot be achieved by human beings.

One could have a complex mathematical model of what might be a perfect lap in a given circumstance, and while on a good day perhaps a driver may get close to it, but not actually achieve it. As everything in F1 is measured relative it doesn’t really matter because all that is required it to do it more quickly than your opponent.


Well, if you define something as not existing just because we make a theoretical approach to the subject I’d say you’re wrong. Think about Penrose–Hawking singularity theorem, as an example. Or Einstein.

It’s pretty simple for me, the perfect lap definitely exist. Even if just in the theory.

Isn’t the existens of Formula 1 based on the theory of the perfect lap, and to achieve it over and over again?


There is no perfect driver, so therefore, there is no perfect lap. Engineers should develop a perfect robot driver, maybe even call him The Stig?

Vettel is the F1 champion, not the perfect driver.


@ DJ

Actually they did this…Theres a video/lecture on TED by Chris Gerdes about the race car of the future.

In it he talks about some research involving a top racing driver who was hooked up to all that fancy brainwave measuring stuff as he went lap after lap…hitting the same lap times but having hardly any brain fluctuation…the theory was that as with anything we do as humans it becomes almost even at one point when the driver has a split second where the back end steps out..the brainreading is almost the same as the body’s muscles and nerves react instantaneously…

…BUT thats not the best bit…

they then show a clip of one of those many robotic cars…it is let loose round a track…it drives itself slowly at first, measuring the track and turns etc and saving it in it’s memory and then it then drives round at full pelt..taking best lines into and out of corners etc…and they then compared lap times….the automated car drove exactly the same lap times as it’s human counterpart!!


The perfect lap was only relevant when drivers were fighting their cars… controlling the BHP, fighting the gears, and sliding the backend for steering…

Nowadays, the cars drive on rails… the driver just has to do what the engineers say, and the car does most of the work…

The perfect lap was exciting before, not its just blah…


The car does all the work? I would love to see you in an F1 car against Alonso and see what the lap time difference is.


If I spent the same number of years as Alonso driving race cars, I would bet I could drive to the same delta time as him… its not like you can push the limit with these tires… the driver is not anywhere near as important as he used to be with current cars.


You’re being not serious, do you?


I’m speechless ! You have absolutely no idea what its like to drive one of these cars in a race situation. 6g under brakes 5g in the corners for 2 hrs in 40+ degree C temps inside your racing suit all while changing diff, motor etc. etc. and calculating out your race. To make that statement you must be an absolute moron.

Alonso has throughout his career raced indirectly 1000’s of drivers and fought his way to the pinnacle of motor sport and he is clearly one of the top 3 or 4 in F1 and you come along and tell us that “I could too” hahaha LOL priceless…..


REAL drivers start their cars with a hand crank, none of this electric starter rubbish! And they wear a cloth cap and goggles instead of a helmet. Motor racing went to hell after the war. (The First World War, that is)


No, REAL drivers crack long whips over oxen butts as they struggle to drive ploughs through stony ground – none of this fossil-fuel driven rubbish.

Transport went to hell centuries ago.


Are you saying the guy who drove the ThrustSCC was a better driver because his lap broke the sound barrier?

Balance is the key to most things… this is what F1 has lost… it’s too skewed to artificial racing… this has appeal to desperate drivers, but not real racers.

Vettel and Button are the most unrespected WDCs to date… there has to be a reason for that.


The only REAL drivers were Mesopotamiams who came up with this brilliant idea called the wheel.


No way. Oxen racing is too artificial. Running on foot and then dying at the end of the race such as the way Pheidippides did, now that was racing.



And you’d do all that driving a perfect lap in a Mini Metro?


To be honest, I find the Lana on top gear to be more exciting then some of the laps I see in F1… just because the drivers are visibly pushing hard against the limits of the (lack of) technology…

In F1 the aero is dominating the drivers… they just have to follow an office plan, and avoid doing too much to prevent excessive tire wear…


‘These tyres do need some management…..’


understatement of the season.

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