Topgear F1


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The virtual world is catching up with the real one, says Dan Read. Meet the ultimate F1 racing simulator

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Topgear F1

  1. 1. war F1 SimulatOr of the wor lds The virtual world is catching up with the real one, says Dan Read. Meet the ultimate F1 racing simulator In a cold and mIsty feel for all-round grip. this machine, gearshift speed to the grab of the warehouse in the dead of night, a made by a company called cruden differential to the downforce rating strange machine shifts before me, in the netherlands, takes things to of each wing. that makes it sound lunging and shuddering like a the next level, with full-motion tech simple, but those engineers are monstrous wounded alien. usually reserved for apache gunship gifted mathematicians, the inputs six bug-like legs support a skeletal and jumbo jet pilots. are complicated algorithms and pod, and in it there sits a figure But to understand its importance, getting it right is something of a dressed in black. the pod holds we must first know how it works. black art. they can even test new the bare essentials of a Formula the most obvious assumption is that components – like brakes – by one cockpit – sculpted carbon-fibre those legs are hydraulic. they’re not. writing diameters, thicknesses and seat, steering wheel and pedal set. the system is electromechanical and temperature thresholds into the the figure reaches out and grips the uses motors, bolts and threads inside code. this machine has as much in wheel. three wraparound screens in the legs to squeeze or stretch them common with an arcade game as a front of him glow with an image of a and shift the platform through its Eurofighter does with a paper plane. racetrack. the image rushes towards peculiar range of movement. It’s If you want the ultimate driving him, the machine dipping and much more like a stiffly sprung F1 sim in your living room, you’ll swerving as he cuts from one car, giving a crisper action, where as need to dig deep. cruden charges sweeping corner to the next. hydraulic systems tend to ‘bounce’ £100,000 for an off-the-shelf this smouldering UFo is the as the fluid compresses. pack with a pre-loaded physics world’s ultimate driving simulator. the other assumption is that it engine. the computing power But although it may look like a uses the kind of gaming software isn’t that enormous (seven £1,000- game, it is absolutely not. stealing you get in a Playstation. It doesn’t. ish Pcs like the one you have heavily from the aviation and this simulator uses a complex at home) so it’s relatively cheap. defence industries, this is what F1 physics ‘engine’ that tells those legs But teams spend thousands more teams are using to get around the precisely when and how to move. honing the machine – screens FIa’s in-season track testing ban. the engine knows every parameter cost up to £10,000 each, steering One serious sim. simulators are nothing new in F1 of a car and has thousands of systems £30,000 – and attach Six figures-worth of mechanical F1 but until recently they’ve been static, channels into which engineers input full racecar bodies for added computer fakery unable to give the driver a realistic every minute set-up detail – from the realism, inspired by some military 152 TopGear TopGear 153
  2. 2. F1 SimulatOr versions that have neat things like against other drivers from all over to make things really interesting gun turrets welded on. the world, in anything from a stock we’re also joined by a genuine racing all of which means that instead of car to a lotus 79 (we’ve reviewed driver, aston martin le mans racer spending squillions on flying big test iRacing in the magazine once or darren turner, who knows his way crews and their copious kit around twice over the last year). If you around an F1 car after years of the world, F1 teams can develop were expecting a zit-riddled teen in testing for mclaren. Steering perfectly their cars virtually, at a fraction of nHs specs with grey slacks nipping dom and darren immediately weighted – the the cost. and that leads us to a big his ankles, you’d be wrong. sims click. they share the same favourite graphics shown question. How do test drivers fit in like iRacing are about the love of corners. they talk about lines and are only low-res to all this? If artificial intelligence racing and are fiendishly accurate left-foot braking and their favourite takes over, do we need them at all? – dom’s fellow iRacers include cars, even though dom has never or will the F1 cars of the future be dale Earnhardt Jnr and Jacques driven a real racecar in anger. then developed by specialist sim drivers? Villeneuve. It’s a way for purebred dom straps himself into the sim We were keen to find out, so we petrolheads to indulge themselves and slots his slimline boots into the brought one along. in all sorts of cars and circuits while cradles below the thin pedals. He’ll let us introduce domino duhan, mastering some proper racecraft and be driving at Barcelona in a 2008- one of the top virtual racers on the car control. It uses a physics engine spec F1 car with a high-downforce planet. He competes in iRacing, a similar but less complex than the set-up, geared for 190mph on web-based Pc sim that lets you race one in the cruden sim. soft-compound, grooved tyres. simulators could be equally as integral to the design of the car. and that’s when the specialist sim driver could take his seat in a test team. of course, you will never replace real races, real racecraft and real risk. the simulator can’t ultimately turner reckons a 1:21 is a good lap Remember, this thing isn’t a point- But despite the dodgy tummy, recreate the bodybending forces the here, so that’s the target. and-squirt video game. dom’s inputs dom has put in a quite remarkable drivers face, nor unleash the surge It takes just half a lap for dom to must be like those of a real F1 driver performance. “It really lets you feel of adrenalin they get from brushing find a groove and after 15 minutes and the car responds just like the the grip”, he tells me. “If the rear a wall at monaco. But even they are he’s lapping at 1:24.2. Eyebrows are real thing. a fraction too much end starts to break loose, you feel it reliant on the sims, especially when raised and cheeks are puffed. this throttle and it will shoot you off. twitch right up your spine, so you it comes to learning a new track – guy has only had a driving licence turner goes next and, as expected, can catch the slide as soon as it tracks like the virginal yas marina for three years yet with the skills he’s sets a great time of 1:20.5. dom happens. It has a violent judder circuit in abu dhabi, which has honed on the Pc, he’s within three manages to retaliate with a superb over curbs too.” been laser-scanned and loaded into seconds of a genuinely quick time. 1:21.6 before his face turns red and He’s gone a long way to proving simulators so the drivers can learn He has a natural feel for the grip his eyes puff out like baseballs. What that an experienced simulator driver its characteristics. some teams are and intuitively slots the car into he’s experiencing is a light dose of can breathe down the neck of an already working on the next level the sweet spot where the aero and motion sickness. Frankly, he looks experienced racer after just a few of realism and even have helmet tyres work at their best. like he could use a sit down. hours of practice. Give him a few tethers that tug the driver’s neck days with a pack of seasickness pills to simulate high-g forces. and he’d be right on the pace. and if the technology continues so could he be the future of F1 at this rate, imagine how, in the testing and development? near future, you could press the not quite. the difficulty is that, red button on your remote, plug if you’ve not driven a modern F1 car, your simulator into a live race and you can’t tell if the simulator feels experience an onboard lap just like wrong. Right now, test drivers are a real driver does. according to Dom manages a superb 1:21.6 Dom Duhan: tuning the sims to match reality... and only then can the machine be rumours, this is already happening inside some F1 factories. But really, before his eyes puff out like probably more useful than luca Badoer fully trusted. twenty years ago, wind tunnels were in the same phase of think about it. there you are, sat in your garage, strapped into your baseballs. He’s experiencing a infancy and some people believed they would never be as effective as a alien spacecraft as it receives reams of code from the real car at the real dose of motion sickness real prototype at a real circuit with some real wind. twenty years from now, with a decade of data sets and circuit, then replicates it in full and magnificent motion. Every bump, every curb, every variables and techno development, crash. now that’s entertainment. 154 TopGear TopGear 155